California Farm Bureau reaches agreement on Willits bypass
April 24, 2013
A settlement agreement between the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Department of Transportation will result in improved understanding of the ecological and agricultural benefits of retaining farmland in production. CFBF and Caltrans reached an agreement to settle CFBF involvement in a legal case regarding the Willits Bypass Project on U.S. Highway 101 in Mendocino County.
In July 2012, CFBF intervened in a lawsuit filed in federal court, because of concern about how the project would impact farmland in the Little Lake Valley. Specifically, Farm Bureau was concerned about the amount of farmland the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mitigation strategy required to be removed from production in order to mitigate for wetlands affected by the bypass, and with assuring the effects on farmland received the appropriate level of review required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
General terms of the agreement include:
- CFBF and Caltrans agree to participate in further informational discussions regarding how farmland impacts are considered under NEPA.
- Caltrans agrees to cooperate with the University of California, Davis, and UC Cooperative Extension on a long-term study of how grazing management contributes to enhanced wetland function. The study will look at both land owned by the state—where grazing is required—and federally owned land—where grazing is prohibited—and consider how to optimize grazing productivity while achieving the desired wetlands enhancements. The research represents an opportunity to study how natural resources can be preserved and land utilized for both grazing and wetlands.
- Caltrans agrees to meet with farmers and ranchers adjacent to the mitigation lands to discuss concerns about how mitigation requirements may impact their ability to continue to farm and ranch in the area.
"The discussions between Caltrans and farmers in the Willits area should solidify the foundation for agriculture to remain in the area for decades to come," CFBF President Paul Wenger said, "and the study should help advance the understanding of how to achieve overlapping agricultural and ecological objectives."
As part of the agreement, CFBF will dismiss its claims against Caltrans and the Corps of Engineers.
Wenger said Farm Bureau appreciated the willingness of Caltrans officials to listen to concerns about the bypass project's potential impacts on farmland and noted that CFBF did not oppose the project itself, which will continue to move forward under the original mitigation plan.
The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 74,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.
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