Farmers, ranchers team to protect ranches

jholland@modbee.comAugust 5, 2013 

Cattle ranchers and environmentalists tend to get along in the foothills that flank the Central Valley to the east and west.

They generally see the ranching business as a way to keep this land as open space — habitat for wild creatures as well as cattle.

A federal agency plans meetings this week on a new effort to protect some of this land. It would provide conservation easements — one-time payments to owners who agree to keep especially important expanses in ranching.

The program is the California Foothills Legacy Area, part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The easements would total 200,000 acres under the agency's "preferred alternative," which includes Stanislaus, Merced, Mariposa and Tulare counties, said an email from Mi- chael Woodbridge, public affairs officer at the agency's Sacramento office.

Another option is for 325,000 acres, adding in land in San Benito and Kern counties. Both totals are a small portion of the 14 million or so privately owned acres in the "foothill ring" around the valley, Woodbridge said.

The specific funding would have to be approved by Congress, which would weigh it against other possible uses of easement money across the nation, he said.

The cattle people and environmentalists do not agree on everything. The latter, for instance, do not care much for summer grazing high in the Sierra Nevada.

But in the foothills, the two sides have worked to keep city and ranchette development from carving up big pieces of land favored by deer, waterfowl and other wildlife.

The cattle themselves help by trimming the grasses and exposing insects and other food for birds.

"Habitat fragmentation is a major threat to wildlife populations," Woodbridge said. "Also, the grazed lands of rangelands benefit many different species of wildlife that thrive in short grass and more open habitats. This includes species like prairie falcons, rough-legged hawks and kit fox, among others."

The agency noted that the easements would be voluntary. On a Q&A sheet, it assured that this is not "a massive government plan to take control of millions of acres of private rangeland."

This week's meetings on the California Foothills Legacy Area wildlife conservation program, all from 5 to 8 p.m., include:

• TODAY: Modesto Centre Plaza, Pistache Room, 1000 L St.

• TUESDAY: Merced County Farm Bureau, 646 S. Highway 59, Merced

• WEDNESDAY: Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, 5100 Bullion St., Mariposa

• THURSDAY: San Luis National Wildlife Complex visitor center, 7376 S. Wolfsen Road, Los Banos

The draft proposal is at http://go.usa. gov/YMWQ. The public also can comment via email to For more information, contact Mark Pelz at (916) 414-6500. Comments must be received by Sept. 15 to be considered for development of the final proposal.

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