In summary

Conservation and wildlife organizations are working with farmers, ranchers and other private landowners to improve the environment and protect imperiled species.

By Carlos Suarez and Paul Souza, Special to CalMatters

Carlos Suarez is state conservationist of California Natural Resources Conservation Service,  carlos.suarez2@usda.gov. Paul Souza is regional director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, paul_souza@fws.gov.

Fifty years ago, Americans celebrated the first Earth Day with hopes of “fixing” our broken Earth. 

Our planet and fellow citizens needed help, much like today but in different ways. The Cuyahoga River burned, air quality had reached unhealthy levels, and some species and habitats were struggling.

Our country created a bedrock of environmental laws like the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. Working arm-in-arm with state governments and many others, we invested in conservation, learned valuable lessons and helped improve the health of the environment. We are proud of this legacy and our American heritage.

Today, we’d like to shine a spotlight on private land partnerships for conservation. Farms and ranchlands producing food for the nation and world have been learning centers – these “working lands” where producing food and fiber can also be an engine for environmental conservation. 

As leaders of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in California, we work with farmers and ranchers every day. Earlier in our careers we served together in the Florida Everglades, another treasure on Earth with many similarities to California. We learned that healthy, vibrant ranchlands were absolutely essential for the endangered Florida panther and protection of the Everglades Headwaters.

In California, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service work together to protect imperiled species where the help of farmers, ranchers and other private landowners is essential. Last month, we celebrated conservation of the Bi-State Sage Grouse, an iconic bird in the American West. Ultimately, because of voluntary, proactive partnerships, no Endangered Species Act listing was necessary.

In another effort, Alameda and Contra Costa County ranchers approached our two agencies looking for help. Their coastal ranchlands held old, degraded stock ponds that two listed species – California red-legged frog and tiger salamander – found very much to their liking. The ranchers embraced methods for revitalizing these ponds in a way that sustains both cattle and amphibians.  

A third example is found in the Sacramento Valley, working with rice farmers, the California Rice Commission, and numerous conservation and agricultural partners. Some 2,500 rice farmers and 6 million waterfowl share this corner of the Earth and the Pacific Flyway.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and rice producers are working together to create habitat that supports farming and birds simultaneously. This important effort includes many facets such as offering voluntary easement options that are a “win-win” for farmers and conservation. 

We are also excited about emerging opportunities to advance floodplain restoration with farmers and ranchers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, which would spread water across the landscape, slow it down and create habitat for salmon and birds at the same time. 

We are proud of the conservation work completed since the first Earth Day. That said, we have much more work to do. Our relationship with farmers and ranchers is more important than ever. We pledge to do our part with the agricultural community to make the next 50 years even better.

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Carlos Suarez is state conservationist of California Natural Resources Conservation Service,  carlos.suarez2@usda.gov. Paul Souza is regional director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, paul_souza@fws.gov.

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