An Oak Woodlands History: 2000-2010
California Oak Foundation (COF) mission has been to preserve the state oak forest ecosystem. COF strategic goal since 2000 has been to establish a legal, planning and scientific platform for oak woodlands conservation. The purpose of this effort has been to guide informed oak resource decision making by California citizens and public officials through the 21st century.
These transitional times are an appropriate moment to reflect on past events and to prepare for the next steps. Selected highlights from the California Oak Report archives follow:
Assembly Member Helen Thomson introduces COF-sponsored Oak Woodlands Conservation Act. Assembly Bill 242 creates the Oak Woodlands Conservation Fund to provide grants primarily for the purchase of oak woodland conservation easements. In September, AB 242 stalls in the Senate Appropriations Committee. In November, California voters approve minimum $8 million seed money for the Oak Woodlands Conservation Fund with the passage of Proposition 12 bonds.
COF registers strong objections to the Bickford Ranch (Placer County) development proposal to remove 11,000 oaks and destroy 1,000 acres of blue oak woodlands habitat.
COF registers strong objections to the Bahia project, City of Novato. This 630-acre housing development would remove 6,400 oak trees, thus destroying the lone blue oak forest in Marin County and the only known occurrence of blue oak woodland/salt marsh ecotone in California.
COF and the California Attorney General file amicus briefs supporting Save Our Forest And Ranchlands successful lawsuit against San Diego County General Plan amendments detrimental to 200,000 acres of back country.
COF petitions the Board of Forestry to apply the California Forest Practice Act to the conversion of oak woodlands where significant habitat impacts occur. The Board declines.
Assembly Member Helen Thomson reintroduces AB 242. Following passage by the Assembly and Senate, Governor Davis signs into law the Oak Woodlands Conservation Act of 2001.
COF and Mountain Lion Foundation file their One California Forest lawsuit against the Board of Forestry seeking a summary judgment declaring unlawful California policy of failing to apply the Forest Practice Act to conserve oak woodlands.
The US Forest Service adopts the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment establishing management planning for eleven national forests covering 11.5 million acres. Oaks are specifically prioritized for forest wide conservation. These priority Sierra oak conservation objectives and standards are reaffirmed by the USFS in 2004.
Referendum voters overwhelmingly reject City of Novato approval of the Bahia development project. In 2003 the Marin Audubon Society completes purchase of the Bahia property and its distinctive blue oak woodlands for $16 million. Audubon later transfers ownership of a majority of the Bahia property to the Marin County Open Space District and the California Department of Fish and Game.
The COF-supported Santa Clarita Oak Conservancy lawsuit against College of the Canyons (Los Angeles County) concerning valley oak removal for a parking lot is settled. Terms of the settlement include a 75 percent reduction in the original number of trees proposed for removal, an oak replanting program with a ten year monitoring period and a 20 acre conservation easement for adjacent valley oak habitat.
COF, Sierra Club and Audubon Society join forces in filing a lawsuit against Placer County over its approval of the Bickford Ranch residential development project. The groups primary concern is that even when county general plans provide adequate protection for oak woodlands, local jurisdictions like Placer County ignore their own regulations.
Led by Endangered Habitats League, COF and other partners register strong objections to the Saddle Creek (Orange County) project. The 600 acre site is adjacent to the Cleveland National Forest and the development would remove more than 1,100 mature oaks and sycamores, many over five feet in diameter. Several conservation organizations form the Saddleback Canyons Task Force and eventually file suit against the project.
Santa Barbara County adopts an oak tree ordinance for 770,000 acres of agricultural land but the regulation lacks adequate oak woodlands habitat mitigation criteria. Still, this oak conservation measure establishes a precedent for agricultural lands in California.
COF petitions the Board of Forestry to increase retention standards for California black oak and Oregon white oak on 7 million acres of private timberland. The Board responds by passing an amendment allegedly strengthening review of cumulative impacts to wildlife species due to the cutting of deciduous oaks. COF remains dissatisfied that a minimum timberland oak retention standard isnt included.
