This month, the UC Cooperative Extension office in Marin County released a carefully researched and written report on The Changing Role of Agriculture in Point Reyes National Seashore. PRNS is unusual in the National Park system because it has contained a "pastoral zone" with working cattle ranches, dairies and other farms since its establishment in 1962.
Now, some area residents and environmentalists are questioning the existence of commercial farming in the park, particularly an oyster farm in Drakes Bay. A controversy generated by the release of the new UCCE report was covered in yesterday's Marin Independent Journal.
Reporter Rob Rogers wrote that members of several environmental groups have called the report inaccurate, and have expressed anger with what some see as the report's support for an oyster farm within the national seashore.
"We bent over backwards to make this as neutral and positive as possible," the article quoted Ellen Rilla, UCCE county director and one of the authors of the report. "We knew we would be attacked by people who had extreme opinions."
Rilla told me this morning that she wrote the report with Lisa Bush, Marin County's agricultural ombudsman, to bring some scientific information into the conversation. "That was the point of paper," Rilla said.
The 21-page report describes current county, regional and state policies, including those contained in the Marin Countywide Plan and Local Coastal Program, economic statistics, research studies, and the historic record to support the continued existence and viability of agriculture at PRNS.
Rogers wrote that Rilla and Bush realize that their suggestions may carry little weight with the National Park Service. But Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey believes the conclusions drawn by the university researchers could be important in determining the future of the park.
"I think their suggestions may have less importance with the federal park, but they are of significant importance to the Board of Supervisors," Kinsey was quoted. "And if the Board of Supervisors expresses its collective will, federal legislators pay close attention to that."
The University of California issued a news release about a new Animal Welfare Council on May 19. Jim Downing of the Sacramento Bee picked it up, writing in a story published today that "The University of California, hoping to insert itself as a peacemaker, formed a new animal welfare council last month."
Downing's article focused on voters' overwhelming support of Proposition 2 last November, which, among other things, requires farmers to give egg-laying chickens room to spread their wings. However, the story says the battle over hen housing has "only just begun."
The story mentions that:
- The university is being sued by the Humane Society over what the group says was an industry-biased analysis of Proposition 2 during the campaign.
- The Human Society is backing Assembly Bill 1437, which would require all eggs sold in the state - not just those produced in the state - be laid by cage-free hens.
- Farmers are looking at various options for complying with Prop 2, such as a 60-hen "colony" cages used on some farms in Europe.
Kind-hearted Californians resoundingly supported Proposition 2 last November, which, among other things, requires farmers to provide the state's egg-laying hens with room to spread their wings. One of the concerns discussed before its passage - that unaffected producers from other states and Mexico will flood the California market with their cheaper eggs - would be mitigated by passage of Assembly Bill 1437, according to a Sacramento Bee story, which also appeared in the Merced Sun-Star.
The proposed law, which passed in the Assembly by a 65-12 vote, was written by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. It is likely to be heard next in the Senate Food and Agriculture Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, one of Huffman's co-authors on the bill, the story said.
The new law would require that all eggs sold in California be from cage-free hens. Reporter Jim Downing contacted the director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, Dan Sumner, for perspective on the prospective regulation.
Cage-free systems add a penny or two to the cost of producing an egg, according to a UC study last year titled Economic Effects of Proposed Restrictions on Egg-Laying Hen Housing in California. However, the retail cost of a dozen cage-free eggs is currently about $1 more than conventionally produced eggs. "If cage-free eggs were the only type available in California, that spread would likely narrow to roughly the difference in production costs," Downing paraphrased Sumner.
In a move that might only occur in a county named for a body of water, the Lake County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency last week after Fish and Game officials decided not to stock several local lakes and streams with fish.
Fish and Game made the decision after the Pacific Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit that blamed the fish stocking program for threatening native fish and amphibians, such as the hardhead minnow, spring- and winter-run chinook salmon, California red-legged frog, arroyo toad and foothill yellow-legged frog.
Fish and Game had decided to drop Upper Blue Lake, Cache Creek, Indian Valley Reservoir and Pillsbury Reservoir from agency's fish stocking program this year, according to an article in the Lake County News. For analysis of the fish stocking controversy, reporter Elizabeth Larson turned to the director of UC Cooperative Extension in Lake County, Greg Giusti.
He said the Board's message got through to the state. As of Monday, state officials reacted to the news by removing both Indian Valley Reservoir and Lake Pillsbury from the list of lakes that won't be stocked.
“Those lakes are back to status quo,” Giusti was quoted.
However, Cache Creek and Upper Blue Lake still won't be stocked. Giusti told the reporter that Upper Blue Lake is the county's highest priority when it comes to the stocking question.
Fish and Game will conduct surveys to look for the hardhead minnow and red-legged frog in Upper Blue Lake. If the surveys don't find those species, Fish and Game will recommend to U.S. Fish and Wildlife that the lake be removed from the list.
According to the article, Giusti said the probability of finding the hardhead minnow in Upper Blue Lake is small. However, Cache Creek may never be removed from the list of water bodies that won't be stocked because of the red-legged frog.
Happy New Year! UC ANR experts are off to a running start in the New Year, with appearances in a number of well-read publications.
The Associated Press moved a story on the wire about the use of lasers for irrigation. The article was picked up widely in the news media over the holiday weekend, including the Los Angeles Times. The article, written by John Rogers, said a UC San Diego professor of environmental engineering is pointing a laser beam across an alfalfa crop in Southern California's Imperial Valley, looking for a better way to conserve the millions of gallons of water sprayed each year on thirsty crops. The objective is to give farmers a more accurate, up-to-date reading of how efficiently their crops are using water than current technology allows.
UC Cooperative Extension irrigation expert Khaled Bali said water shortages are prompting researchers to come up with new ways to determine when to irrigate and how much water to use. "There's not enough water to go around," he was quoted in the story.
UC Cooperative Extension's Rose Hayden-Smith authored an essay that was posted recently in the Huffington Post. Her article offered advice to Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa who was nominated by President-elect Obama to be his administration's Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack's nomination has been met with some criticism, Hayden-Smith wrote.
"He has been criticized for his ties to agribusiness and his support of biofuels and biotechnology. To many, Vilsack represents 'agribusiness as usual.' But Vilsack also has a reputation for being a good listener and being able to work successfully with those who hold differing viewpoints. Those are reasons to be hopeful," the article says.
Hayden-Smith invoked the ideas and idealism of Henry Agard Wallace, the agriculture secretary from 1921 to 1924, in advising the nominee. Wallace's tenure was imperfect, she said, but he had vision and understood agriculture.
"My advice to the incoming Ag Secretary: Channel another son of Iowa, Henry Agard Wallace. Read everything he wrote. Focus on Wallace's visionary nature and the size of his ideas," Hayden-Smith said in her essay.