Sonoma Mag: Public Lands Preservationist, Misti Arias

January 10, 2023

Posted in: News Articles

Originally published in January 2023 print issue of Sonoma Magazine

In 1996, fresh out of Sonoma State University with a degree in environmental studies, Misti Arias joined the relatively new Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. Last May, 25 years after she began with the organization, she was named its newest general manager, taking the reins at a point in time when soaring property values put farmland at risk and climate change both clarifies the values of open space and poses additional threats. With 123,000 acres protected in the county so far, the district continues to rely on classic strategies, such as easements and acquisitions, even as it introduces new approaches to land preservation. – Nate Seltenrich

I think what I have learned the most, and what’s changed the most over the years, is my appreciation for the need to focus on agricultural production and agricultural land conservation. It’s not like “ag versus environment.” Agriculture, and the community of folks that know how to steward and care for the land, need to be part of the conversation.

Land access is one of the greatest barriers for aspiring farmers of all kinds, but it’s an even greater barrier for farmers of color. We’re trying really hard to use our tools to ensure land is available for food production, and actually accessible to folks who have the skills and experience and interest in being farmers.

There is such an urgency to do the work as quickly as possible, because the science is showing dates that are very recognizable. But the renewed focus on land conservation as a tool to help us be resilient to climate change is beneficial. Public agencies are providing greater financial opportunities. The pressure feels greater, but in many ways that’s just a stronger motivator.