CRAE Summit: 4 Opportunities for Preserving and Enhancing California’s Working Lands

What needs to happen next to preserve and enhance working lands in California? This was the final question posed to leaders who participated in the 2015 CRAE Summit on the Future of Working Lands. The answers were as diverse as the state’s farms, ranches, and working forests, which have adapted to environments ranging from the deserts of the Imperial Valley, to the towering mountains of the Sierra Nevada region. Still, the opportunities for action that emerged can be organized into four common themes:

  1. Educate consumers, decision-makers, and community partners about the relationships between working lands and other important issues.

Californians are increasingly aware of and interested in what they are buying and where it comes from. This provides an opportunity to educate consumers about their purchases and connect them to a range of ecosystem services1 supported by working lands. Stronger linkages need to be made in the public arena between working lands and large societal challenges, such as watershed health and climate change. Working lands can provide ecosystem services that are a part of the solution, or they can be managed in a way that is detrimental to society and the environment. Education can be effectively delivered in different ways depending on the audience. Children can be reached through school programs, and decision-makers can be influenced through field trips.

  1. Identify and encourage funding strategies that incentivize protection and promotion of working lands.

It has been relatively easy to price strawberries, beef, or timber for the market. However, the ecosystem services provided by the berry field, pasture, or woodland are rarely included in our economic analyses. Though they are difficult to quantify, we can’t afford to continue taking them for granted and overlooking them in our decision-making. We need to develop more precise methods for measuring and valuing ecosystem services in order to successfully employ market-based approaches to environmental protection and enhancement. Payments for ecosystem services are not the only funding strategy available to us. The private sector can also collaborate with government to develop much-needed solutions. For instance, public-private partnerships can finance critical projects, such a flood protection or groundwater recharge infrastructure.

  1. Promote interdisciplinary and integrated land use planning and land management.

It is possible to realize a future in which California’s working lands continue to bear the necessities of life in a manner that protects the environment for generations to come. But this future can be realized only through improved communication, coordination, and collaboration across many sectors and levels of government. Our challenges are complex and dynamic, so our policies and actions must be interdisciplinary and adaptive. New frameworks for integrated land use planning and holistic land management will have to work at the landscape scale, so we will all need to be a part of the solution. This means that in our increasingly urban world, we must be deliberate about breaking down the barriers and establishing common goals between urban and rural communities.

  1. Encourage public sector innovations that focus on long-term thinking and cross-disciplinary solutions.

Over the last half century, the protection and enhancement of working lands has increasingly become a priority in land use planning and governance. Constituencies have come to better understand the value of working lands, and much opportunity exists for further integrating protection and enhancement strategies with other issue areas, such as housing and climate change mitigation. Such integration can help align priorities between disparate decision-makers, and expand funding options available to support working lands strategies. Government funding will need to be flexible enough to allow for adequate experimentation with different strategies using the best metrics available for quantifying benefits. Combining generous funding, room for experimentation, and good metrics can encourage the long-term viability and health of our working lands.

We welcome you to further explore the outcomes and summary of the CRAE Summit here.


  1. Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services, such as nutrient cycling, that maintain the conditions for life on Earth. Read more here.