Farm Bureau appeals Cal-Fed lawsuit

For the Capital Press


SACRAMENTO, CA— The California Farm Bureau Federation filed an appeal in its three-year court battle, claiming Cal-Fed’s vision of converting hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and its water supply to increase habitat and urban growth is a conservation disaster.

“California farmland and water are environmental resources of worldwide importance,” said California Farm Bureau President Bill Pauli. “Their conversion to other uses undermines a working landscape that provides food and fiber to millions of people in the United States and around the world. Our lawsuit seeks to confirm agriculture’s stature as a fundamental environmental resource.”

The original suit was filed in 2000, after the Cal-Fed program released its 30-year plan to tackle environmental restoration and water issues affecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay. The plan includes converting farms and redistributing their water.

The CFBF board of directors voted to appeal a ruling in the case, issued in April by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Patricia C. Esgro.

“The Farm Bureau filed suit only after Cal-Fed ignored or denied our consistent efforts on behalf of the environmental resources needed to grow a safe, reliable, affordable food supply,” Pauli said. “By taking away the farmland and water, the program depletes the environment needed to support sustainable farming communities and all that they contribute to our society.”

Brenda Southwick, an attorney in the CFBF natural resources and environmental division, said this is the first appeal and a decision could come down within a year.

“They (Cal-Fed) are taking farmland out of production and converting to other uses,” she said. “There are various islands in the Delta being converted to habitat rather than looking for new sources of supply. You can’t grow a crop without the land and the water.”

The lawsuit alleges farms are being targeted primarily for rich soils and water rights. Some plans include demolishing levies and letting rivers meander. That would include flooding land along the riverfront.

Problems arise when one landowner agrees to sell while a farmer on adjacent property declines. The latter has to deal with the change in water patterns and the risk of endangered species moving over.

According to the CFBF, over the last few years Cal-Fed admitted to acquiring 30,000 acres of land in the delta, creating a situation where landowners had to deal with government acquisition.

“We hope we will prevail,” Southwick said. “The government agencies should take a hard look at the land and understand farmers are willing to be land managers,” Southwick said.

“If you are going to build habitat you should do it on government-owned land instead of taking productive land out of private hands.”


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