Tulare County changes solar farm policy

February 28, 2013

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Atwell Island, near Alpaugh, is one of the solar plants covered by the new solar plan approved by the Board of Supervisors. / submitted.

David Castellon, Visalia Times-Delta, Feb 27, 2013

There is less land in unincorporated Tulare County where solar farms can be built after the Board of Supervisors voted to change the county’s policy.

As a result, the 370,250 acres of agriculturally-zoned land in the county where solar farms were unlikely to be permitted before Tuesday’s vote by the supervisors has been increased by an additional 283,7999 acres.

That leaves nearly 188,000 acres of unincorporated agriculturally-zoned land where the county would be likely to allow solar projects.

Those changes are based on recommendations by the county’s Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee, a group of farmers and others involved in the agricultural industry that the supervisors asked in December to review the county’s policy on where utility-scale solar farms — those intended to provide energy to regional electrical grids or communities — could be built.

The board’s request was triggered by members of the Tulare County Farm Bureau, who were concerned that the solar policy the supervisors approved in 2010 didn’t do enough to prohibit construction of solar energy operations on prime farmland.

That policy stated that the board would “not necessarily support” prohibiting solar farm construction on prime farmland, and most of the more than 1,900 acres where the county has approved 17 utility-scale solar farms are on non-prime land.

All are in various stages of development, including the 160-acre Atwell Island solar farm near Alpaugh, which has been built and will be the first to go online once Pacific Gas and Electric gives approval, said Mike Washam, the county’s economic development director.

“We are concerned that the non-prime ‘case by case’ [consideration] approach is not yet clearly defined for prime farm lands, and we strongly discourage the county from permitting any solar development on lands that can support viable agriculture production,” states a letter the Farm Bureau sent to the county Planning Commission in September.

The Farm Bureau doesn’t object to building solar farms on non-prime land, where water and soil conditions are so bad that it may not be viable to successfully farm there.

Washam, who also is the county’s liaison to the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee, said the group discussed the county’s solar farm policy and recommended changes that included:

• • Solar farms should not be built within the urban growth and development boundaries around each Tulare County’s cities, or in the development boundaries around small communities that the county has designated as “hamlets.”

• Solar farms should be close to electrical grids, corridors for electrical lines, electric sub stations or end users.

• The county shouldn’t support solar farm development on land designated by the State Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program as prime farmland or on land designated as having class 1 soil by the California Natural Resources Conservation Service.

• The county should include land where any permanent crops have been grown in the last 10 years and citrus and olive groves along along Tulare County’s citrus belt — which runs along the east end of the county — as being “constrained” from solar development.

• The county should not support removal of permanent crops to make room for solar projects if there is sufficient water to continue farming, regardless of soil classifications. Analysis that looks at water sources and availability for the land would have to be conducted.

• Analyze the potential effects of a solar farms on neighboring agricultural farms and mitigate them.

Washam said the committee worked with the county Resource Management Agency and the Farm Bureau to develop the recommendations.

“This is more to what I understand is protecting viable farm ground than we had before,” count Supervisor Allen Ishida said before he and his fellow supervisors voted unanimously to make the recommended changes part of the county’s solar policy.

Ishida is a former citrus grower and a long-time advocate of farmland preservation.

“I’m very pleased. Because this really reflects, I think, a much more comprehensive land-preservation policy for the county,” Patricia Stever Blattler, the Farm Bureau’s executive director, said of the board’s vote.

“The biggest change is solar sites will not be supported in farmland planted with permanent crops,” such as grape vines, tree fruits and nuts, Washam said.

He said the the land along the citrus belt was added because citrus and olive trees can grow in poorer-quality soil than row crops, if enough water is available.

Of the 17 solar projects approved by the county, two would not meet the new criteria, but they will not be affected by the policy changes, Washam said. He added that three other solar projects awaiting county approval meet the new criteria.

