Proposed projects that meet the eligibility requirements and sufficiently address the selection criteria for projects eligible for funding under this category may be presented to the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) for funding approval at one of its four quarterly meetings. Funding must be expended according to WCB program requirements under which the proposal was presented to and approved by the WCB.
The WCB’s real estate procedures are conducted in accordance with the Fish and Game Code and the Government Code (Property Acquisition Law) that affects the Board’s Land Acquisition Program. The WCB works with property owners on a willing seller basis, paying fair market value as determined by appraisal reports approved by the state’s Department of General Services (DGS). In addition to analysis of the appraisal, due diligence includes the examination and interpretation of title documents, analysis of an Environmental Site Assessment, and compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act requirements. Staff of the WCB negotiates with the property owner, or their representative, the terms and conditions of the transaction and prepares necessary documents.
In addition to direct acquisitions by the State of California for management by the Department of Fish and Game, the WCB gives grants to qualified recipients including local, state and federal agencies, and non-profit organizations. Grantees must conduct land transactions with willing sellers paying fair market value as determined by a DGS approved appraisal report. The grantee is the lead for conducting due diligence and preparing acquisition documents.
The real estate transactions, and funding, for both direct acquisitions and grants, are subject to approval of the WCB at one of its quarterly meetings. Direct acquisitions for ownership by the state require subsequent approval by the DGS, and if a donation, the Department of Finance. Grants do not require DGS approval, but grant agreements require staff to review and approve all acquisition-related documents prior to disbursement of funds to escrow. Following disbursement of funds to an escrow account, final documents are received, including recorded instruments of conveyances, final policies of title insurance and final closing statements, from the title company.
In accordance with the Brown Act, staff of the WCB provides public notice of upcoming quarterly meetings to the County Board of Supervisors, adjacent property owners, the Department of Conservation (if the property is encumbered with a Williamson Act Contract), cities and counties within which a property may be located, and to others requesting notice.
Restoration, Enhancement and Development Projects
Grantees are required to spend grant funds according to the approved project scope and budget. In the case where other matching funds are being used to restore the property, verification that all other funds are available must be provided prior to the WCB issuing a “Notice to Proceed” (The “Notice to Proceed occurs after WCB approval and is the formal notice that the project is approved and can proceed according to the terms of the WCB grant). WCB staff and/or representatives, as described in the grant, will make periodic inspections of the project as needed. Payment requests must include a certification by the grantee that each expense complies with requirements outlined in the grant agreement. Grantees must also submit supporting documentation for each expense, with reimbursements approved only for eligible expenses pursuant to program guidelines and contained within the approved project budget. The WCB withholds up to ten percent of each payment request to be released upon project completion. A final report on the project must be submitted to the WCB as an attachment to the final invoice. Any material changes in project scope or budget will require submission and new approval by the WCB.
Acquisition of State Property
Following the transfer of real property to the State, staff of the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) notifies the Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Director, its regional staff responsible for on-site management, and the Department of General Services. The State is exempt from the payment of property taxes, and the County Assessor/Auditor is directed to cancel taxes. Funding contributors, if any, are notified and provided documents as required pursuant to their grants or funding instruments.
On August 17, 2006, the WCB adopted policies governing grant agreements and conservation easements. Relative to grant agreements, the policies provide, in part, the following:
- Grant agreements shall be consistent with the policies established by the WCB and clearly state the purposes of the conservation effort.
- Defined purposes must articulate and be consistent with the purposes and requirements of the funding sources used to pay for the conservation effort and identify the resources and conservation values to be protected.
- Defined purposes must also be included in the appropriate conveyance documents (deed or conservation easement).
- Concurrent with the instrument of conveyance transferring the property to the grantee, a Notice of Unrecorded Grant Agreement giving public notice that the grantee received funds under the grant and that use of the property shall be consistent with the terms of the agreement.
- Grantee shall provide to WCB all approved appraisals, copies of recorded documents and title policies, baseline conditions reports, transaction documents, management plans, and monitoring reports, as applicable.
- At the request of the WCB, not less than once in any three year period, the grantee shall arrange for the WCB to access the protected property to assess compliance with the grant agreement. If the grant agreement assisted in funding the purchase of a conservation easement, the monitoring report shall document the monitoring activities in a manner that demonstrate the monitoring was conducted in accordance with the monitoring protocol approved by the WCB for the project.
- WCB must approve the transfer of the grant agreement.
- Whether whole or in part, conservation easements can only be extinguished through appropriate legal proceedings (e.g., eminent domain).