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February 2005

California Oak Report

Tribe Plays Major Roll in Saving Clover Valley
The United Auburn Indian Community (UAIC) has joined with the Clover Valley Foundation, Sierra Club, the California Oak Foundation and others to protect 622-acres of Blue oak woodland from being razed to make way for 700 upscale homes. The City of Rocklin in Placer County is currently preparing a final environmental impact report for the Clover Valley Lakes Project. The last EIR didn't acknowledge any cultural presence!

The Maidu and Miwok tribes from which the Auburn tribe descended once occupied much of central California. Clover Valley oak woodlands encompass dozens of Native American cultural sites dating back to 5000 B.C. The complete historic record indicates 7,000 years of continuous Maidu and Miwok occupation. Such cultural hub sites were most often located at the confluence of significant water sources and high-quality oak woodlands.

"Now that the tribe has resouces, preserving cultural sites is at the top of its agenda," said Gregory Baker, UAIC administrator. "There's been a lot of abuse by developers in the past." UAIC chairwoman Jessica Tavares told the Sacramento Bee "We want it preserved in its natural state."

Bickford Ranch Update
Legal defense of oaks has become a high priority at COF. Nowhere in the state has a Board of Supervisors and County staff ignored more thoroughly its own General Plan language to conserve Blue oak woodlands than at Bickford Ranch Development in Placer County. They read their General Plan and started the chain saws and bulldozers, wreaking havoc in the woodland habitat.

Legal challenges have twice stopped work. Last week the judge said she made a mistake in issuing the restraining order, apologized to the developers, and issued a fine for damages against the plaintiffs of $18,000 per day for trying to protect the place. These actions have been set aside. Off-site mitigation is now the focus of the legal work. The photo above is a result of the work that the Supervisors approved -- twice -- at Bickford Ranch.

Pinnacles Oak Habitat Purchased
The Nature Conservancy announced the acquisition of Pinnacles Ranch, a 1,967?acre property of oak woodlands, grasslands and California condor habitat that serves as the gateway to Pinnacles National Monument in San Benito County. The acquisition adds 700 acres of rare Valley oak woodlands to the 40 acres already in the park.

The Conservancy received a $5.3 million loan for the acquisition from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Purchase by the Conservancy bought time for the National Park Service, preventing possible development of the property, while the agency continues to seek full funding from Congress. Through the efforts of Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressman Sam Farr, the National Park Service recently received an appropriation of almost half the money necessary to acquire the land from the Conservancy.

Preserving Sierra Oak Woodlands
Trust for Public Land (TPL) reports that just outside Yosemite National Park, TPL and the Sierra Foothill Conservancy are using a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Board's Oak Woodlands Conservation Program to preserve the 2,941?acre Long Ranch through a conservation easement.

Located at the intersection of Highways 140 and 49, the rolling oak foothills of the ranch represent one of the largest contiguous areas of Blue oak habitat under a single ownership in Mariposa County. For over 50 years owner Frank Long has ranched the land while maintaining the natural resources. His desire to preserve the area in the face of development pressures represents the highest stewardship standards.

TPL is also working with the S.H. Cowell Foundation to protect its 370?acre property in western El Dorado County. The dense oak woodland on this land, known as Pointed Rocks, is crossed by a segment of the Western States Trail and is adjacent to the Auburn State Recreation Area and Bureau of Land Management property.

Sour Wine in Lake County
The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco has lifted a temporary restraining order halting all vineyard development activities of Six Sigma Ranch's Diamond Mine Vineyard expansion. Forest Unlimited and Concerned Citizens of Coons Flat/Jerusalem Grade filed suit against Lake County and Six Sigma owner Kaj Ahlmann for the failure of the approved mitigated negative declaration to provide appropriate mitigation to address significant oak woodland habitat impacts and water concerns. Plaintiffs have filed a new suit seeking an environmental impact report for the vineyard. A Superior Court hearing on the matter is scheduled for May 27.

Letters from the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and UC Cooperative Extension were used to substantiate the fact that Six Sigma's proposed mitigation for removing 130-acres of Blue oak woodland habitat were biologically and legally insufficient. DFG stated:

"DFG finds that both the terms of the conservation easement and the revegetation efforts are not adequate mitigation measures to avoid or reduce significant impacts to below the level of significance. We believe that a feasible alternative is rather both a conservation easement that protects wildlife habitat and the implementation of a professional oak woodland revegetation plan that address the 130?acre oak woodland loss...DFG advises that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be prepared. This is due to the substantial evidence that supports, as proposed, the project may have a significant effect on the environment."

The Lake County Community Development Department erred by not providing quantitative and qualitative biological information for either the vineyard site or the mitigating conservation easement area. This information is essential to determine whether the proposed mitigation will or won't reduce oak woodland habitat impacts to less than significant. Furthermore, the proposed Six Sigma mitigation easement is designated for use by recreational and party guests. These activities will substantially degrade the biological value of the conservation easement.

COF has received several queries similar to the following:
    "I am an independent consulting planner working on subdivision maps in various Northern California jurisdictions. Many of these projects involve the proposed removal of a portion of the oak tree vegetation on-site. In my initial studies, I have typically been proposing mitigation that involves preservation of specified percentages of oak tree canopy, and revegetation when oaks are removed. However, with passage of SB 1334, this type of mitigation is clearly insufficient. Does the California Oak Foundation have any recommended oak tree mitigation language that you can send me; language that clearly satisfies SB 1334?"
These inquires have been directed to our web site Reference Section where abbreviated versions of the El Dorado County (adopted) and Placer County (pending) General Plan language for oak woodlands can be found. These approaches to oak woodland conservation are different, but both county's standards are consistent with the California Environmental Quality Act, including SB 1334 requirements (Public Resources Code 21083.4).

Oak Woodland Bird Conservation Plan by Dr. Steve Zack and published by California Oak Foundation. California oak woodlands rank amoung the top three habitat types in North America for bird richness. This book is a guide for conservation policy and action on behalf of oak woodland habitats and wildlife. 126 pages, paperback, $12.00, members $10.80.

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