The solar policy changes don’t affect solar projects within cities or solar projects powering individual buildings, farms, dairies or other businesses in the unincorporated county.

And the changes in solar policy may not have much effect in the future.

“I think we have actually seen the big boom in solar that is going to want to locate here, so I don’t know if these policies, at this point, will have an impact on solar development,” Stever Blattler said.

That boom was driven by a 2008 directive to increase the ratio of California’s electricity coming from from renewable sources, including, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydroelctric power.

Since then, private companies have been working to build solar and wind farms in various parts of the state — including Tulare County — with plans to sell the electricity they generate to electrical utility companies.

And the projects in development across California could generate three times as much electricity as the state needs to reach it 33 percent renewable-energy goal by 2020, said Hector Uriarte, the green jobs coordinator for Proteus, Inc.

The Visalia-based jobs training program has trained more than 450 people in solar installation jobs, and many of them have worked on building solar farms in the south Valley.

“If anything, we are reaching the end of the road for the projects coming through,” Uriarte said, adding that “The ones here are going to go forward.”


Effective Protection in farmland conservation

February 27, 2013

By ADMIN| Published: FEBRUARY 26, 2013

PRESS RELEASE

Former USDA Deputy Secretary and Co-Chair of AGree Jim Moseley Makes Case  for Attaching Compliance to Crop Insurance in Next Farm Bill

Washington, D.C., Feb. 26, 2013—Over the last 25 years, one of the least-publicized farmland conservation efforts has actually been one of the most effective, says a new report by former USDA Deputy Secretary and Co-Chair of AGree Jim Moseley. Conservation Compliance: A 25-Year Legacy of Stewardship explains how conservation compliance, which has historically required farmers to implement conservation measures in return for federally funded farm support, helped save millions of wetland acres while keeping billions of tons of soil on farms. As a result, millions of marginal, erosion-prone lands have remained healthy and productive.

“Few conservation programs can boast the success rate of conservation compliance,” said Moseley, who served as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2001 to 2005. “This program has helped farmers save 295 million tons of soil per year and kept an estimated 1.5 million to 3.3 million acres of vulnerable wetlands from being drained. The results of this compact between farmers and taxpayers have been astounding.”

The report urges Congress to reattach conservation compliance to crop insurance premium assistance in the next farm bill reauthorization.  As federal farm policy is updated, it is increasingly likely that some commodity programs will be phased out in favor of a strengthened crop insurance program that is becoming the core component of the farm safety net. Therefore, according to Moseley, it seems essential that conservation compliance also be updated to apply to the crop insurance premium assistance.

“As Congress reauthorizes the farm bill, it is important that the conservation gains made over the last 25 years be retained,” said Moseley. “Unless included in the ongoing farm bill discussions, there is a possibility that, for the first time in a quarter century, conservation compliance provisions will no longer be attached to the largest federal payment program supporting producers.”

In addition to highlighting the successes of conservation compliance, the report dispels several myths about conservation compliance and presents key facts about the program, including:

  • Conservation compliance is a reasonable expectation in exchange for the significant safety-net benefits the public provides for producers.
  • Most producers are already in compliance.
  • Re-attaching crop insurance premiums to conservation compliance will lead to minimal administrative burden.
  • Conservation compliance includes common-sense protections for farmers.
  • Conservation compliance saves money.

Visit http://www.farmbillfacts.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Conservation-Compliance-Legacy.pdf to download the full report.


New Year’s resolution: Become a volunteer

December 10, 2012

Is volunteering for you?

Do you like being outdoors in a beautiful natural setting or would you like to spend some time in a garden?

Sequoia Riverlands Trust would love to have you as a volunteer at Kaweah Oaks Preserve or Dry Creek Preserve!

If you’re thinking about doing some volunteering in the New Year, here are some tips for finding that perfect volunteer spot.

