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Oak Woodland Conservation Program Up and Running

Oaks ‘n’ Folks – Volume 20, Issue 1 – January 2004

In 2001, the California Legislature passed the California Oak Woodland Conservation Act. This Act grew out of concern that California’s oak woodland habitats were threatened and that the State was continuing to lose oaks to development, firewood harvesting, and agricultural conversions. Such losses could critically impact a wide range of wildlife species that are so dependent on this habitat type. Oak woodlands are home to more than 300 species of terrestrial vertebrates, as well thousands of invertebrates, so significant losses of woodlands could impact a wide variety of animal species. In addition, woodlands moderate temperatures, reduce soil erosion, facilitate nutrient cycling, and sustain water quality. The Act recognizes the importance of California’s oak woodlands — how they enhance the natural and scenic beauty of this great State, the critical role of the private landowner, and the importance of private land stewardship. The Act further acknowledges how oak woodlands increase the monetary and ecological value of real property and promote ecological balance.

As a result of the Act, the Oak Woodland Conservation Program was established. This Program, administered by the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), is designed to provide $10 million to help local jurisdictions protect and enhance their oak woodland resources. It offers landowners, conservation organizations, cities, and counties an opportunity to obtain funding for projects designed to conserve and restore California’s oak woodlands. It authorizes the WCB to purchase oak woodland conservation easements and provide grants for land improvements and restoration efforts. While the Program is statewide in nature, it is designed to address oak woodland issues on a regional priority basis. Most importantly, this Program provides a mechanism to bring ranchers and conservationists together in a manner that simultaneously allows both to achieve that which is so valued — sustainable ranch and farming operations and healthy oak woodlands.

The Legislature created the Oak Woodland Conservation Program with the expressed intent to accomplish the following:

  1. Support and encourage voluntary, long-term private stewardship and conservation of California oak woodlands by offering landowners financial incentives to protect and promote biologically functional oak woodlands;
  2. Provide incentives to protect and encourage farming and ranching operations that are operated in a manner that promotes healthy oak woodlands;
  3. Provide incentives for the protection of oak trees providing superior wildlife values on private land; and
  4. Encourage planning that is consistent with oak woodlands

The WCB is authorized to award cost-sharing incentive payments to private landowners who enter into long-term agreements. Such agreements will be structured to include management practices that benefit oak woodlands and promote the economic sustainability of the farming or ranching operations. The Act requires that at least 80 percent of the money be used for grants for the purchase of easements, for restoration activities, or for enhancement projects. In addition, the funds may be used for grants that provide cost-share incentive payments and long-term agreements.

The remaining 20 percent of the funds may be used for public education and outreach efforts by local governments, park and open space districts, resource conservation districts, and nonprofit organizations. Within the 20 percent category, funds may also be used for grants designed to provide technical assistance and to develop and implement oak conservation elements in local general plans.

In order to qualify for funding, the county where applicants are applying for funding from must have an Oak Woodland Management Plan. To learn more about this Program, or to download an application package, please visit the WCB website at: https://www.wcb.ca.gov/Programs/Oaks.