Colusa judge halts farmland conversion
» January 30, 2004 «
In a victory for the state's family farmers, a Colusa County Superior Court judge has ruled that the Wildlife Conservation Board and the state Department of Fish and Game abused their discretion in exempting a wildlife habitat restoration project that converted farmland to non-farming uses. The California Farm Bureau Federation, the Colusa County Farm Bureau and Richard Mora, as well as Colusa County, the participants in a lawsuit to challenge the state's action, hail the decision as a victory with statewide implications.
Farm Bureau filed suit in March 2002 after the state proposed buying a 235-acre conservation easement on farmland in Colusa County. The state planned to convert the land from its current agricultural use to seasonal wetlands, brood ponds and uplands for the exclusive use of wildlife as part of several other habitat development projects.
The Farm Bureau objected to the state's use of a "class 13" categorical exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act to circumvent what would otherwise be a required environmental review. The project was stopped by court injunction and it cannot proceed until the environmental review is completed.
CFBF President Bill Pauli said that guidelines under the environmental law allow preservation of existing habitat and wetlands and exemptions from the customary environmental review when the land is already in its natural condition. Information collected by CFBF indicates that the use of categorical exemptions for farmland conversions has been accelerating in the state.
"When the land has been improved for agricultural use, as it was in this case, the land is no longer in its natural state and an exemption should not apply," said Pauli. "The judge ruled that converting the farmland to a wildlife preserve must have an environmental review."
"We are pleased that the judge, after examining the evidence and hearing from the parties, agreed that the California Wildlife Conservation Board and the state Department of Fish and Game failed to conduct required environmental reviews," Pauli said. "The state is not above the law."
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.Top