Cattle ranchers and environmentalists tend to get along in the foothills that flank the Central Valley to the east and west.
They generally see the ranching business as a way to keep the land as open space habitat for wild creatures as well as cattle.
A federal agency plans to have meetings next week on a new effort to protect some of this land. It would provide conservation easements one-time payments to owners who agree to keep especially important expanses in ranching.
The program is the California Foothills Legacy Area, part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The easements would total 200,000 acres under the agency's "preferred alternative," which includes Stanislaus, Merced, Mariposa and Tulare counties, said an email from Michael Woodbridge, public-affairs officer at the agency's Sacramento office.
Another option is for 325,000 acres, adding land in San Benito and Kern counties. Both totals are a small portion of the 14 million or so privately owned acres in the "foothill ring" around the valley, Woodbridge said.
The specific funding would have to be approved by Congress, which would weigh it against other possible uses of easement money across the nation, he said.
The cattle people and environmentalists do not agree on everything. The latter, for instance, do not care much for summer grazing high in the Sierra Nevada.
But in the foothills, both sides have worked to keep city and ranchette development from carving up and blocking off big pieces of land favored by deer, waterfowl and other wildlife.
The cattle help by trimming the grasses and exposing insects and other food for birds.
"Habitat fragmentation is a major threat to wildlife populations," Woodbridge said. "Also, the grazed lands of rangelands benefit many different species of wildlife that thrive in short grass and more open habitats. This includes species like prairie falcons, rough-legged hawks and kit fox, among others."
The agency noted that the easements would be voluntary. On a Q&A sheet, it assured that this is not "a massive government plan to take control of millions of acres of private rangeland."
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HOW TO ATTEND
Next week's meetings on the California Foothills Legacy Area wildlife conservation program, all from 5 to 8 p.m., include:
MONDAY: Modesto Centre Plaza, Pistache Room, 1000 L St.
TUESDAY: Merced County Farm Bureau, 646 S. Highway 59, Merced
WEDNESDAY: Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, 5100 Bullion St., Mariposa
HURSDAY: San Luis National Wildlife Complex visitor center, 7376 S. Wolfsen Road, Los Banos
The draft proposal is at http://go.usa.gov/YMWQ. The public can also comment via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, contact Mark Pelz at (916) 414-6500. Comments must be received by Sept. 15 to be considered for development of the final proposal.