Applause erupted yesterday in response to the unanimous vote of the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) to launch California’s trailblazing Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) Program. More than 20 land trust, conservation and agriculture organizations were on hand to speak in support of the program. SGC board member John Laird (Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency) summed up the input this way: “All speakers essentially said yes to the program, only sooner and bigger.”
The SALC Program, funded this year with $5 million in cap-and-trade revenue, is part of a larger Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program overseen by the SGC. Their vision is to integrate funding for permanent agricultural easements with urban land use projects to maximize the gains in reducing greenhouse gases lined to vehicle miles traveled and urban development. This is the first program in the country that invests in farmland conservation for its climate benefits.
Many speakers commended the leadership of Secretary Laird who has been a vocal champion of the program and whose agency will administer it. Department of Conservation staff (housed in Resources Agency) Julie Alvis and John Lowrie were also lauded for their hard work in developing guidelines for the competitive grants program at the heart of the initiative.
They are wasting no time moving forward. A request for proposals goes out today. We expect much more demand than the current $5 million can meet, and along with more than 30 other organizations we urge Governor Brown and the legislature to increase future funding.
Our working lands act as important lungs for the state, storing carbon in our soils and trees, reducing transportation-related emissions and buffering us against the worst climate change impacts. We must scale up the program if we are serious about integrating farmland protection and urban land use planning as a path forward to meeting California’s ambitious climate goals.