Last week, the state’s Strategic Growth Council (SGC) awarded $37.4 million in project funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Land Conservation (SALC) Program. This landmark climate change and agriculture program, administered by the Department of Conservation and overseen by the SGC, funds agricultural conservation easements to protect agricultural land from sprawl development and local governments projects to develop strategies and policies for long-term agricultural conservation – all with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with land use and vehicle miles traveled. Since 2015, SALC Program has invested over $42 million in farmland conservation, protecting a total of 33,000 acres.
In this second year of the SALC Program, the SGC approved the Department of Conservation’s recommendations to award one planning grant and 20 ag conservation easements, permanently preserving nearly 19,000 acres of crop and rangeland in California. Two of the ag conservation easements are located in disadvantaged communities where low-income residents are disproportionately impacted by pollution.
Resounding Public Support
Alongside CalCAN, a number of land trusts, conservation groups and farmers showed up at the SGC meeting to provide comments and show support for this momentous program.
Farmers of one of the easement projects, which is located in disadvantage community, spoke passionately about how this funding will benefit underserved populations in their community.
Demand for funding exceeded the program dollars with over $50 million in requests with $40 million available. Some of the applicants who did not receive funding stood up to ask the SGC to find additional monies, all the while expressing their earnest support of the SALC Program. CalCAN continues to support robust funding for this program.
Farmland Conservation Does More than Decrease Vehicle Miles Traveled
The SGC remarked on the “heartwarming” comments and first-hand accounts– speaking directly to the farmers in the room – of this program’s undeniable importance, expressing that SALC is more than numbers in terms of acres and GHG emissions, but also offers many co-benefits for communities.
California Department of Agriculture Secretary Ross, who sits on the SGC, in her praise for this program, commented on its importance for preserving land to store carbon – a framing we hope to see the SALC program adopt in its next iteration.
Local Government Grants and Next Steps
With only one municipality receiving a Strategy and Outcomes grant, improvements are needed to alleviate the significant constraints on this part of SALC Program guidelines. Fortunately, staff have recognized this need for modifications and are planning to hold a public “lessons learned” workshop.
Staff plan to hold stakeholder discussions in late summer/early fall to consider the next round of SALC Program guidelines for 2017.
The SALC Program is funded with cap-and-trade auction proceeds. We anticipate a final climate investment plan for the coming fiscal year to be finalized by legislature at the end of this month.