.Paradise Cost: The Price of Supporting Private Ranching With a Sales Tax

Chief Marin, Leader, Rebel, and Legend by Betty Goerke traces how European settlers drove Indigenous peoples out of Marin County with guns, crosses and cows. Without irony, the colonizers named the territory after the Miwok rebel leader Marino.

The forests and wetlands of these coastal lands—tended since time immemorial by humans, elk, lions, birds, insects and plants—were transformed by the spread of extractive industries, cattle ranching, freeways and suburbs, and the old ways were overwhelmed.

In Chief Marin, we read the words of an unnamed Wintu woman, recorded by a 20th century anthropologist, “The white people never cared for land or deer or bear. When we Indians kill meat we eat it all up. When we dig roots we make little holes. When we build houses we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers we don’t ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don’t chop down trees. We use only dead wood. But the white people plow up the ground, pull up the trees, kill everything. … The spirit of the land hates them.” 

Indeed, global heating and rising seas may be construed as warnings from the spirit of the land to Petroleum Man; change or die.

The populace of Marin largely supports sequestering rural lands from urban development and reducing climate harms. Funded by private donations and government grants and sales tax revenues, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) and the Marin Resource Conservation District (MRCD) are examples of county conservation efforts. However, these two organizations are limited by design to primarily serving the interests of commercial ranching. Members of cattle and dairy ranching families have long formed majorities on both boards of directors.

On June 7, Marin will vote on renewing Measure A, a $16 million per year sales tax supporting county parks and dairy and beef ranching enterprises. The ordinance is written to ensure that 14% of the sales tax revenue will continue to fund MALT and MRCD.

In the official election guide, prominent environmentalists, such as Dr. Martin Griffin and Kenneth Brower, urge the public to vote against Measure A. They claim that the sales tax “bankrolls the private businesses of Marin County’s largest landowners.” They suggest that  Measure A be rewritten to fund only parks and be re-voted upon in the fall.

Proponents of renewing the sales tax, including MALT co-founder Phyllis Faber, retort, “These grants are not gifts to private landowners, but an opportunity to purchase development rights on private parcels so that natural ecosystems can flourish and be sustained.”

Public records show, however, that MALT and the MRCD often use sales tax revenue intended for conservation purposes to capitalize ranching enterprises which, in some cases, are operated by board members and their families.

MALT and Measure A

Since 2012, MALT has expended $13.3 million in Measure A monies to purchase conservation easements from ranching families. Easements prohibit the selling of conserved lands for non-agricultural development—such as freeways, malls, or housing.

“Malted” ranchers often use the cash to buy more land and pay off mortgages and business debts and to erect barbed wire fences. In 2020, Pacific Sun-Bohemian reported that MALT’s board of directors had purchased $50 million in easements from two dozen board members and their families since 1980. The investigation related how MALT was compelled by the county to return $833,000 in Measure A funds after it was revealed that executives had not disclosed an appraisal for the purchase of an easement from a board member that was less than the amount paid by the county. Subsequently revamped MALT policies now prohibit the buying of easements from current, but not former, board members and staff.

Public opinion has soured on using county funds to pay for private ranching easements, according to a poll conducted last year by Marin County Parks. MALT is campaigning hard in support of Measure A, proclaiming that without more MALT easements, West Marin will turn into Malibu. That may have been the case 50 years ago. But since then Marin has insulated rural areas from urban development with a combination of zoning and property tax restrictions and scores of MALT easements, all prohibiting nonagricultural development.

MALT is not hurting for money. Its audited financials through June 2021 reveal assets of $30 million, much of it invested in securities. Last fiscal year, MALT received $7.6 million in grants and private donations and investment earnings. The non-profit corporation spent $5.8 million and posted a $1.8 million surplus. MALT is flush without Measure A funds, yet its 20-member board, largely composed of West Marin ranchers, is pushing for more sales tax money to finance buying more private easements. MALT stands to pull about $15 million in Measure A funds during the next decade, if the controversial sales tax is approved.

Measure A and the MRCD

If the 0.25% point of sales tax is renewed by two-thirds of the voters, MRCD is slated to harvest 4% of the projected revenues, $640,000 a year, nearly $6 million through 2031.

According to the MRCD’s audit for the year ending June 30, 2020, about 40% of its $1.3 million budget was sourced from Measure A, the Marin County General Fund, MALT and donations. The balance was filled by federal and state conservation grants.

