Santa Barbara Land Trust deal saves federally endangered species
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In a deal that conserves important wildlife habitat and grazing lands, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County has partnered with Betteravia Farms, LLC, who are a part of Bonipak, an agricultural group. This agreement is for the survival of the federally endangered species, the California tiger salamander. Betteravia Farms over the past 8 decades has grown into one of the largest agricultural operations in the county, that grows and ships produce throughout North America.The presence of the California tiger salamander has posed a challenge for farmers, including those of Betteravia Farms. Landowners see it as an opportunity for balance between crops and habitat. The land in question is located in the hills west of Orcutt.
The Santa Barbara Land Trust started in 1985 and has worked with many landowners and community groups to protect wildlife, habitat, open space, and family farms throughout Santa Barbara County. The land trust has contributed to the preservation of more than 27,000 acres of land. In an interview with the Horizon, Bruce Reitherman, Conservation Director for the Santa Barbara Land Trust, said, “The idea is that we are sort of problem solvers. We try to find ways that maximize the benefit to the public by conserving as much as we possibly can, while also keeping in mind that if we do not provide real benefits to private landowners, we will have a very difficult time doing our work.” Reitherman went on to talk about the deal with Bonipak. “The landowners are a part of Bonipak, a large agricultural entity that found their agricultural development limited by the presence of an endangered species—the California tiger salamander.” Reitherman also said that, “This salamander is important to the ecology and the health of the entire planet. It happened to live on property where they hoped to put strawberries. The federal government and state government through The Endangered Species Acts ... restricted their ability to develop, but also provided ways by which they could solve their problem -- in this case by mitigating for the impacts that would happen on salamander habitat by virtue of the fact that it was going to be developed to grow strawberries and compensating for that impact.” Reitherman further explains the deal, saying, “The deal that we negotiated boils down to the mitigation of the impact on a small number of agricultural acres in exchange for a large number of conservation acres.”
Bonipak CEO, Joe Leonard, stated in a press conference that, “We are proud to have accomplished a model for cooperation between agricultural businesses and conservation agencies in Santa Barbara County.” The project’s success is attributed to a collaborative approach between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By partnering with land owners and agencies, the Santa Barbara Land Trust has come up with a model that helps willing landowners with agriculture success and wildlife habitat conservation. Rachel Henry, a fish and wildlife biologist with the Service in Ventura, said at a press conference that, “The Endangered Species Act was key in providing a mechanism for collaboration between our agency and a private landowner. We worked with the Land Trust and Betteravia to come up with an innovative project that provides great conservation benefit for the California tiger salamander and meets the needs of the landowner.” Betteravia Farms was granted permission to grow strawberries on a smaller area of land, in exchange for conserving a larger area of land. This perpetual agreement will protect the California tiger salamander species and allow Betteravia Farms and Bonipak Produce to increase profit.