1. Identify the causes you’re passionate about.

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(Kids at Kaweah Oaks Preserve)

Do you feel strongly about a particular problem or issue? Just to think, “Oh, well, volunteering would be a nice thing to do,” isn’t really enough. You might start, but will you stick with it? If you feel strongly about something, such as nature, open space, animals, homelessness or helping children, then that is a very good sign and the start of a great volunteer experience.

2. Determine how much time you have.

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(Nature guides showcasing preserve on walk)
Do you want something that is short and infrequent? Or could you donate a certain amount of time each week or month? This is something you’ll want to share with the nonprofits you talk with. There are volunteer opportunities that can fit any time commitment, from being a Girl Scout leader for a school year to registering attendees at a charity event for a few hours.
Nonprofits have become quite adept at tailoring volunteer opportunities to fit our modern lifestyles. For instance, Sparked, a website that helps people engage in “microvolunteering,” matches volunteers who just want to devote snatches of time to their causes with nonprofits that have suitable projects.You may even be able to use work time to volunteer. Many companies have employee volunteer programs, days of service during which teams of employees help a cause, or even loan out “skilled” volunteers to help with sophisticated projects at charities. You can even find a way to use your professional skills to benefit others through a matching service like Catchafire.

3. Contact relevant organizations.

Look up the organizations in your locale that deal with the issues you care about. Contact them and ask if they have any volunteer opportunities. You can also get an idea of what volunteer opportunities are out there by visiting the many online volunteer matching services.Your local media are also great resources. Community newspapers and the websites of your favorite TV stations often have news or listings of volunteer needs right in your neighborhood. Be sure to encourage your neighbors and friends to tell you about their volunteer experiences and how they got involved.Contact one to three organizations and then visit them in person. Ideally, you’ll meet with a volunteer coordinator and get a good idea of how the nonprofit works, the kinds of volunteer opportunities that are available, and how good a fit it is for your goals. It’s a good idea to volunteer for a small project before getting extensively involved. If it doesn’t work out, you can move on. Finding your right volunteer match can make the difference between being a volunteer dropout or a happy, dedicated one.

4. Look for a volunteer opportunity that will be fulfilling.

(Getty Images”)

Volunteer work should not be entirely selfless. It is important that you enjoy what you are doing so that you will continue doing it. Think about what you like to do. Are you a “take charge” kind of person? If so, you won’t be happy knocking on doors or stuffing envelopes. Look for leadership opportunities at nonprofits, such as serving on a board of directors, helping with fundraising, or organizing an event.

On the other hand, you might not want something intellectually challenging. Perhaps you have enough of that in your own career and would like to so something simple but meaningful. Maybe you would enjoy cleaning up a vacant lot, planting a garden or signing people up for a charity run.

5. Match your skills to the volunteer opportunity.

Make a list of the things you are good at so that you can share them with the volunteer coordinators that you talk with. People who are sophisticated with computers, for instance, are in high demand at nonprofits. But your skills might be a facility with people, ability to do detailed work such as keeping meticulous records, hands-on ability such as carpentery or sewing, a talent with the written word, or public speaking.

6. Be prepared for a challenge.

(Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation”)

Boredom and impatience with the process are the biggest threats to a fulfilling volunteer experience. Some nonprofits will be disorganized and ill prepared for volunteers. Don’t stay with that kind of situation. If they deserve you, they will be ready to use you effectively.

If you work for a high-powered corporation, you may get impatient with the way things are done at a nonprofit. Try to refrain from telling them how to do their job.

If you work with things instead of people, you may have to rethink how you operate. Working with people and their problems takes a different and more patient mindset.

7. Expect personal growth.

(Getty Images”)

You may be challenged by having to deal with people who are less educated than yourself, from different backgrounds, and who have a different ethnic background. For sure, your stereotypes will crumble as you witness the dignity of all people no matter their circumstances.

These challenges are healthy ones and will result in your own personal growth if you persevere rather than run away at your first glimpse of life as others live it.


