Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Local agency presents first draft of conservation program

Swainson's hawk. Courtesy photo

The first draft of the Yolo Natural Heritage Program, a conservation plan that’s been in the works for nearly a decade, came to fruition Monday. And the program is well on its way to the next step, with a nearly $1 million grant and support from local leaders.

The 50-year plan is intended to be a guideline to protecting 32 sensitive species in the region. The initial draft proposed a total cost of $504.7 million covering all the mitigation and conservation actions that could be implemented in that half-century span.

Among the species targeted in the plan are 12 birds — including burrowing owls and white-tailed kites — one mammal (Townsend’s big-eared bat), six invertebrates, three amphibians, the giant garter snake, the western pond turtle and eight plants.

The Yolo County Habitat/Natural Community Conservation Plan Joint Powers Agency began the planning process for this program in 2005, shortly after the original agency was formed.

Petrea Marchand, who serves as its executive director, said great strides were made after the agency was reorganized last year. She added that the vast amount of information gathered was also a lengthy process.

“It’s not an easy endeavor; it’s a really complex plan,” Marchand said. “It’s based on collecting data for the entire 652,603 acres of the county, all the types of species within it, nailing down which to focus on, and developing strategies for conservation.”

The first draft of the program was presented Monday to the Habitat/Natural Community Conservation Plan Joint Powers Agency board, which had a chance to review and discuss it.

Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said the report provides an extensive mapping of habitat areas, as well as the plant and animal species that will be included in future conservation planning.

One of the covered species, for example, is the Swainson’s hawk, whose populations have suffered declines since the 1950s, with some studies linking those declines to pesticide use.

Although regional habitat preservation efforts, such as conservation easements on public and private lands, are already in place for animals, a cohesive plan is preferable to a piecemeal approach, board members were told.

But the board raised a few issues with the first draft that will be addressed in revisions.

Said Saylor, “One, of course, is the cost of implementation and the funding mechanisms in place to address that cost; second is the continued refinement of covered activities and species; and third is digging into appropriate habitat preservation methods in a fluid agricultural environment.”

During the few weeks leading up to Aug. 12 — when Saylor and fellow board members get together once more — the four cities in Yolo County will have an opportunity to assess the work that’s been done to date and make independent decisions on their contingent support for the process.

Saylor said he is optimistic that the agencies will choose to continue to participate. He added that he is heartened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service further supporting the project with a $999,000 grant.

The funds, which were announced Friday, represent the largest grant Fish and Wildlife has given. They are intended to supplement the expenditures associated with the Yolo Natural Heritage Program’s planning process.

“An important component of moving forward is having sufficient funding to do so,” Marchand said. “This is great for us. We had received another grant in November 2012 that partially paid for the second draft. And we’re looking for a third grant in 2013 to also help pay for plan development.”

The availability of funding from the federal government for this conservation effort has been an encouraging factor for stakeholders, she added. And it’s their confidence in the program’s sustainability that will have it brought to implementation.

More than 15 of California’s 58 counties already have habitat conservation plans in place, most recently, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties. Sacramento County’s also is in the planning stages.

One of the unique features of Yolo County’s plan, Saylor said, is that it’s not being driven by large development interests. Some other counties have significant plans for urban development, but this region’s goal is to integrate habitat protection into a primarily rural landscape, he said.

Up to 46 percent of Yolo County’s total acreage is devoted to agriculture, with only 7 percent reserved for urban uses. And it’s in this conversation effort that the preservation of this agricultural land is to be secured.

“This planning process will allow us careful reflection in the strategic planning to steward our resources,” Saylor said. “There’s a lot of excitement around this plan. It’s a big focus, not just for Yolo County, but for the state.”

The first administrative draft is accessible on the agency’s website at There is a link from the menu on the left side of the home page.

— Reach Brett Johnson at or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett


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