Bruce Taylor, Pacific Birds Conservation Specialist based in Oregon, submitted this post. See “How – and why – to save the family farm” by Bruce and Doug Krahmer in the Capital Press.
Working farm and ranch lands provide important habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including migrating and wintering waterfowl and shorebirds, Sage Grouse, and most of the birds found in the oak and prairie habitats of the Pacific Northwest.
Maintaining the status quo on these bird-friendly agricultural lands has long been a low-cost to no-cost conservation option. Increasing development pressures and an impending wave of demographic change could dramatically alter that picture in the not too distant future, however.
In Oregon alone, where the average farmer or rancher is already 60 years old, almost two-thirds of the state’s agricultural lands – more than 10 million acres – will change hands in the next 20 years. Researchers say as many as 80 percent of the state’s farmers and ranchers have not done adequate succession planning, leaving their lands more vulnerable to forced sales that could lead to conversion to other uses and increasing fragmentation of agricultural landscapes that are important for birds and other wildlife.
The increasing alignment of agricultural and conservation interests on this issue prompted Oregon legislators to create the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program. This program will – if funded by the legislature in 2019 – promote succession planning among farmers and ranchers and fund conservation easements on agricultural lands with high value for native fish and wildlife.