NR 2004-13
July 15, 2005

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


WOODLAND -- The State of California and Department of Conservation today recognized Yolo County’s work to preserve agricultural land, and especially its administration of the Williamson Act, with a first-of-its-kind award.

“We applaud Yolo County’s commitment to creating an environment in which farming and ranching can thrive,” said Debbie Sareeram, Interim Director of the California Department of Conservation.

Sareeram presented the Yolo County Board of Supervisors with a resolution commending its work – the Williamson Act Stewardship Award -- today at a news conference.

“One of Yolo County’s primary goals is to preserve our agricultural heritage,” said Helen Thomson, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. “Because of our proximity to a rapidly growing urban area, that’s a real challenge. Upholding the Williamson Act is part of the strategy that ensures our success, and we appreciate the state’s recognition for a job well done.”

Through its Division of Land Resource Protection, DOC administers or supports a number of programs designed to promote orderly growth in coordination with agricultural endeavors. That is a critical job, since the population of California is expected to grow from its current 38 million to 55 million by 2025, and the need for new homes will put strain on the nation's leading agricultural economy, valued at $33 billion last year.

One of the key tools available for land conservation planning is the Williamson Act, which provides tax incentives for landowners that keep large tracts of land in agricultural or open-space use. The law has been widely credited with discouraging ``leapfrog'' development, and more than 16 million acres -- half of the state's agricultural landscape -- are currently enrolled in Williamson Act contracts.

As of the 2004-05 fiscal year, Yolo County had 418,935 acres of land enrolled in the Williamson Act, including 241,963 acres of prime farmland. Yolo County produced more than $304 million of agricultural products in 2002-03. Another DOC program related to the Williamson Act -- the California Farmland Conservancy Program – has permanently shielded an additional 3,150 acres in Yolo County from development.

“Yolo County has made a very conscious effort to confine its growth to developed areas,” said Dennis O’Bryant, head of the Division of Land Resource Protection. “The county has had only three Williamson Act contract cancellations, and we haven’t had to take a single action to uphold the Act in Yolo County, which is rare.”

O’Bryant noted that Yolo County has its own program for farmland mitigation, requiring that one acre of land be permanently set aside for agriculture for every acre that is developed.

“We’ve encouraged counties throughout the state to use Yolo County’s program as a model,” O’Bryant said.