$200,000 Awarded to Protect Biodiversity on Marin Ranches & Farms

June 5, 2024

We are excited to announce the recipients of our second round of small grant funding. After careful review, we are awarding $200,000 in grant funding to five local agricultural producers (listed below) for innovative projects to help protect biodiversity on Marin County’s working lands. 

Protecting biodiversity is one of MALT’s strategic pillars. Since 1980, we have worked to conserve Marin County’s agricultural landscape, successfully protecting over 57,000 acres of farm and ranchland. In doing so, we have protected a complex network of working and natural lands that help to sustain our local economy, regional ecosystem, and biological richness.

Our work extends beyond land protection. By partnering with West Marin’s farming and ranching community, we support their work as stewards of Marin’s agricultural landscape through direct funding and technical assistance. The launch of our new small grants program in the fall of 2023 is our latest step to strengthen and advance these efforts. 

This most recent round of small grant funding specifically focused on supporting agricultural projects that promote “Biodiversity in Agricultural Working Lands”. Hear more from our executive director, Lily Verdone, about the impact and focus of this round of funding:

Watch the video above and hear MALT’s executive director, Lily Verdone, explain the small grants program and the impact we can have on biological diversity.

Grant Recipients Announcement

For this round of grant funding, we received 17 proposals, representing approximately $720,000 in funds requested. We are sincerely grateful and would like to thank all ranchers and farmers who submitted proposals, our donors who make this responsive grant program possible, and our partners who served on the review committee (more below). 

Over the past weeks, the program’s review committee evaluated each proposal using comprehensive selection criteria to ensure that the grant awardees were equitably selected. After careful consideration and evaluation by our dedicated review committee including MALT stewardship staff, we’ve selected the following projects (listed alphabetically) that exemplify innovation and community impact:

Dolcini Jersey Dairy, Nicasio

This organic cow dairy spans over 1,250 acres of the Walker Creek and the Nicasio Creek watersheds, harboring a diverse range of habitat types and refuge for wildlife. Part of the property has become inundated with invasive weeds—primarily French broom. If left unchecked, these invasive plants will take over native grasslands, increase the risk of catastrophic wildfire, and diminish the land’s ability to support regional biodiversity.

This grant will support the enhancement of this dairy’s grasslands biodiversity by removing invasive species, seeding with native grasses, adding compost to pastures, and improving livestock water systems. Pairing these improvements with additional fencing will enable the ranch to improve their rotational grazing, which will further their ability to improve their pastures and the land’s biological diversity.

Eames Ranch, San Antonio

This 112-acre property in Marin County was once used for polo competitions and was overgrazed for many years, leading to degraded soils and invasive weeds. 

MALT’s small grant will fund wildlife-friendly fencing to protect sensitive habitat within San Antonio Creek as well as cross fencing to allow for the rotational grazing of beef cattle. In partnership with a local grazing operation, this land holder will soon have the tools needed to revitalize this degraded soil and control the outbreak of invasive species through regenerative agricultural practices.

Marin Coast Ranch, Tomales

Belly wool from sheep is often considered waste due to its lower quality compared to fleece from other parts of the sheep. This wool is shorter, more heavily soiled, and contains a higher amount of contaminants—much of which goes unused or is discarded.

This grant will support the investment of a wool pelletizer, allowing this ranch to turn dirty, unmarketable waste-wool into a soil amendment easy to broadcast across pastures. Wool has a generous amount of nitrogen and carbon, supporting grass growth and the soil’s ability to retain water. This innovative technology could have a tremendous impact on the larger community’s efforts to restore native grasses and increase carbon sequestration, both crucial for biodiversity conservation. 

Spaletta Beef Ranch, Valley Ford

The 1,400-acre Estero Ranch comprises the mouth of the Estero Americano, critically important habitat for a host of biological diversity, including migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. The ranch’s main pond has become inundated with sediment and overcrowded with vegetation, limiting its suitability for both agricultural utility and as habitat for wildlife.

MALT’s small grant will support the restoration of this pond, removing excess sediment and reeds that have built up naturally over time. Wildlife-friendly fencing, escape ramps for wildlife as well as bird boxes and native tree plantings will also be used to further enhance these important habitat areas. 

Schell/Niman Ranch, Bolinas

Western monarch butterflies have been hovering on the brink of extinction for much of the last decade. Protecting and enhancing overwintering sites along the California coast are imperative for the species’ survival and, hopefully, for their continued recovery. 

A small grant from MALT will support the expansion of this butterfly sanctuary and small farm—the species’ northern most overwintering site. While most of the ranch facilitates an expansive cow/calf grazing rotation, an egg laying chicken operation, and a culinary herb garden, the orchard and native pollinator plants provide crucial habitat and nourishment for monarchs and a variety of other native wildlife.  Removing invasive species and expanding water infrastructure has a dual benefit of increasing habitat for monarchs and other biodiversity, while increasing management options for the livestock operations. 

Biodiversity supports our basic needs, underpins global health, and drives everything from fresh water to healthy soils to food security. In agricultural working lands, farmers and ranchers rely on biodiversity for ecosystem services such as pollination, soil fertility, water quality, and natural pest control. 

We look forward to reporting more about the impact of these grants in the coming months. It is hopeful to see so much interest and commitment to building our regional biological diversity and we’re grateful to be able to support the community’s entrepreneurial spirit and legacy of innovation. 

MALT’s next round of small grants will be available in the fall, aligned with our strategic pillars of preserving agriculture, protecting biodiversity, building climate resilience, and connecting our community. Stay tuned for more information as we refine the focus of this next round, tailored to the emerging needs of our agricultural community.

Special thanks, again, to all ranchers and farmers who applied for funds, our donors who make this responsive grant program possible, and our partners who served on the review committee: Randi Black from UC Cooperative Extension, Chase Garcia from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, John Parodi from Point Blue Conservation Science, and Emilie Winfield from the North Coast Soil Hub.

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