Placer County Undertakes Habitat Conservation PLan
A pro-active approach to preserving open space and create a Natural Communities Conservation Plan is taking shape in Placer County in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Members of the county's planning staff are working with the Sierra Business Council to design a countywide program that may serve as a model for other urbanizing counties in the Sierra.
The program, known as the Placer Legacy, seeks to set up an NCCP before the county is forced to do so by a legal challenge or a government agency, and also is identifying open space lands for recreation and other uses. Rather than dealing with habitat and open space issues on a project-by-project approach, the program seeks to deal with such matters on a countywide basis.
"It's not driven by the regulatory hammer of the Endangered Species Act," said Tracy Grubbs, the SBC's lead staff person on the project.
Placer County grew from a population of 118,400 in 1980 to 206,000 in 1996. Population projections for the year 2020 call for 358,500 people. While the county stretches from the Sacramento suburbs to Lake Tahoe, most of the growth is occurring in the western section closest to Sacramento. Between 1984 and 1992, 19,000 acres of prime farmland were lost to development. And growth continues: developments in the city of Lincoln, for example, are projected to add 22,000 people to a current population of 8,500. (See CP&DR, May 1998.)
The county's Board of Supervisors directed its planning staff in the fall of 1997 to address concerns about growth. What emerged was the outline of the Placer Legacy.
Grubbs compared the situation to San Diego County, where the listing of the California gnatcatcher as threatened - and the likely listing of many other birds as well - forced the county to come up with a series of Natural Communities Conservation Plans (See CP&DR, December 1997).
By the time the gnatcatcher issue arose in San Diego County, land values were high. The cost of land acquisition in San Diego County is estimated at between $300 million and $350 million. By beginning the process now, Placer County hopes to avoid those costs.
Grubbs said the specific outlines of the program have not yet been set, such as which lands will be set aside in reserves and how to acquire the land. Various funding mechanisms are being contemplated, including a sales-tax increase and developer fees.
In addition to providing habitat protection and corridors for willife migration, the reserves will also provide open space areas in the county.
The SBC, with 500 business members throughout 12 Sierra counties, is helping to raise the estimated $1 million to create the plan, Grubb said. About half that amount has already been raised through grants, she said.
Developers will benefit from the Placer Legacy, she said, because it will streamline the permit process.
SBC is charged with coordinating public participation in the project, and has held open space forums throughout the county.
Tracy Grubbs, Director of Special Projects, Sierra Business Council, (530) 582-4800.
Final Wilson Wetlands Report
One of the environmental legacies of the last years of the Wilson administration is apparently a net gain in wetlands. A report issued at the end of Gov. Pete Wilson's term reports that the net gain of wetlands for 1996 and 1997 was 15,129 acres.
× "California is the first state in the nation to quantitatively determine that it has achieved its goal of no overall net loss, and more importantly, a net gain in wetlands for the years 1996 and 1997," the wetlands report said.
The total gain was 17,503 acres of wetland habitat, consisting solely of restoring historic wetlands and creating new habitats. But at the same time, federal Clean Water Act Permit 404 data and data from the California Department of Fish and Game showed a loss figure of 2,370 acres, so the actual net gain was 15,129 acres.
The report does not include non-reported, illegal wetland fills, and impacts to small, isolated seasonal wetlands less than one acre in size.
The December 1998 report said that more than 137,500 acres of existing wetlands have been enhanced since 1993. In addition, between 1993 and 1998, the state found that 61,904 acres of wetland habitats had been set aside for permanent protection. An earlier report found that the state had added about 78,000 acres between August 1993 and 1995 (see CP&DR, February 1996).
Wilson signed Executive Order W-59 93 in 1993, which established the nation's first statewide comprehensive wetlands program. The policy called for 33 specific actions, ranging from performing wetlands inventories to regional wetlands restoration and enhancement efforts. According to the report, 17 actions were implemented in full and 12 actions were implemented in part.
The report's statistics showed how much wetlands acreage has been lost.
Inventory of wetlands found that 87,000 acres remained of the historic 188,600 acres of wetlands in San Francisco Bay. Figures for how many acres had been lost in the Central Valley were not included, but for Southern California an examination of 41 separate coastal wetlands found that 14,898 acres remain from an historic level of 46,865 acres, a 68 percent decrease.
The report said that six regional wetlands restoration efforts are underway throughout the state, including in the Central Valley, San Francisco Bay and in Southern California.
The report said the state had provided $5.6 million in funding for restoration and enhancement projects in the 1998-99 fiscal year for the Southern California Wetlands Clearinghouse, the regional conservation effort there. The report also pointed to increased wetlands acreage due to cooperative partnerships set up to help private landowners, and also to land acquisition by a variety of non-profit, private land trusts, as well as duck hunting and environmental organizations. The report gave much of the credit for wetlands restoration to private nonprofits such as the Trust for Public Land, the Audubon Society, and the Nature Conservancy.
The bulk of the additions to the state's wetlands came from 1993 to 1996. According to a 1996 report from the Resources Agency, its goal was to have 225,000 acres of acquired, restored, and enhanced wetlands habitat by 2010.