Since 2011, MALT has granted $1.3 million to the MRCD for improving specified ranches. And since 2000, MRCD has expended $22 million in public monies on ranching infrastructure and habitat restoration. Records show that the underlying purpose of most of these projects is to protect ranching environments from the degrading impacts of ranching, including greenhouse gas emissions and water and soil pollution.

According to a MRCD report published in 2009, “A Half Century of Stewardship,” the district had serviced West Marin ranchers by procuring funds for 173 miles of barbed wire fencing, 60 miles of irrigation pipelines, 24 stock ponds and 592 livestock watering facilities. MRCD supported the construction of miles of ranch access roads, a score of loafing barns and more than 100 “lagoons” holding liquified manure for use as fertilizer on pastures.

It turns out that from 2014-2021, MRCD expended $664,850 in Measure A funds on construction and restoration projects on West Marin ranches and dairies—including for projects benefiting its own board members.

Photo by Marin Resource Conservation District
FENCES Ranchers have used Measure A funds from MALT and MRCD to construct fences on their properties, although fences don’t improve carbon sequestration. Photo by Marin Resource Conservation District

How it all began

Shortly before he died in 2012, Gary Giacomini, 76, taped an interview archived at the Marin County Library. As a teenager, he sailed the Bay and hunted on ranching lands owned by his many relatives. Law school was a necessary bummer, he recalled.

After earning six figures as a land use lawyer, Giacomini sat on the board of supervisors from 1972-1996, representing West Marin, salary: $14,000. When he returned to private practice, Giacomini bragged that he earned several million dollars in his first year. Money and politics are synergistic, of course. And in no small part, the geography and ecology of Marin County was shaped by Giacomini as a supervisor, and as the go-to attorney for the ranching families who own or lease most of West Marin and a third of Point Reyes National Seashore.

“They came from a place called Chiavenna, which is up near the Swiss border. … All the ranchers are either Portuguese or Italian. They’re all hopelessly intermarried,” Giacomini mused.

In the 1970s, allied with local environmentalists, such as Griffin, and Rep. Phil Burton, Giacomini moved to kill developer plans to build freeways and suburbs in rural Marin. Funded by local philanthropists and government programs, a coalition of Marin environmental interests bought up land for parks and open spaces and passed a zoning law that prohibited more than one dwelling per 60 acres.

Alongside ranchers Ralph Grossi and Ellen Straus and Phyllis Faber, Giacomini co-founded MALT in 1980. Sitting on MALT’s board, while still serving as a county supervisor, Giacomini oversaw the dispensation of millions of MALT easement dollars to his friends and relations. In the interview, he admitted misgivings, “There’s a ghost that haunts me. … We saved the place. But there were collateral effects. … It’s one of the big reasons Marin is so expensive. There’s hardly any place for the kids to grow up and live here. The seniors can’t afford to stay here. So one of the unintended consequences of all that—having open space and agriculture zoning—has been to really run up the prices and values. … It would wreck affordable housing, because you’re not going to have any affordable housing on one unit on 60 acres, right?”

And it was racist in effect. “The effect of the zoning excluded minorities … We did it with a big, broad brush. And we were heroes. We painted everything green. … Well, really, a lot of that land wasn’t good ag lands, we just did it because we could. … And I think that’s one thing in hindsight I would have been more careful. … We could have had some development on the margins.”

Resources for whom?

Founded in 1959, the MRCD is a member of the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts which lobbies on behalf of 96 local districts. That organization is supported by state and federal agencies, farm bureaus, corporate-sponsored conservation groups and PG&E. It partners with industry-led organizations, such as National Grazing Coalition, which itself partners with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a “free market” trade group dedicated to promoting beef worldwide as “the protein of choice.”

Over the decades, the MRCD has restored some salmon spawning habitats that were desiccated by 150 years of the ranching industry. It has fenced off streams from herds of defecating cows, often curtailing the freedom of wildlife to roam the lands in search of food and drink unimpeded by artificial obstacles. The district’s official mission statement combines mutually exclusive goals: “To conserve and enhance Marin’s natural resources, including its soil, water, vegetation and wildlife. It is our belief that the health of the county’s natural landscape is dependent upon a robust agricultural economy and the active preservation of our agricultural heritage.”

In practice, the MRCD’s historical mission may be more accurately described as protecting the profitability of ranching operations impacted by the rising costs of complying with increasingly stringent environmental regulations.

