Other Voices: Land Trust works to help conserve land
Laura Brown’s April 24 article, “Homes on the range,” is an outstanding overview of the challenges facing Nevada County ranchers and the implications of the increasing development pressures faced by these families. The conversion of family ranches to housing developments poses a serious threat to the economic foundation and environmental health of our community. To address these threats, the Nevada County Land Trust is pursuing a variety of strategies to help local farmers and ranchers stay on the land.
Like the Nevada County Board of Supervisors and the Nevada County Resource Conservation District, the Nevada County Land Trust has signed on to the California Rangeland Resolution. The importance of this collaborative effort cannot be understated; the very fact that environmental groups, government agencies, and ranchers agree that conserving private ranchland is important gives me hope for the future. Organizations that have traditionally opposed one another on issues of land use and environmental regulation are now working together to ensure that ranches remain an economically viable and ecologically sustainable part of our rural landscapes.
Locally, the Nevada County Land Trust has conserved more than 6,000 acres of private land, including several significant local ranches, using voluntary conservation easements. By severing the development rights from a property, conservation easements allow landowners to receive tax and/or other financial benefits from these development rights without resorting to subdividing their land. Conservation easements keep land in private ownership and let ranching and farming families continue to farm and ranch.
At the same time, these agreements permanently protect the economic and environmental benefits these lands provide for all of us. The landowners who have placed their lands into conservation easements with the Nevada County Land Trust have a deep commitment to both the environment and to our local economy.
We have also realized, however, that we cannot conserve farm and ranchland without also ensuring that we have skilled farmers and ranchers to steward these lands. In addition to conservation easements, the Nevada County Land Trust participates in a number of activities in our county that enhance the economic viability of local farms and ranches. Buying local is critical to keeping farmers and ranchers in business, and the Land Trust is part of the Local Food Coalition, a community group focused on supporting local food production. This September, the Nevada County Land Trust, in partnership with the Local Food Coalition, will host a series of farm tours as part of our popular “Treks” program. These tours will give our community a chance to connect with local farms. Finally, in October we will be presenting the second annual Sierra Nevada Small Farm Progress Day in Grass Valley. This event features demonstrations of farm, ranch and forestry equipment suitable to the types of operations we have here in the Sierra Nevada foothills. These activities are just a beginning Ð the very best way to conserve farm and ranchland is for farming and ranching to be profitable. Buying local food is critically important!
Nevada County’s farm and ranchlands provide critical wildlife habitat, beautiful scenery, and of course, food and fiber. In an era in which most of our food travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to our plates and in which the origin of our food is often uncertain, I am reassured that we can still produce so much of our own food here in Nevada County. We appreciate your efforts to outline these benefits.
Dan Macon is the director of conservation programs for the Nevada County Land Trust.
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