Wednesday, 01 February 2023

Brandon: Proposed conservation area offers a vision for the future

Everyone in Lake County with an angle of vision more elevated than a banana slug recognizes that we live in a rare and special place, beautiful, tranquil and clean, with abundant wildlife habitat and outstanding recreational opportunities.


But in focusing our attention on Clear Lake and its immediate surrounding we may disregard the equally remarkable area to the east of the Clear Lake Basin, which for lack of a more official designation has come to be called the Blue Ridge Berryessa region even though Lake Berryessa and the Blue Ridge crest represent only a small part of it.


Taken as a whole, this bioregion at the wild heart of the Coast Range extends from the Vaca Mountains in Solano County to Snow Mountain over 800,000 acres containing three Federal Wildernesses and a State Wild and Scenic River as well as two large and many small lakes and several designated wildlife areas.


This land provides habitat and critical long-term movement corridors for many animal species, and has such an extraordinarily high level of botanic biodiversity that it registers as a “hot spot” of planetary significance. This vast expanse, which includes much of eastern Lake County, is a mosaic of public and private lands, encompassing undeveloped watersheds as well as working ranches and farms.


Putah Creek and Cache Creek flow through a diverse landscape of oak woodlands, chaparral, grasslands, riparian habitat, and the rare and endemic plants found on serpentine soils, combining to sustain healthy populations of tule elk, black bear, mountain lion, bald and golden eagles, ospreys, bobcats, foxes, river otters and many more species, including rare and endangered plants and animals. The ecological interactions among vegetation, wildlife and water support a fertile working landscape, while also providing water for nearby urban populations and agricultural operations.


Farmlands and ranches benefit from the regional landscape and also play a critical role in sustaining it. These rural land uses form a bulwark against residential and commercial development by providing economic benefit from private land in a manner that replenishes rather than destroys its environmental resources.


Encroaching development threatens the Blue Ridge Berryessa region from several directions, and as millions of new residents pour into the Sacramento and San Francisco metropolitan areas during the next 10 years, the development engine can be expected to accelerate, leading to the construction of both residential subdivisions at a suburban level of density and estate homes on acreage that is now agriculturally productive. Both will require new roads and lead to demands for public services better suited to urban areas; both will destroy important wildlife habitat and imperil biodiversity, as well as chipping away at prime farmland – land that now provides both food and jobs.


This region, which now feeds nearby urban populations, quenches their thirst, and provides vital natural recreational opportunities, risks becoming an urban area itself, a consumer rather than a producer of food and clean water.


For more than a decade, public agencies, conservation and recreation interests, and private landowners have been working together for the better management of the public lands and the prosperity of the private lands in the Blue Ridge Berryessa region, in an informal partnership that has served the natural and working landscape well. But as outside pressures mount, the area needs a more structured level of protection, as well as formal national recognition of its value.


The Solution: A National Conservation Area


Designating the Blue Ridge Berryessa region a National Conservation Area will acknowledge its importance as a natural area and working landscape. At the same time, it will establish a framework for coordinated management of public lands, facilitate collaboration between private agriculturalists and public agencies, assist the solicitation of conservation grants, and prioritize efforts to obtain public funds.


Without either formal recognition or management framework, the Blue Ridge Berryessa region has been at a competitive disadvantage with areas like the Santa Monica Mountains or Lake Tahoe in the allocation of state and federal resources. This region received no earmarked funds for conservation or recreational facilities in the recent $5.4 billion park bond, and it gets hardly any federal funding for preservation of open space, private land stewardship, and agricultural protection. A special designation will make it much easier to obtain the funding needed for stewardship projects and for ecological and agricultural protection.


With a National Conservation Area designation:

  • This specific geographic area will have a formal name.

  • Congress will acknowledge the local and national importance of this region.

  • A Public Advisory Committee will be formed to provide official citizen input.

  • A coordinated multi-agency management plan for the public lands within the region will be developed, allowing for protection of ecological resources on a landscape level.

  • It will become much easier to obtain state and federal funds for conservation stewardship and enhancement projects and to develop a recreation program for the entire region that provides access while ensuring protection of environmental resources.


Although National Conservation Area designation will open a number of options for private landowners, including increased opportunities to participate in the management of neighboring public lands, it imposes no obligations on them at all: participation is entirely voluntary. Local government will also retain full decision-making authority.


Although the Blue Ridge Berryessa National Conservation Area is not yet a reality, a growing number of organizations and individuals are trying to make it happen and we need your help. Please share this proposal with your friends, organizations and businesses, and join with us to become part of the community working to protect this splendid place.


To promote local awareness of this initiative, the Sierra Club Lake Group is hosting a Town Hall Forum at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19, in the Brick Hall on Main Street in Lower Lake. UC Davis botanist Dr. Susan Harrison will provide the keynote presentation: “Why is our region a hotspot of botanical diversity...and what can we do to conserve it?” followed by a discussion of the National Conservation Area proposal itself led by Tuleyome president Bob Schneider, with lots of maps, photos, and opportunities for questions and comments – please join us at this free event.


For more information, visit the Lake Group Web site, redwood.sierraclub.org/lake.


Victoria Brandon is chair of the Sierra Club Lake Group. She lives in Lower Lake.


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Upcoming Calendar

1Feb
02.01.2023 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
East Region Town Hall
1Feb
02.01.2023 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Clear Lake hitch listening session
2Feb
02.02.2023 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
2Feb
02.02.2023 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Clearlake City Council
8Feb
02.08.2023 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
100+ Women Strong in Lake County
9Feb
02.09.2023 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
11Feb
11Feb
02.11.2023 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Ladies of the Lake Quilt Guild

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