California shore beach cover

The California coastline.

Just a couple weeks after signing an Executive Order (EO) requiring sales of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) furthered the state’s goal to be a climate change leader by designating 30 percent of the state’s land and oceans to be protected.

On Oct. 7, while standing in a walnut orchard in Winters, CA, Newsom signed the EO designating the state as the first in the nation to commit to the 30 percent goal by 2030, also known as “30 by 30.”

If this sounds familiar, legislation introduced by Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-27) earlier this year was similar in context to the EO signed by Newsom. The bill, AB3030, was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Suspense File in mid-August and therefore failed passage.

A California bill with the lofty goal of preserving 30 percent of land and water areas—including oceans—in the state by 2030, is currently being considered in the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

The EO directs the California Natural Resources Agency, along with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Environmental Protection Agency and other state agencies, to establish the California Biodiversity Collaborative (Collaborative). The agencies, along with other stakeholders such as “California Native American tribes, experts, business and community leaders,” will utilize “best available science and traditional ecological knowledge” to protect and restore the state’s biodiversity.

To achieve the goal of restoring the state’s biodiversity, the EO states it should be done in a manner that “Enables enduring conservation measures on a broad range of landscapes, including natural areas and working lands, in partnership with land managers and natural resource user groups.”

In the hours after the EO was issued, California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) Executive Vice President Billy Gatlin issued the following statement: “Cattle graze 38 million acres of working lands in our state. California’s ranchers are leaders in innovation and conservation worldwide and livestock grazing and conservation are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, California cannot reach its conservation goals without working with ranchers to conserve rangelands and expand grazing in our state. We look forward to working with the governor to expand livestock grazing in California to reach our collective biodiversity and conservation goals.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 22 percent of the state is currently considered protected. However, federal, state and local governments own 47 percent of lands in the state, according to the California Protected Areas Database. The EO would involve cooperation from private landowners, including agricultural lands.

The EO directs the California Department of Food and Agriculture to enhance soil health through the Healthy Soils Initiative. The initiative promotes programs such as cover cropping, no-till, reduced-till, compost applications and conservation plantings. Additionally, the department would protect the state’s native plants and animals and restore populations of pollinator insects.

“We know that cattle ranchers and cattle grazing enhance biodiversity,” Kirk Wilbur, vice president of governmental affairs at CCA, told WLJ. “Livestock grazing provides vital habitat to California tiger salamanders, red-legged frogs and other species of conservation concern, and voluntary improvements undertaken by ranchers have safeguarded sage grouse and spurred the removal of the Modoc sucker from the federal Endangered Species Act. We know—and recent research from University of California Cooperative Extension, San Benito confirms—that livestock grazing can reduce the likelihood, severity and spread of wildfire. We know that livestock graze certain invasive plant species, protecting California’s native plant biodiversity.”

Wilbur expressed concern on whether land enrolled in Williamson Act contracts and other rangelands would be deemed “conserved,” and “we continue to wonder what role grazing might play as an ‘enduring conservation measure.’” Wilbur said CCA is “eager to participate in” talks highlighting the role livestock plays in conservation.

In a press release, the California Farm Bureau expressed skepticism of the use of EOs. Still, it stated it was “cautiously optimistic” the agriculture community would provide input to the scoping process.

“Growing plants pulls carbon out of the air, and California farmers do that better than anyone—all while conserving water, energy, soil and wildlife habitat, and reducing emissions from equipment, vehicles and livestock,” Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau, said in a statement.

Newsom said at the signing the EO would not curtail commercial uses on federal lands such as logging, mining and grazing or intends to take anything away.

The California Natural Resources Agency in consultation with the Collaborative is directed to develop and report strategies to the governor no later than Feb. 1, 2022. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

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