California Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), along with a number of co-authors from the Senate and the Congregation, tabled a groundbreaking bill this month to provide financial incentives for ranchers and other private landowners to implement grazing practices from the California Department of Conservation Restore grassland habitat, soil health and biodiversity in some of California’s most vulnerable and fragile landscapes. Senate Bill 322 would establish the California Conservation Ranching Incentive Program as part of the existing California Farmland Conservancy Program to contract ranchers over areas deemed particularly important to the conservation of grassland birds and other wildlife.
“SB 322 will work with California ranchers and private landowners to ensure wise grassland management,” said Senator Laird. “Working together is key to introducing innovative carbon sequestration methods that enable sustainable ranching practices that also improve and preserve wildlife habitats.”
Western Meadowlark, Copyright Clara Coen, from the Surfbirds Galleries
The program would promote regenerative farming practices similar to those of the Audubon Conservation Ranching Initiative (ACR). The program works with ranchers to apply techniques such as rotation of pasture land and limited feed use other than grass themselves. The practices allow a wide variety of native grasses – with their extensive root systems, a strong carbon sink – to grow and thrive by allowing grassland to rest and recover. This in turn provides a habitat for endangered grassland birds, the number of which has declined by 50 percent over the past 100 years. In exchange, ranchers who participate in ACR can brand their meat with Audubon’s “Pasture On Bird-Friendly Land” seal and earn up to $ 2 a pound more for their premium, grass-fed products. Nationally, ACR has 96 ranches registered on 2.3 million acres and Audubon California is in the process of registering 17 properties on 70,000 acres. ACR certified beef is available online nationwide.
“This is an opportunity to work with private ranchers to help them not only better manage their properties for birds and wildlife, but also contribute to California’s climate solutions by sequestering carbon in the soil,” said Meghan Hertel, director for land and water conservation for Audubon California. “SB 322 is a milestone – this legislation recognizes that a significant portion of California’s 61 million acres of grassland is privately owned. Therefore, farms and ranches must be partners in preserving the habitat, preserving the diversity of our unique species, and combating the climate change. “
According to a recently published study by Audubon, tens of millions of migratory land birds rely on ranch land and other open spaces in California’s Central Valley, including 60 percent of all tree swallows, 80 percent of Lawrence’s goldfinches, and numerous other resident and migratory species. However, several studies show a sharp decline in their dependent bird populations in California and beyond. The number of birds in North America has decreased by a third over the past 50 years – three billion individual birds – likely in large part due to the loss of suitable habitat. At the same time, research by Audubon shows that the remaining birds face an uncertain future as the continent warms.