Lawmakers learn what farmers already know about sustainable agriculture

May 10, 2013

By Katy Grimes


SACRAMENTO — During two hours of expert testimony Wednesday, California Assembly members learned future commercial and housing developments should not be built on prime agricultural land, which should continue to be used for farming. The committee acted as if this was a revelation.

The testimony took place before a Joint Committee hearing of the Assembly’s Select Committee on Sustainable and Organic Agriculture and the Select Committee on Agriculture and the Environment.

At the hearing, most of the expert testimony was about the need for sustainable farming. But the discussion was about climate-sensitive land-use planning involving AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006; and SB 375, the Sustainable Communities Climate Protection Act of 2008.

The committees also glossed over the glaring issue of wildfire carbon emissions.

“As we head into the fire season, one fire can produce more carbon emissions than an entire year of auto emissions,” Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, told me after the hearing. And without forest management, one out-of-control wildfire also renders the soil sterile.

Dahle ought to know. He lives and works on his family farm in Lassen County, in California’s rural northern region. “Climate is intimately involved in our farming and overall land use,” Dahle said. “The forests are overgrown and we need thinning so the forests can handle fire.”

A four-term Lassen County supervisor, as well as a farmer and small-business owner, Dahle said wildfires are a disaster that we can see coming well before they happen. He said at the hearing that current forest management practices have “taken fire out of the system. Well-managed forests thwart wildfires, produce more water in our rivers and streams, and clean our air.”

“Managing forests responsibly can also create new jobs and economic activity in rural California,” Dahle said in a recent op-ed in the Anderson Valley Post. “Government’s approach to managing forests actually disrupts natural fire cycles, resulting in overloaded forests and wildfires of greater intensity and severity.

“Overgrown forests have an abundance of woody fuels, allowing flames to burn into the crowns of the tallest trees. When the forests were managed properly this did not occur.”

Dahle also told me, “I am working with a broad and bipartisan coalition to improve forest management policy with three specific goals: reduce fuel buildup, manage forests to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. Forest thinning reduces wildfire size and severity, therefore reducing fire-generated greenhouse gas emissions, while producing renewable energy.”

Committee learns little about farming


But this Joint Committee merely discussed farming, most of which is already sustainable. Farmers have been practicing sustainable farming for thousands of years. It’s  already a standard because it also makes the most economic sense.

Vicky Dawley, a Tehama County rancher and the District Manager for Tehama County Resource Conservation District, runs a large ranch equipped with an agri-tourism component; visitors can rent a cabin on her property, kayak, fish from her lake, hike, or just enjoy the quiet, without cell phone service.

“We put a conservation easement on the ranch in 2010,” Dawley testified to the committee. The ranch sells offsets as part of the state forestry protocol. Dawley has practiced grazing management for years, where she leaves the cattle on the range.

Grazing management is used to achieve optimum and sustained animal, plant, land, environmental or economic results, while ensuring a continuous supply of forages to grazing animals, and to reduce soil and nutrient losses in runoff.

But Dawley said she just got a letter from the State Department of Water Resources telling her to stop diverting water from her own lake.

Dawley said growers, ranchers and farmers could use some help and technical assistance to know what to do. She said the state used to work with farmers and ranchers, but is barely reaching out or available anymore with research findings and advances.

Williamson Act

The California Land Conservation Act of 1965, the Williamson Act, has been a state-funded program since 1972 to encourage county participation and long-term protection of more than 16 million acres of productive agricultural land and habitat. But the Legislature voted to stop funding the Williamson Act in 2009.

John Gamper with the California Farm Bureau Federation told lawmakers, “There is a general lack of political will to preserve farmland,” primarily at the local level. The CFBF recommends the Legislature re-establish incentives for stronger land preservation policies in order to achieve the goals of AB 32 and SB 375.

