SLT in the News

In Celebration of Land Trusts

Author: Nicole Byrd, appearing in the Forum section of The Reporter
Date: Mar 16, 2011

Solano Land Trust received a boost recently when President Obama commended the work of land trusts in his remarks introducing "America's Great Outdoors Report." The collective voices of land trusts, including Solano's, was reflected in the report, which proposes to extend enhanced tax incentives for conservation easement donations beyond 2011, fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and focus a portion of the fund on innovative projects that support large-scale land conservation.
"At a time when America's open spaces are controlled by a patchwork of groups, from government to land trusts to private citizens, it's clear that conservation in the 21st century is going to take more than what we can do here in Washington," said Obama. "Meeting the new test of environmental stewardship means finding the best ideas at the grassroots level; it means helping states, communities and nonprofits protect their own resources; and it means figuring out how the federal government can be a better partner in those efforts."

This is great news for Solano Land Trust, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. As we celebrate our successes and look forward to the future, I am thrilled that the president took our ideas into consideration, praised locally driven conservation partnerships like ours and endorsed the voluntary conservation incentives we need to continue our work.

The president's 2012 budget request makes a down payment on these proposals by providing $200 million for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, some of which will pay for public-private conservation projects.

While Solano Land Trust has not yet received support from the conservation fund, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program is an important player in our local conservation efforts.

In 2009, the program contributed $1.33 million toward the purchase of the 489-acre Miles/Kidwell Easement between Dixon and Davis, and we are expecting $1.27 million more to help fund the 600-acre St. Anthony's conservation easement near Putah Creek on the Dixon Ridge in Winter, which is scheduled to close this spring.

Given the fiscal picture of the United States, the president's request to increase funding for these programs is extraordinary. As I write this, Congress is negotiating budget cuts for the current year that could set the tone for the next couple of years. There has been strong support from Congress for Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program funding and we feel confident that this program will remain funded at a substantial level in this year and next year's budget. Current funding for the program is at $125 million.

Funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund has not received the same level of support from the House of Representatives, which proposed drastic cuts to it program in 2011. We are hopeful that the U.S. Senate, which has been more supportive, will restore 2011 funding to the current level ($450 million). While it is unlikely that the conservation fund will be fully funded at the $900 million level in the near future, as requested by the president, his support brings heightened awareness to the program and should lead to increased funding in the upcoming years.

As we know, the president doesn't make these decisions on his own, but his support sends a strong statement that these programs, and the role that land trusts play in implementing them, are vital to the health and well-being of America.

Land trusts throughout the nation are community-based operations. With the help of more than 100,000 volunteers and 2 million members, land trusts have conserved more than 37 million acres, including more than 12 million acres protected by voluntary conservation agreements with private landowners.

Locally, Solano Land Trust has preserved more than 20,000 acres since our inception in 1986. We have negotiated 19 agricultural conservation easements, two habitat easements and eight open space land purchases. Working in close partnership with landowners, farmers, local, state and federal agencies, livestock grazers, nonprofits and many dedicated volunteers, Solano Land Trust will continue to protect and preserve Solano County's farmland, ranchland and open space well into the future.

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The author is executive director of the Solano Land Trust, based in Fairfield. For more information and to learn about its 25th anniversary special events, visit www.solanolandtrust.org.