MRCD is required to hold regular elections for its five seat board of directors, but it is not democratic—only local landowners are eligible for office. And candidates must be nominated by five other land owners. The law allows the board of supervisors to appoint candidates as directors if there are not more than five declared candidates, and board seats are rarely contested. The director of the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, Karen Buhr, told the Pacific Sun-Bohemian that, typically, conservation district boards “pass their seats down generation after generation, for better or worse.”

Buhr also confirmed that the MRCD board is governed by the California conflict of interest laws which prohibit its directors from receiving district grants.

Photo by Marin Resource Conservation District
POND The MRCD’s Pine Gulch Creek Enhancement and Pond Project spent $3.2 million building a series of massive, landscape-altering, water storage reservoirs on the three organic farms.

Fair political practices

This investigation analyzes MRCD records produced to Pacific Sun-Bohemian in March by executive director, Nancy Scolari, and Marin deputy county counsel, Tarisha Bal. In response to a request for records providing more details on transactions with board members, Bal wrote that those records would be produced on May 2. On May 2, she wrote that the records will not be produced until June 9, which is two days after the referendum on Measure A.

This investigation also utilized MRCD project reports available online from the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts. Scolari told Pacific Sun-Bohemian that some of those reports contain serious data entry errors—as much as $9 million in one instance, and she provided some corrections. Notwithstanding, the available records demonstrate a pattern of board members receiving MRCD grants during decades of service.

According to the California’s Fair Political Practices Commission’s A Quick Guide to Section 1090, all governmental agencies and districts are bound by California Government Code Section 1090:

“When members of a public board, commission or similar body have the power to  execute contracts, each member is conclusively presumed to be involved in the making of all contracts by his or her agency regardless of whether the member participates in the making of the contract. In most cases, this presumption cannot be avoided by having the interested board member abstain from the decision. Rather, the entire governing body is precluded from entering the contract.”

Furthermore,

“Apart from voiding the contract, where a prohibited interest is found, the official who engaged in its making is subject to a host of civil and (if the violation was willful) criminal penalties, including imprisonment and disqualification from holding public office in perpetuity. The FPPC also may impose administrative penalties for violations of Section 1090.”

When asked if the MRCD is subject to state conflict of interest laws, Scolari confirmed that the district is covered by Section 1090, but, she wrote, “Section 9412 of the Public Resource Code authorizes …. MRCD to provide assistance to private landowners who are directors of the district. It states, ‘Notwithstanding the fact that the landowner or land occupant is also a director, any landowner is qualified to and may receive assistance or loans under this program.’” County counsel Brian Washington concurred.

After being informed of Scolari’s claim, Fair Political Practices Commission spokesperson, Jay Wierenga, stated without equivocation, “1090 applies to all district officers and employees.” Notably, the FPPC Guide cites a California state appeals court opinion, “An important, prophylactic statute such as a Section 1090 should be construed broadly to close loopholes. It should not be constricted and enfeebled.” According to the FPPC Guide, even the “appearance of a conflict of interest” is prohibited. State law requires MRCD board members to periodically take a refresher course in Public Service Ethics Education authorized by the California attorney general. Four current MRCD board members and Scolari are recorded as doing so.

Note that as a non-profit corporation, MALT is not covered by state conflict of interest laws that apply to governmental institutions such as the MRCD. It is covered by state and federal rules and regulations applying to non-profits, which are somewhat more permissive than state regulation of governmental institutions.

Giacomini, Giacomini & Giacomini

Waldo Giacomini was the founding president of the MRCD board. His son, Robert Giacomini, joined the MRCD board in 1997 and there he sits. Robert and four daughters operate the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. The family’s fortunes have long been affected by the synergies of MRCD and MALT.

Robert served on the MALT board from 1983-1994. In January 2005, the agricultural land trust purchased a $1.86 million easement on Robert Giacomini Dairy’s 714 acre cattle ranch on Tomales Bay.

Robert’s daughter, Lynn Giacomini Stray, joined the MALT board in May 2005, serving until 2013. Daughter Diana Giacomini Hagan has served on the MALT board since 2018; she is the treasurer.

While Robert was on the MRCD board in 2020, district “cost share” grants to Giacomini dairy included $33,271 from Measure A, $17,425 from MALT and $31,300 in state funds to build a sediment basin to comply with state water quality mandates.

In past years, MRCD has funded Giacomini Dairy with $9,000 for “gutter and roof replacements,” $12,000 for a “manure irrigation gun,” $15,000 for a “compost turner” and $6,870 for a “Prop 13 reimbursement.”

In 2018, Giacomini was awarded a MALT—and MRCD—supported Carbon Farm Plan, but it is not currently funded.

