Plan includes reform of estate tax, various regulations

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

A rangeland advocacy group that recently came under fire from ranchers over a failed conservation agreement has embarked on a five-year strategic plan.

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition gathers ag and environmental groups and government agencies to work on promoting working rangelands as a tool for caring for the environment.

A steering committee that includes representatives from the California Cattlemen's Association is mapping the coalition's efforts over the next five years.

The plan will include elements such as supporting targeted estate tax reform for farmers, restoring Williamson Act subvention funding and improving the regulatory atmosphere for voluntary conservation projects, according to a cattlemen's association bulletin.

Ranchers can give input on the plan to the cattlemen's association, which plans to discuss its affiliation with the rangeland coalition during its mid-year meeting in June, said Matt Byrne, the CCA's executive vice president.

"It's been about five years since the rangeland coalition first came together," Byrne said. "A lot of the discussions in the first five years have been: Can we or can we not ... come together and identify what are the valuable parts of working together.

"Now that some of those things have been identified, how do we find a way ... to advance some of those things forward and keep focusing on things that we can agree on?" he said.

The rangeland coalition's 101 partners range from county boards of supervisors and conservation districts to green groups such as the Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense. The CCA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service combined to fund the group's director, Tracy Schohr, who works out of the CCA office.

Schohr said she was reluctant to discuss the coalition's strategic plan until it is finished.

"We just had our first meeting," she said.

The coalition was criticized earlier this year for its role in promoting so-called "safe harbor agreements" that would shield private landowners from violations of the Endangered Species Act if they made certain habitat improvements on their properties.

The CCA withdrew its support for one such agreement in Northern California after hearing from members, many of whom were concerned about the deal's impact on non-participating neighboring landowners. Some ranchers said they felt misled by the CCA and believed the rangeland coalition was acting more on the side of regulatory agencies and environmentalists than of farmers.

Byrne said ranchers' concerns over the handling of the safe harbor agreement didn't prompt development of a new strategic plan for the coalition. However, an hourlong session at the association's June 16-17 meeting in Folsom will be devoted to "issues relating to the rangeland coalition," he said.

"This (strategic plan) will be part of that discussion of where we've been, where we're going ... and what are the issues we see as priorities for our members," Byrne said. Members will "have an opportunity to share where we are, where the pitfalls are and what opportunities exist in local areas where they live," he said.

To comment

To ask questions or comment about the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition's strategic plan, call the California Cattlemen's Association office at (916) 444-0845 or e-mail Tracy Schohr at tracy@calcattlemen.org

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