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Land use and water policy plans for the future.

From land use and transportation plans that shape where and how communities grow to groundwater regulation that affects land and livelihoods across the San Joaquin Valley, public policy has a direct impact on our region’s natural and working lands, and all who depend on them. To protect the places that matter—and do so on a scale commensurate with our region’s needs—we must not only conserve individual properties, but also consider broader questions, such as:

• If a portion of our region’s agricultural land must be repurposed to less water-intensive uses, what can we do to support conservation and restoration of this land, and how can we ensure that the results benefit current stakeholders and future generations?

• What can we do to encourage new growth that strengthens existing natural lands and communities instead of threatening the natural and working lands on which our region depends?

• What can we do to support increased funding for conservation, and ensure that it reaches places in the Southern Sierra and San Joaquin Valley that have historically been left behind?


The immediate threats of water scarcity and catastrophic wildfire–combined with climate change and historical patterns of underinvestment in many of our region’s communities–mean that the choices facing us now are particularly urgent, and their potential consequences far-reaching. We believe it is essential to be at the table when these decisions are made.

Whether we are collaborating on solutions to our region’s water challenges, proposing ways for land use and transportation plans to facilitate the protection of habitat and agricultural land, or offering input on programs that help farmers and ranchers stay in business, our approach is built on finding common ground; we do not engage in litigation to achieve policy outcomes. We fulfill our mission of protecting land and water by working cooperatively with partners ranging from planning, water, and transportation agencies, to public health experts, working ag and natural landowners, and the environmental justice community.

We also conduct independent research on policy solutions. In the past decade, for example, SRT staff have authored or co-authored in-depth reports on the economic benefits of conservation and compact growth, policies to support conservation in Sustainable Communities Strategies and other best practices in transportation planning, and methods for mapping and valuing ecosystem services. Bringing this work to the table helps SRT and our partners achieve policy outcomes that contribute to the protection of important lands in the Southern Sierra, the San Joaquin Valley and around the state.


Here are a few of the many areas where our work is having an impact:

• DROUGHT ADAPTATION:  SRT is actively working with farmers and ranchers, water agencies and other partners to develop solutions to our region’s water crisis, including conservation-oriented approaches to repurposing agricultural land.

Through the California Economic Summit, the San Joaquin Valley Water Collaborative Action Program and other forums, we are also bringing our region’s needs to the attention of state-level government, business and nonprofit leaders.

• LAND USE POLICY:  SRT continues to work with city and county planners to support conservation-friendly approaches to land use, including designations that
protect habitat and farmland, and incentives to direct a greater portion of new growth into existing communities. We also help to inform and implement mitigation policies, which slow the loss of agricultural land and incentivize developers to invest in existing communities.

• TRANSPORTATION POLICY:  Transportation investments have a significant effect on where and how communities grow, and can impact habitat, agricultural land and open space around the region. SRT has conducted in-depth research on policies and practices to support conservation in regional transportation planning and built coalitions with environmental justice advocates, public health experts and many others to get these practices enacted in the region’s Sustainable Communities Strategies. We continue to serve on leadership and advisory bodies related to transportation planning and work for the wider adoption of policies that protect natural and working lands.

• CONSERVATION FUNDING:  SRT supports programs that fund conservation, and works to ensure that these programs benefit farmers and ranchers in our region. As part of a nationwide coalition, we successfully supported increased funding for conservation easements in the 2018 Farm Bill, permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 2019, and passage of both the Great American Outdoors Act and the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act in 2020. With a number of partners, we are now advocating for increased funding for land trusts to work with willing landowners to help meet federal and state goals of conserving 30% of natural and working lands by 2030.


So on any given day, you might see us out on the preserves cutting new trails, observe our staff scientists restoring sensitive habitat, or witness our education staff inspiring the next generation to love and steward the land. But you might also run into us attending community meetings, speaking with policymakers in the halls of government, or participating in leadership and advisory boards, where we help shape dialogues about water policy, land use or transportation planning. It’s all part of our mission to inspire love and lasting protection for important lands.