MRCD board minutes show that Giacomini and other board members have abstained on voting to approve certain projects funding their businesses. Giacomini confirmed receiving the MRCD grants, but he did not respond to a Pacific Sun-Bohemian query about his possible conflicts of interest under Section 1090 as a member of the MRCD board. 

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company executive Jill Giacomini Basch told Pacific Sun-Bohemian that “there are no ethical issues surrounding receipt of [MALT] funds” for MALT and MRCD projects while Ms. Hagan has served on the MALT board, pointing to MALT’s bylaws and conflict of interest policy. MALT, of course, is a nonprofit corporation and not subject to Section 1090, as is MRCD, a governmental body.

Gale enterprises

The president of the MRCD board, Sally Gale, was appointed by the board of supervisors in 1996. Gale and her husband, Mike Gale, own the 586-acre Chileno Valley Ranch “settled” by her Swiss immigrant great-great-grandfather.

In 2000, MALT bought a $586,000 easement from the Gales. According to MALT, the Gales “leveraged the capital from the conservation easement to restore the barn and purchase their first herd of beef cattle.” Mike served on the MALT board from 2008 until 2018.

With funding from MRCD and the MALT Stewardship Assistance Program, the Gales have controlled invading thistles and installed fencing to exclude cattle from creeks.

MRCD board minutes show that when the board voted to approve a Carbon Farming Plan for Chileno Valley Ranch in 2021, Sally Gale abstained. Gale told Pacific Sun-Bohemian, “The carbon plan is in process.” Its budget is under development.

Responding to a Pacific Sun-Bohemian query about possible conflicts of interest, Gale replied that the MRCD board is allowed to award grants to directors, citing Scolari’s response.

Gale confirmed that her property tax is reduced by 35% in return for agreeing that the land only be used for agricultural purposes.

According to the California Department of Conservation, the Williamson Act and Farmland Security Zone programs “enable local governments to enter into contracts with private landowners for the purpose of restricting specific parcels of land to agricultural or related open space use” in return for tax reductions of up to 65%.

Chileno Valley Ranch does not appear to be just a farm. According to its website, the ranch “is an authentic California farm wedding venue with a 150-year-old redwood barn and beautifully restored Victorian farmhouse.” For a $8,000 fee, “Mike and Sally” will plan your wedding and a banquet in the barn. Tables and chairs, “vintage wedding props,” catering, food, liquor, photographers and porta potties are extra.

Gale told Pacific Sun-Bohemian that, contra the website, they stopped doing weddings and events three years ago. After this inquiry, the website’s wedding and events section disappeared.

Asked if MALT easements that prohibit non-agricultural uses allow for hoteling and the hosting of commercial events, MALT executive director Jenifer Carlin replied, “The purpose of MALT easements is to enable properties to remain in agricultural use for the production of food and fiber, and we interpret all easements with that purpose in mind. If limited events, lodging and related activities are not interfering with agricultural use and can help allow property owners to financially support agriculture, we believe they are generally consistent with our easements. At the time some of MALT’s earlier agricultural conservation easements were written, many agritourism-based events were not envisioned, and thus are not explicitly addressed.”

Martinelli & Quince

At Michelin-starred Quince restaurant in San Francisco, the course tasting with wine pairing is $655 before tax and tip. The organic chow is local, seasonal, sustainable and curated by Peter Martinelli, who operates Fresh Run Farms at his Paradise Valley Ranch in Bolinas.

Martinelli was on the MALT board from 2008 to September 2017. In 2014, while he was on the board, MALT purchased a $2.5 million easement on his coastal ranch which requires the land to be used for agriculture in perpetuity. Martinelli said he recused himself from voting to approve his own easement.

Four years later, the county lowered Martinelli’s property tax exposure in return for him agreeing, again, to keep the land in agriculture.

In August 2017, Martinelli was appointed to the MRCD board, where he still serves and MRCD supports his business.

Pine Gulch Creek runs through Martinelli’s ranch into Bolinas Lagoon. In 1997, the National Park Service determined that drawing water out of Pine Gulch Creek for agricultural use was draining the summer habitat of Coho salmon spawn. According to MRCD reports, Martinelli’s and two adjacent organic farms, Paradise Valley Produce and Star Route Farms, were pumping large amounts of water from Pine Gulch Creek to irrigate their crops. Thus began years of searching for an ecological solution.

