Conservation Cowboys

California’s booming population over the past decade has meant a lot of new development in the form of housing and roadways; taking large swaths of agricultural range and farm land with it.

Environmentalists say this growth has delivered the state to a crossroads where the extinction or survival for many types of species, wildlife and natural habitat will be decided. Enter modern-day growth, fueled by disappearing lands, a state program from the 90’s-conservation banking. Like a financial institution protect dollars and cents, a conservation bank works to protect the bucolic landscapes and the creatures living upon it and dually rewards the land owner by staving off development, while also providing an additional revenue stream. The best friends to the Federal regulators who oversee these banks are the very agricultural land owners who are more commonly tagged as being at the wrong intersection of those crossroads.

Chris Burrous meets traditional cattle rancher turned conservationist, Marden Wilber. Marden discovered conservation banking when a chunk of his grazing operation wasn’t suitable for conversion to vineyards. Marden hoped the vineyards would produce a badly needed additional revenue stream from the sale of grapes. When that plan didn't work, a colleague suggested converting that chunk of land instead to a conservation bank as means of not only producing additional income, but at the same time allowing Marden's land to remain just as it was.

Marden contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to find out more, and the rest, Marden says, is history. We’ll meet Ken Sanchez, a biologist with U.S.F.W.S. and learn how Marden's bank works, what endangered species it supports and how agriculture plays a vital role in these banks.

In addition to private land holders, conservation banks are also being established by commercial conservation organizations. Wildlands Incorporated is the largest of these types of conservationists – conservationists who are also “cowboys”.

We’ll also visit the Jenny Farms Conservation Bank in Yolo County. This bank is a Swainson's Hawk preserve and a perfect example of the beneficial coexistence between agricultural multi-use land management and preservation of our natural resources.

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