Land Protection

Recent Press Coverage: Addressing Inaccuracies

October 9, 2020

In early September, we shared an update with you about a disappointed conservation easement applicant, some accusations he was making about MALT, and our work to uphold two key commitments: the confidentiality of our applicants and continued transparency with our funders.

Unfortunately, another article was recently published in the North Bay Bohemian and the Pacific Sun that accused MALT and its board members of acting unethically. The article was full of misinformation and innuendo and painted an inaccurate picture of MALT and the work MALT’s staff and board do to advance farmland protection in Marin County. The article contains too many inaccuracies to address here, but there are some key points we wanted to share with you to help you better understand both how MALT works and the ways in which the article was misleading in its arguments and conclusions.

Public benefits of conservation easements

Perhaps most importantly, this recent coverage focused on individual landowners as the sole beneficiaries of conservation easement transactions, which is just not the case. The article went on to accuse MALT of inflating purchase prices to benefit board members. These allegations are untrue, and they also miss the point about why MALT does what it does: to ensure environmentally-beneficial management of agricultural land in West Marin. 

MALT purchases conservation easements because permanently protecting the land from development has tremendous public benefits, immediate and long term. Does MALT fairly compensate landowners for the decrease in value of their property that comes with extinguishing development rights forever? Yes, absolutely we do. Does the capital from a conservation easement transaction often benefit the landowner and their family in an immediate way? The answer to that too is yes. What we often observe is a reinvestment of funds into the sustainability of the agricultural operation itself and infrastructure improvements.

But that is just the beginning of the story. Once a conservation easement is in place on a property, MALT staff and the farmers and ranchers really get to work, managing the land to sequester carbon, protect and improve creeks and streams, and implement cutting-edge and sustainable agricultural practices. What does this mean for the public, for Marin County residents? It means scenic vistas, climate change mitigation, clean waterways, healthy ecosystems and protected habitat for native fish and wildlife. MALT easements also require continued agriculture, regardless of who owns the land in the future. For communities near and far this translates to continued access to healthy local produce, ethically-raised meats, climate-conscious wool products and world-famous cheese.

The article implies in several places that MALT should purchase land outright instead of placing easements on agricultural properties without recognizing the basic fact that MALT is not a landowner — that’s now how we do business. MALT recognizes that experienced farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of the land, and conservation easements leave the land in the ownership of the experts: agriculturalists. What’s more, purchasing land, as suggested in this article, would cost far more than the conservation easements that MALT acquires, which would limit the number of acres we could afford to protect. In other words, purchasing easements allows MALT to extract maximum public benefits from the land while supporting the financial health of a robust local agricultural community.

West Marin’s families and how MALT works

As you likely already know, West Marin has been ranched by what started as a small group of immigrant families since the mid-1800s. Over the generations, these families have grown and now have several branches, some of which are today distantly related despite sharing a surname. This is true of any number of original immigrant families whose names are familiar to locals. In the Bohemian article, the Dolcini family in particular is treated as a single family in a way that is inaccurate. With over seven generations in West Marin, the Dolcini family has branched off into multiple families who operate independent businesses with no financial connection to one-another.

The truth is that MALT and its board members have always acted according to a conflict of interest policy, a policy we further strengthened in 2019 to prohibit the organization from doing business with any members of the immediate families of its sitting board members, whether or not these board members have the potential to benefit financially from the transaction.

The facts and the future

MALT appreciates the service and work of so many who were portrayed unfairly in this article, including board and former board, staff and former staff. We take issue with the way this article quotes staff emails without providing the full context and leads the reader to draw false conclusions about the substance of such communications. Our staff worked diligently to provide this reporter with factual answers, most of which were not included in the article.

Thank you for your willingness to hear both sides of the misleading stories that have appeared in the press as of late. We have created a Frequently Asked Questions resource for those of you who would like to dig into these issues a bit more; you can find it here. We’re happy to answer any additional questions you may have, and we look forward to sharing good news with you again soon as MALT continues its important work during these challenging times.

Sincerely,

Ray Fort, Acting Executive Director
Marin Agricultural Land Trust