Rural Landowners Look for Cooperation from Department of Fish and Game

By Martin Inderbitzen

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Rural landowners have reason to be encouraged by the recent actions of the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and the Alameda County Resource Conservation District (ACRCD). The two are working with each other, rather than against each other, to forge a program that will facilitate agricultural activities by helping landowners move through the permitting process more efficiently.

Too often the DFG, through its enforcement efforts of the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), becomes an impediment to the ongoing agricultural activities of the ACRCD’s constituent farmers and ranchers. As a result, either agriculture suffers or protection of threatened and endangered species suffers.

But now, ACRCD and DFG are working together to advocate a Voluntary Local Program (VLP) for farmers and ranchers engaged in agricultural activities in Alameda County.

Recognizing the ranchers and farmers are good stewards of the land, the purpose of the VLP is to create a process whereby landowners who wish to restore and enhance the natural resources on their property are provided with technical assistance and also provided with protection from the incidental “take” of endangered, threatened or candidate species.

The ACRCD is the lead agency in an Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration issued July 2012 requesting authorization of the VLP and take authorization pursuant to Section 2086 of the California Fish and Game Code. If approved, the program will cover public and private lands managed as agricultural lands within the County. Landowners will still have to obtain any other applicable permits such as, Section 1600 permits and compliance with Federal Endangered Species Act regulations.

There is still a long way to go before the VLP is implemented. Comments on the IS/MND closed on August 17, 2012. However, it is definitely a step in the right direction for DFG to recognize that landowners know their land best and their efforts at restoration and enhancement for agricultural purposes may also serve as enhancements for protection of endangered species.

For more information, visit the Alameda County Conservation Partnership.

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Martin Inderbitzen, an attorney with Patton & Sullivan, specializes in real estate transactions, land use entitlement and zoning work. For questions or comments he can be reached at minderbitzen@pattonsullivan.com.

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