From 2015-2018, the MRCD’s Pine Gulch Creek Enhancement and Pond Project spent $3.2 million building a series of massive, landscape-altering, water storage reservoirs on the three organic farms—including $78,133 from Measure A and $12,702 from MALT. In return, the ranchers voluntarily agreed to only draw water from the creek during the wet season when it was recharging the water table.

It turns out that the construction of the reservoirs required extensive excavation and installing pumping machinery and thousands of feet of pipe. Marin County records reveal that the project was slated to cause substantial changes to its arboreal and wetland surrounds and to the many sites where Indigenous peoples had inhabited the watershed. After intensive lobbying by the MRCD, the Marin County Community Development Agency ruled that a scientific study of the ecological and archeological consequences of constructing the industrial reservoirs would not be necessary under the California Environmental Quality Act. According to the county, there would be “no significant impact to the environment” due to proposed “mitigations” of the effects of construction and the impacts of operating the irrigation system. Ultimately, the reservoirs fundamentally altered the landscape and the natural hydrology system.

Photo by Marin Resource Conservation District
RANCH PROJECTS According to a 2009 MRCD report, the agency has supported the construction of miles of ranch access roads, a score of loafing barns and more than 100 “lagoons” holding liquified manure for use as fertilizer on pastures. Photo by Marin Resource Conservation District

Problems with carbon farming

Henry Corda was appointed to the MRCD board in 1990 and stayed for 26 years. 

In 1994, MALT bought an easement on Corda Ranch near Petaluma for $1 million. Corda told Pacific Sun-Bohemian that he is the trustee of the entity that owns the ranch.

Along with MALT and the Carbon Cycle Institute, MRCD is a core member of the Marin Carbon Project. In 2013, the district implemented a Carbon Demonstration Farm on Corda’s ranch. The district secured $30,000 to spread compost—an oxygenated churn of cow manure and organic waste—upon 20 acres of Corda’s grazing land in an attempt to sequester carbon.

Corda said the project brought him no monetary gain, and it was the only MRCD project he participated in during his tenure on the board.

Composting is a main component of the Marin Carbon Project’s carbon farming plans, and it is expensive. MRCD calculates the cost of composting an acre at more than $600.

Field studies on a composted West Marin test site performed by University of California scientists from 2008-2011 reveal that improvements in carbon sequestration rates are generally short-lived, and are often canceled out by a range of unwanted side-effects. For example, compost itself contains carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide that floats into the atmosphere as planet heating gasses, and nitrogen that leaches into the soil, feeding invasive plant species. Fossil-fueled trucks haul raw materials distances to production sites and then truck the compost to farms. Oil-driven machinery mixes and spreads the fertilizer on fields. Cows ruminate the super-charged grasses into methane, which is 25-80 times more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Composting grazing lands may have some positive effects as part of a more comprehensive carbon reduction strategy, but deployed by itself, composting is a largely ineffective carbon-reduction strategy, experts say.

The district’s carbon farming plans utilize a software application designed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture called Comet-Planner. MRCD claims as a “reported performance measure” that the Corda project sequestered 32 metric tons of greenhouse gasses. But Comet-Planner does not measure performance results. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program only estimates the potential greenhouse gas impacts of conservation practices, and should be used for planning purposes only.

Scientifically testing soil to measure the impacts of carbon farming requires high-tech instruments and years of experiments. Carbon farming in general is not a magic tool, far from it, observe many studies. Scolari agreed that Comet Planner does not empirically measure the performance of carbon sequestration; she did not explain why MRCD uses it as a performance measure.

Got bucks?

A 2003 University of California study reported that 63% of the dairy and beef operations in Marin were unprofitable. The study concluded that public and private subsidies of “grass-fed” and “organic, sustainable” boutique products for rich consumers was the best option for promoting survival of the ailing dairy and cattle businesses.

One of the biggest names in Marin’s organic dairying industry receives MALT, MRCD and Measure A monies, the Straus family.

The late Ellen Straus co-founded MALT in 1980 and served either as a director of the corporation or on its “advisory board” until 2003.

In 2016, Robert McGee, who is the president of Straus Family Creamery, joined the board. This year, Vivien Straus, Ellen’s daughter, signed on. Siblings Vivien, Miriam and Michael Straus own Straus Home Ranch. 

Brother Albert Straus owns Blakes Landing Farms and Straus Family Creamery, where Vivien served as the marketing vice president.

In 1992, MALT approved two deals on Straus family properties while Ellen sat on the advisory board. It paid $223,768 for an easement on Straus Home Ranch, and $664,564 for an easement on Blakes Landing Farms.

