Responding to Rapid Environmental Change (REACH)

As an IGERT fellow, I’ve had very strong interdisciplinary training in the connections between science, policy, rapid environmental change, and natural resource management. Through the fellowship I completed a year-long research project with a team of diverse graduate students.  Our research team focused on rangeland science, agricultural land taxation policies, and the social science of landscape management, integrating the fiscal crisis of the state of California, the protection of endangered and critical habitats, and the decisions of landowners under a future of significantly difference taxation regimes.  This work was published as lead article in the journal California Agriculture in October 2012.  

Why, you might ask, would a climate and ocean scientist be interested in rangeland management?  Well, substitute "rangeland" for any other managed landscape - even fisheries and marine protected areas - and you have an analogous problem. Resource management often boils down to the decisions of individuals and businesses. Often times, resource managers rely on policy setting frameworks that lack true metrics for individual choice. In other words, there isn't a strong feedback between natural resource policy management and on-the-ground ramifications to individuals and businesses. In this case, the state defunding of the Williamson Act, an agricultural land tax subsidy which reduces tax rates on enrolled land, has substantial impacts to county-level budgets, the profitability of ranching business, and the likelihood of the sale and conversion of rangeland. In essence, state-level budget decisions have a direct and measurable impact on the extent and connectivity of rangeland ecosystems and the historical identity of rural California communities. We surveyed 700 ranching businesses in California to quantify how much existing rangeland would be sold and converted with the loss of Williamson Act funding. Our work is directly relevant to California's state budget appropriations and county-level decisions to maintain the program in the absence of state funding; more broadly, this work is an example of the role and importance of science-informed decision making in environmental policy      

Wetzel, W. C., I. L. Lacher, D. S. Swezey, S. E. Moffitt, D. T. Manning. 2012, Analysis reveals potential rangeland impacts if Williamson Act eliminated. California Agriculture 66, 131-136.

Our research on the Williamson Act was featured on KQED Forum, Western Farm Press, and the Half Moon Bay Review.