Holiday Portraits and Rare Plant Sale

December 7, 2012
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Cactus sale and portrait fundraiser Saturday at Kaweah Oaks Preserve
Dec. 06
visaliatimesdelta.com

Kaweah Oaks Preserve will be hopping this Saturday as families dressed in their holiday best pose for portraits and a rare Christmas cactus sale takes place.

Both the portraits and plant sale benefit Sequoia Riverlands Trust, caretakers of this preserve located east of Visalia on Road 182.

Professional holiday portraits by CJHopper of PhotoMenage are by appointment only. Call now for an appointment as space is limited. Cost is $55 for the 20-minute photo shoot and one 8×10 print. To make an appointment, call CJHopper at 595-9691.

Sequoia Riverlands Trust is selling Christmas cacti collected by Andrew Frazier, SRT’s native plant nursery manager. This is not the typical Christmas cactus sold in nurseries. The sweet-scented, large blooms have cream colored petals with bright yellow highlights. They bloom at night about two nights a year in the spring and are called the Queen of the Night.

The bare-root cacti cost $5 to $25. Native plants and other cacti will also be available for purchase at the plant sale from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

For more information, call Kelly Ryan at Sequoia Riverlands Trust at 738-0211, ext. 105 or email atkelly@sequoiariverlands.org.


SRT Challenge Campaign

October 24, 2012

HELP SECURE $20,000 IN MATCHING CHALLENGE FUNDS!

Sequoia Riverlands Trust pursuing protection of 60 acres of critical habitat and public recreation in Three Rivers

KEEP THIS LAND OPEN AND NATURAL!

Longtime Sequoia Riverlands Trust donors Dale Lincoln and Sandy Greenamyer are challenging fellow Three Rivers residents and the Tulare County community to match their $20,000 donation. Their incredibly generous gift will dramatically boost our efforts to protect the lands where we live, work, play, and raise our families.

Dale Lincoln and wife Sandy Greenamyer gave the generous donation and praised conservation efforts by SRT, calling its land protection programs vital for the community.

“Sequoia Riverlands Trust helps us be part of a community working to ensure Three Rivers and the rest of Tulare County will always be the beautiful and extraordinary place that we love. We are confident that our gift will expand education opportunities for children and add essential acreage to Tulare County’s protected landscapes for future generations.”

SRT’s Conservation Director Hilary Dustin says SRT has a number of projects currently underway helping to protect land along river corridors in the Southern Sierra. “We also partner with other agencies to improve access to public lands. This generous gift along with matching funds will allow SRT to expand these efforts.”

The campaign’s first short term goal is to raise $7,000 dollars by the end of October.

According to SRT Executive Director Soapy Mulholland, no donation is too small. “We are grateful for any and every donation that comes so that we can continue to work on behalf of conserving open space, saving farmland and reaching more young people with our environmental education programs.”

You can make a donation with online http://sequoiariverlands.org/support-donate.html or contact Scott Artis at scott.artis@sequoiariverlands.org or 559-738-0211 ext. 108.


Private Homes within our National Parks

October 12, 2012

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Did you know there are private homes popping up inside national parks? Click on the link below to this story that CBS News did and learn why it’s happening more often now and who is trying to do something about it.

http://cbsn.ws/X2lQAu


William Tweed, Guest Blogger

September 27, 2012

The beauty of Dry Creek Preserve

REMEMBERING THE CONTRIBUTION OF GENERATIONS PAST

By William Tweed

Our culture changes over time, and we all too easily forget the efforts and dreams of those who came before us. Not knowing how we got to where we are now makes us misunderstand much that goes on around us.

Oddly, conservation has become a sort of dirty word here in Tulare County. It seems, for many citizens, to represent something negative that is done to us rather than something positive from which we benefit. Particularly, this seems to be true about how we think about Tulare County’s public lands – our national park and our national forest. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Today, the twin reservations of Sequoia National Park and Sequoia National Forest include almost all of the higher altitude lands in Tulare County, an area equal to almost half of the county’s acreage.  I often hear people say that this land “belongs” to the government, which is, in fact, a serious misrepresentation. These lands actually belong to the citizens of the United States – to all of us.

