Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District

We inspire and partner with our community to protect the natural resources and agricultural future of our District.

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Threats to Conservation Easement Funding Put Farmland and Wetlands at Risk

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America’s wetlands, grasslands, and farmland are under increasing threat of conversion to other land uses – wetlands and grasslands are routinely targeted for conversion to crop production, while existing farmland is often threatened by conversion to commercial or residential uses. It is critical that we protect these lands and their existing uses because each serves an important function in our society and ecosystem. Without farmland, we lose our nation’s food security as well as the livelihoods of food producing and rural families. If we convert our wetlands and grasslands, we lose highly productive ecosystems that support an abundance of plants and animals, and provide a wide range of ecological benefits such as water filtration, flood mitigation, and carbon sequestration.

The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) helps landowners, land trusts, and other entities protect these lands with long-term and permanent easements. ACEP, which was established under the 2014 Farm Bill and is administered by USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), has two easement components – one for wetlands and one for agricultural land. The agricultural land easement component also includes a funding pool for Grasslands of Special Environmental Significance.

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Source:  National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition, September 27, 2017


The great nutrient collapse

The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention.

Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reducing the protein in staple crops like rice, wheat, barley and potatoes, raising unknown risks to human health in the future.

Irakli Loladze is a mathematician by training, but he was in a biology lab when he encountered the puzzle that would change his life. It was in 1998, and Loladze was studying for his Ph.D. at Arizona State University. Against a backdrop of glass containers glowing with bright green algae, a biologist told Loladze and a half-dozen other graduate students that scientists had discovered something mysterious about zooplankton.

Zooplankton are microscopic animals that float in the world’s oceans and lakes, and for food they rely on algae, which are essentially tiny plants. Scientists found that they could make algae grow faster by shining more light onto them—increasing the food supply for the zooplankton, which should have flourished. But it didn’t work out that way. When the researchers shined more light on the algae, the algae grew faster, and the tiny animals had lots and lots to eat—but at a certain point they started struggling to survive. This was a paradox. More food should lead to more growth. How could more algae be a problem?

Loladze was technically in the math department, but he loved biology and couldn’t stop thinking about this. The biologists had an idea of what was going on: The increased light was making the algae grow faster, but they ended up containing fewer of the nutrients the zooplankton needed to thrive. By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food. The zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving.

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Source:  Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico, September 13, 2017


The zoo beneath our feet: We’re only beginning to understand soil’s hidden world

The gardener has a long, touchy-feely relationship with the soil. As every good cultivator knows, you assess the earth by holding it. Is it dark and crumbly, is there an earthworm or beetle in there, is it moist, and when you smell it, are you getting that pleasant earthy aroma?

All these signs are reassuring, and have been through the ages, but they are mere indicators of something much greater and infinitely mysterious: a hidden universe beneath our feet.

This cosmos is only now revealing itself as a result of scientific discoveries based on better microscopic imaging and DNA analysis. There is much still to learn, but it boils down to this: Plants nurture a whole world of creatures in the soil that in return feed and protect the plants, including and especially trees. It is a subterranean community that includes worms, insects, mites, other arthropods you’ve never heard of, amoebas, and fellow protozoa. The dominant organisms are bacteria and fungi. All these players work together, sometimes by eating one another.

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Source:  Adrian Higgins, The Washington Post, August 9, 2017


Biodiversity Makes Us Stronger and More Resilient

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Biodiversity – like having lots of different plants, bugs and wildlife in our pastures, some of which we might not even like – doesn’t always make managing our grazing  easy. But before we wish away all that “difference,” here’s a story from the news desk at the Smithsonian Institute describing the important role biodiversity can play to make our pastures and our operations more resilient.

Hundreds of experiments have shown biodiversity fosters healthier, more productive ecosystems. But many experts doubted whether these experiments would hold up in the real world. A Smithsonian and University of Michigan study published today in the journal Nature offers a decisive answer: Biodiversity’s power in the wild does not match that predicted by experiments—it surpasses it.

“Having diversity is not just an aesthetic thing,” said Emmett Duffy, lead author and marine ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md. “It’s really important for having ecosystems that work well—that are productive, that can recycle nutrients, absorb wastes and protect shorelines.”

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Source:  Kathy Voth, On Pasture, September 25, 2017


Close to Home: Cap-and-trade funds need to support creative rural solutions, like those on the North Coast

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Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed Assembly Bill 398, which extends cap-and-trade, California’s cornerstone climate change program, through 2030. The program requires the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., the oil and gas industry, cement plants, large food processors) to cut their emissions. Without putting a price on carbon, we are unlikely to meet our climate change goals, the most ambitious in the country.

The state Legislature and governor will now debate how to budget billions of dollars in cap-and-trade revenue. In the past three years, California has invested more than $3 billion of cap-and-trade funds in our communities to accelerate the transition toward a clean energy economy. In January, Governor Brown proposed an additional $2.2 billion for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

To date, the money has been invested across California on projects that reduce emissions by weatherizing homes, installing solar panels, improving public transportation, building transit-oriented housing and more. In addition to these urban strategies, the state has also embraced sustainable agricultural solutions to climate change.

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Source:  Paul Dolan and Renata Brillinger, The Press Democrat, August 13, 2017