County awards grant to Marin Agricultural Land Trust to preserve ranchland
Marin County Parks understands the value of farming and ranching to the local economy and to Marin’s history. Over the past five years, Parks has awarded 12 grants to help purchase agricultural conservation easements to preserve over 7,000 acres of working farms and ranches through its Farmland Preservation Grant Program.
Now, Parks is doing it again to preserve the 758-acre Ielmorini Back Ranch in the hills between Nicasio and Novato.
The Marin County Board of Supervisors on June 4 approved a grant agreement between the County and the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) worth $1,516,000, which will be matched with private funds to purchase the easement over Ielmorini Back Ranch. The County’s funding contribution comes from the Farmland Preservation Grant Program, the result of a quarter-cent sales tax on purchases made in Marin known as Measure A.
In support of its mission to permanently protect Marin’s agricultural land for agricultural use, MALT purchases easements over working farms and ranches to preserve them as undeveloped open spaces and ensure that economically viable agriculture persists in perpetuity.
The easement deal adds to a large block of MALT-protected ranches that are classified as essential to regional conservation goals created by the Bay Area Open Space Council’s Conservation Lands Network. Upwards of 83 percent of all land in Marin is classified as open space.
Craig Richardson, Parks’ Senior Open Space Planner, said Marin County Parks is leveraging Measure A dollars to not only preserve agricultural land from potential development but to protect essential habitat for several species. The northern spotted owl, the California red-legged frog, the foothill yellow-legged frog, and the western pond turtle are special-status species that would find suitable habitat on the Ielmorini property, located about halfway between Stafford Lake and Nicasio Reservoir just east of Petaluma-Point Reyes Road.
Thanks to MALT’s presence and efforts in the county, the Measure A Farmland Preservation Program has racked up an impressive track record of helping to conserve Marin’s farmland. Since the inception of the grant program in 2014, it helped conserve 12 working farms and ranches with over 17 miles of streams, 1,815 acres of forested habitat, 4,886 acres of grassland/rangeland and 28 acres of wetlands, all in rural West Marin. All the properties have deep family roots in farming and ranching but were close to being sold for nonagricultural use.
The Measure A Farmland Preservation Program is supported by a 2012 quarter-cent sales tax approved by Marin voters and is dedicated to protecting and preserving working farms and ranches at risk of subdivision and development.
An agricultural conservation easement does not convey ownership of a property. Instead, it conveys certain rights to the easement holder and/or obligations to the landowner. In this case the easement ensures that economically viable agriculture at Ielmorini Back Ranch will continue while balancing protection of the natural resources of the property, in perpetuity.
All told, more than $14.1 million of Measure A Farmland Preservation funds have been used to preserve just over 7,000 acres of local agricultural lands since the grant program was initiated in 2014. With the addition of Ielmorini Back Ranch’s 758 acres, MALT has protected a contiguous swath of approximately 14,383 acres, or 22 square miles, and more than 54,000 acres in all throughout West Marin.
A quarter-cent retail transactions and use tax, Measure A not only is intended for farmland preservation but also for care of Marin’s existing parks and open spaces and to support regional community parks projects and programs. Fifteen percent of the tax proceeds are set aside for the acquisition of property rights to protect agriculture, and 5% is devoted to enhancing values on easement-protected lands via grants.
“MALT is proud to partner with the ranch’s owners, Doug and Cathy Ielmorini, and their four children, to support their family dairy operation, protect important habitat and safeguard these productive rangelands for agriculture forever,” said MALT Executive Director Jamison Watts. “We are grateful to Doug and Cathy for their partnership and look forward to the years ahead as we work together to steward these precious resources.”