The nonprofit, headed by Stockton tomato packer Dino Cortopassi, is suing TNC and the California Department of Water Resources, which holds a conservation easement on Staten Island, alleging farming practices that cause soil subsidence and threaten levee integrity, and misuse of revenue from farm operations. The 9200-acre farm, acquired by TNC in 2001, is a major destination for migratory greater and lesser sandhill cranes (the latter a California endangered species) as well as Aleutian cackling geese and other birds. As habitat is replaced by houses, orchards, and vineyards, a third of the state’s crane population converges on the island to feed in corn and triticale fields and roost at night. While corn cultivation is recognized as depleting the Delta’s peat soil, some believe rice is less damaging; a rice-farming pilot project is planned for Staten Island. Cortopassi owns property across a branch of the Mokelumne River from Staten Island, where he grows rice and operates a private waterfowl hunting club; he has approached TNC about buying Staten Island in the past. TNC spokesperson Jay Ziegler says selling the property, either to Cortopassi or another purchaser, hasn’t been ruled out but that such a transaction would require DWR approval. He  defends TNC’s stewardship of Staten and maintenance of the levees, pointing out that TNC has reinvested $10 million from crop sales over the last 8 years. “We would rather work with Mr. Cortopassi out of court to achieve even more ambitious wildlife goals,” he says. DWR does not comment on pending litigation. TNC and DWR have filed demurrers requesting dismissal of the suit as without merit. Meanwhile, Cortopassi has amended his original complaint; the defendants have until November 13 to respond to the amendments.  JE

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Photo: Emily Wells/The Nature Conservancy
 

The Nature Conservancy’s venture in growing food crops for wintering cranes on Staten Island is under fire from an unexpected source—the Wetlands Preservation Foundation. The nonprofit, headed by Stockton tomato packer Dino Cortopassi, is suing TNC and the California Department of Water Resources, which holds a conservation easement on Staten Island, alleging farming practices that cause soil subsidence and threaten levee integrity, and misuse of revenue from farm operations. The 9200-acre farm, acquired by TNC in 2001, is a major destination for migratory greater and lesser sandhill cranes (the latter a California endangered species) as well as Aleutian cackling geese and other birds. As habitat is replaced by houses, orchards, and vineyards, a third of the state’s crane population converges on the island to feed in corn and triticale fields and roost at night. While corn cultivation is recognized as depleting the Delta’s peat soil, some believe rice is less damaging; a rice-farming pilot project is planned for Staten Island. Cortopassi owns property across a branch of the Mokelumne River from Staten Island, where he grows rice and operates a private waterfowl hunting club; he has approached TNC about buying Staten Island in the past. TNC spokesperson Jay Ziegler says selling the property, either to Cortopassi or another purchaser, hasn’t been ruled out but that such a transaction would require DWR approval. He  defends TNC’s stewardship of Staten and maintenance of the levees, pointing out that TNC has reinvested $10 million from crop sales over the last 8 years. “We would rather work with Mr. Cortopassi out of court to achieve even more ambitious wildlife goals,” he says. DWR does not comment on pending litigation. TNC and DWR have filed demurrers requesting dismissal of the suit as without merit. Meanwhile, Cortopassi has amended his original complaint; the defendants have until November 13 to respond to the amendments.  JE

About the author

Joe Eaton writes about endangered and invasive species, climate and ecosystem science, environmental history, and water issues for ESTUARY. He is also "a semi-obsessive birder" whose pursuit of rarities has taken him to many of California's shores, wetlands, and sewage plants.