The San Francisco Superior Court rules in favor of the Board of Forestry in COF and Mountain Lion
Foundation oak woodlands lawsuit. After legal appeals fail, COF seeks legislative remedy for the lack of Board of Forestry oak woodlands leadership.
Senator Sheila Kuehl introduces COF-sponsored Senate Bill 711 requiring proportional habitat mitigation under the California Environmental Quality Act for oak woodland conversions. SB 711 stalls in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
COF again petitions the Board of Forestry to increase California black oak and Oregon white oak minimum timberland retention standards to sustain these resources overtime. By a one-vote margin, the nine member Board rejects minimum oak stocking standards for Sierra private timberlands.
COF registers strong objections to the Larson reforestation and fuel reduction project in the Stanislaus National Forest. Contrary to Sierra hardwood standards, Larson would damage and kill thousands of California black oaks due to indiscriminate aerial herbicide spraying. COF, California Basket Weavers Association, California Native Plant Society and others eventually sue US Forest Service.
Ahmanson Ranch (Ventura County), a 3,000 acre property with incredible oak resources, is acquired for $135 million in bond monies.
Senator Sheila Kuehl introduces Senate Bill 1334 (formerly SB 711) specifying oak woodland mitigation alternatives for counties to achieve proportional habitat mitigation under CEQA reviews. Following approval by the Senate and Assembly, and upon receipt of 44,000 letters of support, Governor Schwarzenegger signs Public Resources Code Section 21083.4 into law.
Under legal duress, El Dorado County becomes the first local jurisdiction to adopt general plan oak woodland habitat mitigation measures compatible with CEQ.A requirements.
A conservation easement agreement is reached for the 82,000 acre Hearst Ranch (San Luis Obispo County), which includes approximately 30,000 acres of dense blue oak and coast live oak woodlands.
California establishes the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. The new Conservancy mission is to use state bond moneys to protect sensitive habitat areas, reduce fire risks and improve tourism opportunities in 22 counties. The extensive blue oak woodlands of the Sierra Nevada lower west slope form the Conservancy western boundary and they will be a prime beneficiary of the program.
In a unanimous decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal, the Endangered Habitats League, supported by COF and others, prevail in the Saddle Creek development lawsuit. The Orange County project would have removed several hundred large oaks.
The 2002 Bickford Ranch lawsuit is settled. Accords include reimbursement by the developer of COF and co-plaintiffs legal expenses totaling $850,000 and a $6.05 million mitigation payment to the California Wildlife Foundation for the purchase of Placer County oak woodlands (as of the end of 2007, the mitigation acres protected through cooperation and additional funding from the county, Placer Land Trust, United Auburn Indian Community, COF and Emigrant Trails Greenway Trust, are triple that of the legal requirement).
US Forest Service designates black, blue, Engelmann and valley oaks management indicator species for the four southern California national forests. The 15 Sierra and Socal national forests are now united in their priority management goals of sustaining and enhancing oak resources.
The Sierra Nevada Alliance reports that California has a new boomtown: The Sierra Nevada mountains. The report highlights that the blue oak woodland habitats of the Sierra foothills, the largest contiguous old growth forest remaining in the US, are most vulnerable to sprawl.
Due to rampant development, COF initiates a focused effort to educate Sierra foothill officials of the need to immediately design local oak woodlands conservation and mitigation measures.
The first funds from the Bickford Ranch lawsuit are used to compensate for the 700 acres of blue oak habitat destroyed at Bickford. In partnership with other state and local organizations, the California Wildlife Foundation pledges $1.9 million of its $6.05 million to secure 850 acres of Placer County blue oak woodlands and riparian corridors as an investment in the future.
