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NR 2005-10
June 14, 2005

Contact: Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886

State, Federal Grants Help Solano Land Trust
Permanently Protect Putah Creek Ranch Near Winters

SACRAMENTO -- With grants from the California Department of Conservation and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Solano Land Trust has permanently shielded from development 283 acres of outstanding farmland near Winters.

“We’re very pleased to help ensure that the Putah Creek Ranch will always remain in agricultural use,” said California Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman, himself a rancher. “As the state’s population continues to grow, it becomes increasingly important to preserve our top-quality farmland.”

Putah Creek Ranch is located along a 1.2-mile frontage of the south bank of Putah Creek between Winters and Davis, in an area designated by the Solano Land Trust as a high-priority preservation area. Organic walnut orchards, grape rootstock and field crops such as sunflowers occupy the acreage. The ranch also is used as a demonstration farm for innovative practices, such as riparian plant restoration and a “tailwater” pond that prevents excessive silt and nutrients from entering the creek.

“We teach primarily high school students about sustainable agriculture practices,” ranch owner Craig McNamara said. “They are our future community leaders, and most of them have very little introduction into the process of how food gets on the table, let alone sustainable practices. We help them fill their educational toolbox with environmentally sound ideas.

“As we looked at our piece of land, we realized that while we could probably sell several estate properties for a million dollars each, it was important to keep it in agricultural production as well as having the educational program. That’s why we decided to pursue an agricultural conservation easement.”

Both the state and federal government contributed $425,000 toward the purchase of the easement.

The state money came from the California Farmland Conservancy Program (CFCP). Administered by the Department of Conservation’s Division of Land Resource Protection, the CFCP is designed to ensure that the state's most valuable farmland will not be developed. Through the program, local governments and non-profit organizations can receive grants to purchase development rights from willing landowners, thus creating permanent conservation easements. To date, the CFCP has provided more than $40 million in grant funding for more than 90 agricultural easements comprising over 26,000 acres of productive farmland.

The federal funding came from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP). The FRPP provides matching funds to help purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranchland in agriculture. Working through existing programs, NRCS partners with state, tribal, or local governments and non-governmental organizations to acquire conservation easements or other interests in land from landowners. NRCS provides up to 50 percent of the fair market easement value of the conservation easement.

“Protecting agricultural land by helping landowners stop the conversion of land to non-agricultural uses helps keep the landscape healthy, wildlife habitat available, and our economy viable,” said Ed Burton, Acting NRCS State Conservationist in California. “The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program helps safeguard prime farmland, protecting our ability to produce food and fiber.”

Founded in 1986, the non-profit Solano Land Trust (www.solanolandtrust.org) seeks to preserve and protect farmlands and open spaces throughout Solano County. From its Fairfield office, the SLT owns more than 10,300 acres of farmlands, ranchlands, wetlands, and open spaces with a value in excess of $15.4 million. Almost all of these lands are in agricultural production. The trust also holds easements on eleven properties totaling 5,000 acres and valued in excess of $5.8 million.

“Solano Land Trust's mission includes protection of both agricultural lands and natural resources such as wetlands, so we are particularly pleased to create a conservation easement that protects both prime farmland and a significant riparian corridor, Putah Creek,” Solano Land Trust President Sean Quinn said. “This agricultural conservation easement is also a logical extension of the sustainable farming practices that Craig and Julie McNamara have promoted for years on their farm through the Center for Land-Based Learning. Craig is a remarkable leader in the agricultural community and we're proud to work with him on this project.”

California's agricultural production totaled nearly $33 billion in 2003, by far the most in the nation. However, land is being urbanized throughout the state at an ever-increasing rate. According to the most recent Farmland Conversion Report, 91,000 acres – 27 percent of it irrigated farmland – were urbanized between 1998 and 2000.

“Through our grants program, we’re helping the state balance the needs of a growing population with those of the traditional agricultural economy,” said Chuck Tyson, who manages the California Farmland Conservancy Program.

CFCP funds remain for new grant proposals. Landowners and trusts are encouraged to contact the Department of Conservation/Division of Land Resource Protection for information on the program and potential grant funding.

DOC also offers programs -- the Williamson Act and Farmland Security Zones -- that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use for periods of 10 and 20 years.

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