“Local planning is a fundamental part of the SB 375 process, but every region experiences strong pressures for sprawl in directions that are not consistent with sustainable community strategies,” Gamper said. “By permanently reinforcing urban limits, they can shift development in the preferred direction while providing protection to important farm and resource lands.”

Gamper said state funding easements, the Williamson Act, and higher property tax backfill will help provide “important benefits connected to land conservation strategies, including the important goals of preserving soil productivity and maintaining food security.”

Save the earth, ignore wildfires

While the Legislature works overtime to create policies to save the earth from climate change, one wildfire completely erases all of the perceived carbon reductions. And climate change supporters largely ignore other forms of  clean energy.

“The Legislature needs to consider the merits of biomass energy as a sustainable resource on a larger scale,” Dahle said in his op-ed. “We can use bark, sawdust, wood chips and ladder fuels to generate energy that is clean and sustainable. Mark Nechodom estimates that biomass power can generate $1.58 billion annually in electricity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions in those areas by 65 percent.”

Nechodom is a research scientist with the Sierra Nevada Research Center.

“At a time when businesses in California are paying millions of dollars to retrofit their vehicle fleets to meet new low carbon standards, it is wise to remind the State Air Resources Board that one severe forest fire in my district wipes out all of the ‘carbon savings’ that they plan to get through increased regulation and the implementation of AB 32, the ‘Global Warming Solutions Act.’

“The Air Resources Board should consider a series of regulations that hold the Forest Service to the same standards for pollution control as they do everyone else. If they did, we would see a massive change in how the forests are managed.

“Since they won’t, we can plan on a summer of fire and smoke.”


Write a comment
  1. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 10 May, 2013, 12:32

    The only thing the type of people who populate CARB know about forestry management is what they remember from their Smokey The Bear coloring books.

    Reply this comment
  2. loufca
    loufca 10 May, 2013, 13:59

    I take issue with the point that a forest fire renders the soil “sterile”. If that were true, Yellowstone would be bare right now. Remember the big fire there a while back. The next spring they had the best wild flower and new tree growth season on record. Ask from fires puts nitrogen back into the soil which is a primary growth requirement for plants and trees.

    Reply this comment
  3. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 10 May, 2013, 15:05

    As to sterility: It all depends. It is true extremely hot fire CAN delay regrowth, depending on soil types, climate, etc. At the end of the day, of course, the answer is no. Forget the fires (which were now 25 years ago!) Half a million years ago most of Yellowstone was a steaming, barren, lava-strewn caldera without so much as a blade of grass. It’s just a matter of what your time horizon is.

    I’m reminded of the answer I heard re: the efficacy of adding gypsum to soften clay soil in parts of Orange County……

    “Sure, it works. Just not in your lifetime.” LOL

    Reply this comment
  4. stolson
    stolson 11 May, 2013, 07:44

    AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006; and SB 375, the Sustainable Communities Climate Protection Act of 2008.
    It would be wise to know the real true agenda of this outside UN run group and who benefits and how.

    Reply this comment
  5. Hondo
    Hondo 11 May, 2013, 16:11

    It is not cost effective to have timber sales in many of the most critical areas for wildland fires. So why not simply mark the timber that is beetle kill or overgrowth(I used to do that way back when) and then let the people come cut it for free and take it home to do what they will. It is their wood. The forest becomes healthier and there is less fire danger. Everybody wins.

    Reply this comment
  6. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 11 May, 2013, 21:25

    Hondo that makes too much sense.

    You should know by now that such pragmatic solutions are frowned upon. You may have overlooked:

    –Are the forest lands equally accessible to the handicapped?

    –If enacted, have all members of “the community” been made aware of such a policy on the part of USDA – Forest Service?

    Etc etc etc until I barf……………………..

    Reply this comment
  7. Hondo
    Hondo 12 May, 2013, 10:52

    A grassy park near where I live has been nearly paved over to give access to the handicapped. Huge areas that were once grass are now paved over. It might as well be a parking lot now.
    Apparently grass is raciest too.

    Reply this comment

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