Ag + Open Space Board of Directors to Consider “Vital Lands Initiative”

Ag + Open Space Board of Directors to Consider “Vital Lands Initiative”

December 17, 2019

Posted in: Press Releases

Ag + Open Space Board of Directors to Consider “Vital Lands Initiative” on December 17

Long-range strategic plan will chart next 10 years of Ag + Open Space work

SANTA ROSA, CA (December 11, 2019) – On Tuesday, December 17, the Board of Directors for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space) will consider an updated draft of the Vital Lands Initiative – a long-term strategic plan that will guide the work of the district for the next 10 years. Building on nearly 30 years of land conservation work and using the best available science and data, the Vital Lands Initiative outlines how the district will prioritize conservation of our county’s agricultural and natural lands, scenic viewsheds and greenbelt areas, and land for recreation, education, and urban open space within communities. The draft plan is available for download at www.sonomaopenspace.org/vital-lands.

“Many of Sonoma County’s treasured agricultural lands and beautiful natural landscapes would not exist today without the work of Ag + Open Space,” said David Rabbitt, Second District Supervisor and Chair of the Ag + Open Space Board of Directors. “It is critical that we continue to preserve our county’s rich agricultural heritage and open space lands not just for those of us living here now, but for those who will live here 100 years from now, and this plan will help us do that.”

As one of the leading publicly-funded land conservation agencies in the country, Ag + Open Space has worked diligently over the past 30 years to protect what people love most about Sonoma County. Since 1990, the district has preserved more than 118,000 acres of land in Sonoma County, including natural areas that provide clean and abundant water, as well as critical habitat for fish, wildlife, and native plants. The agency has protected numerous farms and ranches that form the backbone of our local economy and food supply, and in doing so, has helped to keep local, multi-generational farming families in operation. Ag + Open Space has protected many of the scenic vistas, mountains, and open spaces that make Sonoma County such a beautiful place to visit and call home, as well as provided new parks, preserves, trails, and urban open spaces throughout the county so that everyone can engage with our natural landscape. In addition, Ag + Open Space supports a robust education program in our local schools to help build the next generation of conservationists.

“While we are proud of our accomplishments to date, our most important successes are yet to come,” said Ag + Open Space General Manager, Bill Keene. “As we look ahead to the next decade and beyond, we face exceptional challenges – population growth; escalating land values; drought; increased pressure on farmland, open space, and wildlife habitat; and the growing impacts of climate change. The Vital Lands Initiative will provide the roadmap necessary to preserve a healthy, beautiful, and resilient Sonoma County now and for future generations.”

The draft goals, objectives, and strategies of the Vital Lands Initiative detail how the agency will approach conserving the most critical lands that preserve our agricultural heritage, provide critical habitat for plants and wildlife, offer beautiful places for people to enjoy and explore, and create buffers around our cities so that our communities retain their character and sense of place. The Initiative also proposes to enhance partnerships with community groups and organizations to achieve common goals. The draft uses the best available science, data, and technical information, and relies heavily upon community input gathered through community meetings, technical workshops, stakeholder interviews, polling, community events, and online engagement.

“Over the past few years, we have engaged with hundreds of community members and groups through public meetings, workshops, and discussions with local leaders, partners, and technical experts, and the plan is much better as a result of this input” added Keene. “Now we’re ready to share what we heard. We look forward to presenting our shared vision for land conservation in Sonoma County and the multitude of benefits the community receives as a result of this work.”

For more information, visit: www.sonomaopenspace.org/vital-lands.

About Sonoma County Ag + Open Space
Sonoma County Ag + Open Space permanently protects the diverse agricultural, natural resource and scenic open space lands of Sonoma County for future generations. The district is responsible for the perpetual protection of over 118,000 acres of land throughout our region. These agricultural and open space lands are protected through a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1990 and reauthorized in 2006. For more information, please visit www.sonomaopenspace.org.

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Background information
In 1990, through the foresight of community leaders and thoughtful citizens, Sonoma County voters approved the creation of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space) and a quarter-cent sales tax funding source for land conservation that includes ongoing planning, acquisition and stewardship of our region’s working, natural, and scenic open space lands. Nearly 30 years later, Ag + Open Space is one of the leading farmland and open space preservation programs in the nation with a diverse mission to preserve the best of Sonoma County’s unique agricultural and natural resources.

Today Sonoma County is a world-renowned tourist destination attracting visitors for its local food and wine, recreational opportunities, and gorgeous vistas. Because of the district’s work, the Sonoma County community can now take great pride in its vision for conservation and its investments in over 118,000 acres of conserved working lands and natural areas. Using public funds, Ag + Open Space has helped to provide nearly 19,000 acres of protected land open for public recreation, helping to create 37 new parks, preserves, and public spaces, and over 70 miles of trails. The district has also helped add over 14,000 acres of land to existing State and Regional Parks, and has protected nearly every mountain adjacent to the county’s major urban centers, including Fitch Mountain (Healdsburg), Taylor Mountain (Santa Rosa), and Montini Open Space Preserve (Sonoma).

In addition to providing areas for the community to get outdoors and explore our county’s natural beauty, Ag + Open Space has also protected thousands of acres of land that contribute to healthy watersheds, ecosystems, and groundwater basins that provide clean, abundant drinking water. The district also works to protect critical habitats for sensitive plants and animals, including over 62,000 acres of native oak woodland forests, 5,800 acres of wetlands and riparian habitat, and over 98 miles of streams for endangered salmon and trout. Further, by working with farmers and ranchers to safeguard their land from the threat of subdivision and development, Ag + Open Space has protected over 33,000 acres of grazing land and 77 properties that produce local artisanal cheeses and dairy products, free range meat and poultry, organic produce, and wine, which contributes to a thriving $650 million agricultural economy.