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Best Management Practices for Grazing 

Background

Ordinance Number 6089 amends Chapter 26 of the Sonoma County Code to incorporate into zoning the General Plan’s goals, objectives, and policies for the protection of riparian corridors. This includes the establishment of Streamside Conservation Areas (SCAs), as set forth in the Open Space and Resource Conservation Element of the General Plan, in a new Article 65 of Chapter 26 (Article 65). Article 65 recognizes the importance of protecting and enhancing riparian functions. Beneficial uses include but are not limited to providing food, water, and habitat for fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects, and mammals, as well as filtering sediment and pollutants from runoff into streams, and providing erosion protection.

The SCAs and setbacks for agricultural cultivation (Ag Setback) will be indicated in the zoning database in the format of RC 100/50 (indicating a 100 foot SCA which encompasses a 50 foot Ag Setback). Grazing activities are allowed within the SCA provided they are conducted and maintained in compliance with approved agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs). The approved BMPs are developed or referenced by the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office (ACO), or defined in an approved farm or ranch water quality plan. Included among the allowable structures are fencing and watering facilities. 

Property Operator Responsibilities

Operators shall manage the location, intensity, season of use and duration of grazing to minimize impacts on riparian functions, bank stability, and soil compaction in the SCA. The property owner is responsible for assuring that the grazing operation on their land does not result in a significant/deleterious discharge of sediment, nutrients, or pathogens into the watercourse. The BMPs approved by the ACO are identified in Appendix A.

Enforcement

If a complaint is filed, the ACO will inform the ranch owner or manager of the complaint and whether the ACO plans to conduct an investigation. If the complaint alleges a significant/deleterious discharge of sediments, nutrients, or pathogens into the watercourse, the ACO will work with the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Board, National Marine Fisheries, and/or other regulatory organization(s) to investigate and make a determination. If the ACO determines the ranch to be out of compliance with Article 65, the ranch owner will have three options:

  • Implement BMPs in a ranch plan that would bring the ranch into compliance. If the ranch does not have a ranch plan, the ACO will refer the ranch owner to the appropriate Resource Conservation District LandSmart Program, National Resource Conservation Service, Fish Friendly Farming, University of California Cooperative Extension, and/or other organization that prepares ranch plans.

    If implementation of a ranch plan has proven inadequate to address the compliance issue, the owner may consult with any of the above organizations to update the ranch plan to address the problem. In this case the ranch plan update must include, at a minimum, a description of the issue to be addressed, a specific course of action, and a time-line for implementation. The ranch plan may involve implementation of a short-term solution to prevent imminent environmental impacts, with a long-term solution implemented on a longer time-line as determined appropriate by the ranch owner and cooperating ranch plan organization, OR
  • Develop a plan with the ACO to address the compliance issue by selecting BMPs from the list provided in Appendix A. The plan will include, at a minimum, a description of the issue to be addressed, a specific course of action based on the selected BMPs, and a time-line for implementation. The plan may involve implementation of a short-term solution to prevent imminent environmental impacts, with a long-term solution implemented on a longer time-line as determined appropriate by the ranch owner and ACO, OR
  • Consult with a Streamside Conservation Team comprised of experts – selected by the ACO – from the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Board, National Marine Fisheries, Resource Conservation District, and/or other regulatory/conservation organization(s) to determine an appropriate course of action.

If the ranch owner is unwilling to allow access to their property and/or address the compliance issue through the options provided above, the ACO may refer the matter to the Sonoma County Permits and Resource Management Department - Code Enforcement Division. [This will need to be changed if the ACO is given enforcement authority.]

Appendix A

The following Best Management Practices (BMPs) refer to National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) BMPs by the same name. Additional information about these BMPs can be found at the following website: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/national/technical/references/?cid=nrcs143_026849

Planted Groundcover

  • Conservation Cover (NRCS Code 327)
  • Cover Crop (NRCS Code 340)
  • Critical Area Planting (NRCS Code 342)
  • Forage and Biomass Planting (NRCS Code 512)
  • Range Planting (NRCS Code 550)
  • Riparian Herbaceous Cover (NRCS Code 390)

Land Treatment

  • Brush Management (NRCS Code 314)
  • Grazing Land Mechanical Treatment (NRCS Code 548)
  • Heavy Use Area Protection (NRCS Code 561)
  • Land Reclamation, Landslide Treatment (NRCS Code 453)
  • Mulching (NRCS Code 484)
  • Road/Trail/Landing Closure and Treatment (NRCS Code 654) 

Perimeter Control

(Exclusion and/ or Erosion control)

  • Fence (NRCS Code 382)
  • Filter Strip (NRCS Code 393)
  • Field Border (NRCS Code 386)
  • Hedgerow Planting (NRCS Code 422)
  • Riparian Forest Buffer (NRCS Code 391)
  • Vegetative Barrier (NRCS Code 601)

Built Structures

  • Grassed Waterway (NRCS Code 412
  • Livestock Shelter Structure (NRCS Code 576)
  • Stormwater Runoff Control (NRCS Code 570
  • Stream Crossing (NRCS Code 578)
  • Watering Facility (NRCS Code 614)

Active Management

  • Conservation Crop Rotation
    (NRCS Code 328)
  • Integrated Pest Management (NRCS Code 595)
  • Nutrient Management (NRCS Code 590)
  • Prescribed Grazing (NRCS Code 528)

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