Moreover, these two large federal reservations were not imposed upon us by outsiders. Instead, local citizens campaigned very hard to create them. Both the national park and the national forest came into being because Tulare County residents worked with determination to bring them into existence.

Four Tulare County men – Tipton Lindsey, Frank. J. Walker, John Tuohy, and George Stewart – stand out in that long ago story, and they deserve to be remembered.

Their efforts began in Visalia in October 1889, when the four began a campaign to protect the mountains lands adjacent to the southern half of the San Joaquin Valley.

Each brought special skills to the movement.   Lindsey, because he worked in the United States Land Office in Visalia, provided his knowledge of federal lands. Walker and Stewart were associated with the Visalia Delta newspaper. Tuohy, a rancher, knew the mountains first hand.

They had two primary goals.  The first was to protect the watersheds that made irrigation agriculture possible in the southern San Joaquin Valley. They also hoped to preserve some of the region’s surpassing natural beauty.

Initially, they campaigned to protect the entire central and southern Sierra Nevada from illegal logging and destructive overgrazing.  Then, when it became apparent that the local giant sequoia groves were rapidly passing into private hands, they shifted their focus to a more limited and immediate goal – the establishment of a national park to protect the best of the giant sequoia trees. This effort gained energy over the summer of 1890, and President Benjamin Harrison signed a bill establishing such a park on September 25, 1890 – one hundred and twenty-two years ago this coming Tuesday.

Meanwhile, at the suggestion of Interior Secretary John Noble, Congress passed a law allowing the president to set aside lands already in public ownership as permanent forest reserves. This statute, signed in March 1891, gave the four Tulare County men a new tool to work with, and they now began to push for a large forest reserve in the Tulare County mountains.

Secretary Noble, responding to their interest, assigned a special land agent to the Sierra to determine how much land might productively be placed in such a preserve.  It took agent B. F. Allen a full year, but by January 1893 he had come up with a recommendation to create a reserve of over four million acres. President Harrison concurred and authorized the reserve on February 14, 1893. So was born the Sierra Forest Reserve.

It took another dozen years and a government reorganization before effective management came to the reserve, but the changes did come. In 1905, management of the reserve was transferred to a new agency in the Agriculture Department, the United States Forest Service. In 1907, the new managers renamed the southern portion of the forest reserve the Sequoia National Forest. The huge area has been managed under this name ever since.

Tipton Lindsey, Frank. J. Walker, John Tuohy, and George Stewart achieved their dreams. These four Tulare County residents, using their skills and working through one of the ancestors of this very newspaper, succeeded in creating two enduring institutions that still belong to the people of the United States. Today, a million visitors a year come to see Sequoia National Park, and the adjoining national forest continues to provide timber, grazing, hunting, and wilderness recreation to us all.  And most importantly, of course, the rivers of the southern Sierra still provide high quality water for irrigation.

Sadly, few modern Tulare County residents recognize the names of these four late- nineteenth-century local men. Stewart is perhaps the best remembered, and in 1930 his name was applied to a peak in Sequoia National Park. The same park also has a remote meadow named for Tuohy. The other two seems almost completely forgotten. (Incidentally, neither the towns of Tipton or Lindsay were named for Tipton Lindsey.)

In later years, none of these men ever stopped thinking about the benefits of public parks and forests. In his last years, John Tuohy even led the effort to purchase Mooney Grove and turn it into the first Tulare County park.

In these contentious times, when politics seems to be about blaming people for things, it is worth remembering how much of our local history represents the positive contributions of those who came before us.  And at the very top of any such list should be the local men who worked so hard to create both Tulare County’s priceless national park and its equally valuable national forest.