California Resources Agency Wildlife Conservation Board, the Department of Conservation and Cal Fed spends $6.5 million to protect remaining 4,250 acres of Llano Seco Rancho in Butte County. This project, coordinated by COF, protects the remaining lands in an 18,500-acre Mexican Land Grant from development.
COF publishes Oaks 2040, which is based on objective oak data and is designed to serve local and regional decision makers in oak woodland planning and the development of conservation strategies. Oaks 2040 builds upon a statewide map of oak distribution and inventory created by state/federal researchers by adding new layers of oak information.
COF heightens its Sierra foothill oak resource educational efforts by publicly commenting on all proposed developments in Amador County and Calaveras County that significantly impact oak woodlands. Regional/local groups prod Mariposa County to adopt meaningful new general plan oak resource conservation measures and Tuolumne County nears approval of an enhanced oak woodland mitigation ordinance. El Dorado County prepares to institute the oak woodlands habitat conservation program called for under its updated general plan. Placer County implements specific oak habitat mitigation measures that are consistent with CEQA biological requirements.
The Wildlife Conservation Board reports that the state Oak Woodlands Conservation Fund currently has about $19 million available for the 12 counties that have qualified for grants under the Oak Woodlands Conservation Program. Another half-dozen counties are in the process of preparing program applications.
The US Forest Service settles the 2004 Larson reforestation and fuel reduction project lawsuit by permanently withdrawing this ill-advised Stanislaus National Forest plan. The suit was brought because of blatant USFS violations of the Sierra Framework black oak conservation priorities.
Based on the California Air Resources Board Forest Project Protocol and CEQA opinions of the California Attorney General, COF begins to insist that CEQA greenhouse gas reviews analyze and mitigate carbon biological emission impacts from the removal of oak woodland resources.
A development-conservation accord for the 270,000-acre Tejon Ranch, located in Kern and Los Angeles counties, preserves almost 240,000 acres. Tejon incomparable oak habitats include 82,000 acres of upland closed canopy oak habitats and 108,000 acres of lowland grasslands-oak savannas.
COF publishes An Inventory of Carbon and California Oaks as an addendum to Oaks 2040. The carbon inventory analysis estimates that, California oak woodlands and forests could sequester a billion tons of carbon (and) up to 33 million tons of sequestered carbon are at risk (by 2040) of entering the atmosphere should development processes eliminate these oak woodlands and forests, and their associated carbon pools.,
COF joins the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation and El Dorado County Taxpayers for Quality Growth to legally challenge the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors approval of an oak woodlands conservation plan that violates the California Environmental Quality Act and a legal agreement that settled years long General Plan litigation.
COF strongly supports Calaveras County citizens challenging the legality of The Ridge at Trinitas golf course, which was built without any plans or drawings being filed in the public domain, no permits and zero environmental review. In 2009 the Board of Supervisors denies approval of amenities for the Trinitas golf course. Calaveras County followed this action with a cease-and-desist letter warning Trinitas developers that use of the property for any form of golf is now illegal.
COF publishes The Carbon Side of Eden, an examination of the very substantial greenhouse gas emissions associated with establishing new vineyards in Napa County. The Napa Sierra Club gives official notice to Napa County that all greenhouse gas emissions resulting from vineyard impacts to natural resources must be addressed by the California Environmental Quality Act.
COF petitions the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection to begin the rulemaking process to regulate oak woodlands firewood harvesting for commercial purposes. The reason for the request is to establish stocking standards to maintain oak woodland tree stocking levels and to mitigate the loss of woodland carbon sequestration due to unmitigated firewood harvesting for commercial purposes. The Board accepts the petition and begins the regulatory review.
The Natural Resources Agency adopts specific CEQA greenhouse gas guidelines for the conversion of native forests to non-forest use. Significant oak woodland biological effects are now the sum of wildlife habitat impacts and both direct/cumulative greenhouse gas biological emission impacts.
California Oak Foundation becomes the California Oaks fund under the auspices of the California Wildlife Foundation. Oak conservation and climate change work will continue.
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