Current rule set to expire Jan. 1, SB1303 would extend it another three years

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO -- A bill that would extend an agricultural exemption from protected-species rules has gone to the governor's desk.

SB1303, by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would extend through January 2014 a provision under the California Endangered Species Act that exempts farmers from penalties if their normal agricultural activities kill species that the state lists as endangered or threatened.

The rule is set to expire on Jan. 1.

Some critics say the accidental-take policy discourages participation in conservation programs that offer farmer protections, according to an Assembly analysis.

But farmers say they the species restrictions can disrupt their operations, despite their best efforts to avoid killing wildlife. The bill offers a compromise, extending the accidental-take provisions while expanding public-outreach efforts on habitat-conservation programs.

The bill says the state will authorize nonprofit organizations to communicate CESA policies and programs, including habitat-conservation efforts and economic incentives.

The bill is supported by a list of agricultural organizations, local jurisdictions, water and irrigation districts and conservation groups, along with the California Chamber of Commerce.

The bill received only unanimous votes on its way through the legislature. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has until late-September to act on it.

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