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More on Working Lands: Farm, Range and Timberland

From Highlights from A Conservation Blueprint

Most of Santa Cruz County is working land – farms, range, and timber lands. The Conservation Blueprint recommends that most land conservation take place on these lands through easements and incentives that will keep them working and increase their contribution to ecosystem health. These lands provide valuable food and building products and are major contributors to the economy of the county. They also provide valuable ecosystem services including wildlife habitat, clean water, and clean air. To protect these working lands, the Blueprint recommends strategies to improve how working lands are cared for and to ensure their economic viability.

Viability Challenges
Through extensive consultation with landowners, growers, and foresters the Blueprint team identified a host of challenges to the viability of working lands – challenges that must be addressed to provide a sustainable future for working lands. For farmers, water supply and water quality loom as perhaps the greatest challenges. Food safety regulations are also emerging as a challenge for those landowners and tenants who wish to protect habitat near cultivated areas – and to the Blueprint’s recommended use of stewardship incentives to encourage such actions.

Foresters say they are most concerned by a decreasing inventory of forest land available for harvest and by the long-term regulatory uncertainty they face. They are concerned that large intact forest lands will be purchased for parks. The county’s relatively small amount of grazing is limited by high costs and the lack of animal processing facilities.

Strategies for Maintaining the Viability of Working Lands
None of these strategies for enhancing the conservation benefits of working lands will be effective in the long term if we do not maintain the viability of farms, ranches, and timber lands. This is less familiar territory for conservationists, but it must become familiar if working lands are to contribute to the health of our natural world.

The Blueprint recommends a variety of ways to address the viability challenges facing our working lands. In the water section we address ways to deal with the water supply problems that threaten the future of farming in the county. The Blueprint recommends active support for growth control measures and the use of easements to provide permanent protection against development. Conservationists need to become involved in shaping food safety regulations that threaten habitat protection on or near cultivated land. We need to work together to address the future of the local timber industry (see box right). The partnership between conservation and working lands must be a two-way street: conservationists must help maintain the viability of working lands so that those who work the lands can enhance the natural environment.

Download maps:
Important Farm and Rangeland of Santa Cruz County (pdf, 5.1MB)
Timber Resources of Santa Cruz County (pdf, 5.7MB)

More about the Conservation Blueprint