The Marin County assessor has granted both properties tax breaks in return for restricting the land to agricultural and open space uses.

According to its website, Straus Home Ranch is available for “magical” weddings for a minimum fee of $9,500. The cost for a stay in the four-bedroom ranch house—complete with chef’s kitchen and “sustainable” bed linens—is $1,782 per night. Corporate retreats at the Straus Home Ranch can be customized to the cost of one’s tastes and guests are invited to “meet the heifers.”

In response to a Pacific Sun-Bohemian query about the propriety of these non-agricultural uses, the Home Ranch Strauses replied, “The farm stays, agritourism and private events which we host are, to our understanding, compatible with our MALT easement. Our understanding is that the reduced property tax assessments were set up as a mechanism for protecting agricultural and open space land from premature and unnecessary urban development and, as we have been engaged in agriculture on our contracted lands and have not added any new structures, we are in complete compliance.” Albert Straus and McGee did not respond to requests for comment.

MRCD records indicate that in the last two decades, MRCD has overseen more than $300,000 in grants for Straus family projects. According to Scolari, Straus Dairy has received $29,810 in Measure A and MALT cost share funds. Straus Home Ranch has received $33,419 in Measure A and MALT cost share funds. Here are a few examples.

At Blakes Landing in 2012, MRCD constructed “a permanent barbed wire fence [to] exclude livestock from the creek … while a fence does not directly increase biological carbon sequestration, this fencing practice is a necessary supporting practice …”

In 2013, Albert Straus was awarded Carbon Farm Plan #2, budgeted at $1 million. MRCD reports securing $30,000 of the projected cost, and “no accomplishments to report.”

In 2018 at Blakes Landing, a quarter mile of fence was replaced. A quarter mile of livestock pipeline and a cattle watering trough were installed on a pasture. Noting that the project does not sequester carbon, MRCD explained, “Providing cost-share to help ranchers be proactive stewards of the land empowers them and ultimately benefits their operation in the long run.”

In 2013, MRCD supported Straus Home Ranch with two conservation grants to install fencing and a hedgerow and to support “agri-tourism.” MRCD explained that the “ranch promotes agritourism by renting the historical home. Landowner goals include: continuing the family legacy …. sustainable organic agriculture … carbon sequestration.” A few hundred feet of hedgerow were planted in 2014 and 14 acres were “mulched” in 2019.  MRCD used Comet-Planner hypotheticals to claim that 51 tons of greenhouse gasses were sequestered by these activities.

Records show that in 2014/15, MRCD paid Straus Home Ranch LLC a $6,280 “consulting fee” to repair a washed out dirt road and build water diversion ditches on the ranch. 

Back to the future

If Measure A did not include millions of dollars for MALT and the MRCD, environmentalist-led opposition to renewing the sales tax would likely evaporate, as parks are protected public spaces enjoyed by all. And in contrast to MALT and MRCD practices, there are climate-conscious land conservation methods in play in rural Northern California that do not capitalize commercial ranching operations.

For example, the Sonoma County Land Trust often purchases agricultural lands to remove them from agriculture and urban development and generating greenhouse gasses.

There is a growing, world-wide, Indigenous-led movement to protect open spaces, forests, lakes, oceans and the atmosphere by titrating down on the breeding of our animal relatives as food and the practice of consigning cows to endless pregnancy, calf-removal and lactation.

In truth, we can farm our foods without depending on fossil fuels. We can meet our need for sustenance without degrading the lands and waters—and even “grass-fed” and “sustainable” dairy and cattle ranching are fountains of pollution. Using modern permaculture methods and the lessons of Indigenous science, we can provide the millions of acres of healthy carbon sinks our planet needs to ameliorate or partly  reverse the disastrous impact of atmospheric heating—which threatens to eclipse the planetary hegemony of the sapiens species.

Or perhaps we will continue to fail to meet the existential challenge. If we cannot do it in “progressive”  Marin County, where can we do it?

In the early 1930s, Miwok elder Tom Smith told Isabelle Kelly a story. “Coyote lost his people once. After a while he made another kind of people.”

All is not lost.


This story is supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press. Support investigative journalism: www.peterbyrne.info

Peter Byrnehttp://www.peterbyrne.info
Northern California-based journalist Peter Byrne combines investigative reporting with science writing. He has received national, regional, and local recognition for investigative work, writing style, and in-depth profiles of politicians, grifters, grafters, and… artists. Read his past work at www.peterbyrne.info.
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