Comments on Conservation Grazing

I listened to the discussion on agricultural policy with a lot of interest, though I have to admit this is an area where I don’t have much background or experience. I want to make a few comments about the policy and the board discussion.

There were a few comments from the board to the effect that we need to increase the education of the public about the agricultural mission in order to increase their support for it. While that might have some utility on its own, I think it’s better to think about how that education might happen through the interests they already have in the open space. That comes back to the things we know they care deeply about: Protection from development, access, and trails. On the surface, people may see the agricultural mission as being in conflict with these goals, for instance directing money away from access and other features.

My recommendation on this point would be to try to increase public engagement and interest in the agricultural mission specifically through their use of the open spaces that intersect with the ag mission – i.e. show them that they are getting more and better access because we preserved these grazing (or other) lands. To some extent I think this has worked in some other local parks and preserves, where trails intersect with grazing, though it’s not a simple task. Cattle damage the land and the trails and this will turn some people against the agricultural mission. In my own experience there are places where it works better and worse. For example the rocky areas at Santa Teresa County Park hold up very well to cattle and I have not heard any complaints about grazing there. Some other places see a lot of damage and I hear a lot of negative views (you can find info on the web about cows at Shell Ridge and Crockett Hills, for example).

I’m not sure if Midpen has adopted a specific policy about bikes and grazing, but I’d encourage you to think about allowing it. I know there have been concerns from ranchers about bikes but it’s not so clear if there are many actual issues. In my experience it seems to work smoothly, and better opportunities for bikes might help draw in more support. One other aspect of this is that the mountain biking community is highly motivated to do trailwork/maintenance, and these trails might need more of it (mountain biking organizations also do a lot of work on trails that aren’t open to bikes).

These things can be combined with educational approaches such as interpretive signs on the trails which help the public understand the history, why these policies have been adapted, and how they contribute to the community.

This needn’t apply just to grazing lands. It might be possible to create something like an accessible, interpretive trail around an organic, sustainable flower farm. It could be a great addition to the porfolio (this could be done in partnership even if Midpen doesn’t keep the land). One example of this is the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County’s Watsonville Slough Farm (it’s not open yet but will include both wildlife/nature trails and interpretive elements around an organic vegetable and flower farm).

My general point here is that if the public sees the agricultural policy as helping them to achieve their primary open space goals, it’s more likely that they can be brought in as advocates for that mission.

Following this feedback, I contacted Director Zoe Kersteen-Tucker (now board President for 2022) directly as she is probably the most engaged and concerned director with respect to the coastside mission and in particular conservation grazing.  Director Kersteen-Tucker set up a Zoom meeting where I presented a more detailed set of ideas and suggestions based on the ideas outlined in the previous comment.  I can make these slides and follow-up comments available if there is interest.

These written comments were provided to the Midpen Board of Directors after their December 15, 2021 meeting.