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Supes OK Preservation of Oak Woodlands

December 15, 2010

Placer County is teaming up with the state to contribute to the Placer Land Trust’s acquisition of 1,773 acres of oak woodlands located outside of Auburn.

On Tuesday, the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve an agreement that will allow the Placer Land Trust to complete acquisition of the property in cooperation with The Trust for Public Land. The property is part of the 2,300-acre Bruin Ranch, which is located in the Auburn Valley-Big Hill area. The ranch is west of Highway 49 and just south of the Bear River, the boundary between Placer and Nevada counties.

The land preservation approved by the Placer County Board of Supervisors helps set aside 1,773 acres of land.
Under the agreement approved by the board, Placer County will invest $5 million to acquire a conservation easement on the 1,773-acre site. As part of the deal, the county also will receive a conservation easement on a 427-acre West Placer property known as the Doty Ravine Preserve, which the Placer Land Trust already owns.

Board members and county staff emphasized that, given current land values and the substantial match to be provided by the state, the timing is right and the county is getting a good deal. The agreement provides for public access over the 1,773-acre site, but the county will face minimal maintenance costs because the site ultimately will be owned by the Placer Land Trust, rather than the county.

The county funding would include $1 million from its Tree Mitigation Trust Fund and $4 million from the Placer County Open Space Fund. Both funds are reserved for one-time conservation expenditures, rather than on-going costs. The Open Space Fund includes substantial contributions by county employees and citizens.

Supervisor Robert M. Weygandt called Tuesday’s board vote historic, saying, “I think 100 years from now, when people look back, they’re going to be very pleased with some of the decisions we made.”

The Bruin Ranch consists primarily of oak woodlands.

Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery echoed his sentiments, saying the county and its partners are preserving the land in part so it can be enjoyed by future generations.

“There is no question that this is a lot of money we’re being asked to spend today, but the time is absolutely right in terms of pricing,” she said. “This is a good deal for Placer County in the short term and the long term.”

Board members noted Tuesday that Placer County will enjoy many benefits from the acquisition, including public access over the 1,773-acre property and conservation credits that would aid efforts to implement the proposed Placer County Conservation Plan (PCCP). The conservation plan would seek to balance growth and the conservation of sensitive species habitat, open space and agricultural lands over the next 50 years.

On Nov. 23, as recommended by the California Department of Fish and Game, the California Wildlife Conservation Board approved the allocation of $4.5 million in voter-approved grant funds toward the Bruin Ranch project.

The Placer Land Trust has secured funding for management of the property through a local fund-raising campaign.

After the acquisition is complete, Placer County will work with the Placer Land Trust to develop a public trail system on the 1,773-acre site that will provide for public recreational opportunities such as hiking, biking and horseback riding.

During Tuesday’s board discussion, Chairman Kirk Uhler said he is concerned about ensuring the public has adequate access over the site, but added that he has been assured by the county’s partners that access issues will be resolved.

“It is with that assurance that I’m comfortable with moving forward on this right now, because the opportunity is a tremendous one for us and we would be remiss in passing it up,” he said.

“I truly believe it is a win-win that provides the county and its residents with great benefits at an exceptional value,” explained Jeff Darlington, Executive Director of the Placer Land Trust. “Through this transaction, PLT was happy to assist the county to meet its valley conservation requirements set forth by the agencies through the PCCP.”

The Placer Land Trust and The Trust for Public Land hope to protect the remaining 526 acres of Bruin Ranch by acquiring the property or a conservation easement from the ranch’s owner, Harvego Real Estate LLC.

The Trust for Public Land has been working on Bruin Ranch for nearly 10 years, most recently with the Placer Land Trust. The site is the largest intact oak woodland ranch in the Bear-Yuba foothills and features rolling blue oak woodlands, rangelands, annual grasslands and more than 20 acres of seasonal wetlands, ponds and riparian corridors. Several miles of the Bear River run alongside the northern boundary of the ranch.

Bruin Ranch also includes several miles of ranch roads that could easily be turned into public trails. It is viewed as an important link in a trail system that ultimately could run from Placer County’s 1,197-acre Hidden Falls Regional Park to the Bear River. The regional park is southwest of Bruin Ranch between Auburn and Lincoln.

Placer County has been working with the city of Lincoln and Placer County Water Agency for several years to develop the proposed conservation plan. The county plans to submit a draft plan for review by federal and state regulatory agencies early next year. The draft plan also will be available for review by the public.

If regulatory agencies approve the PCCP, Placer County and Lincoln will assume wide-ranging responsibility within their jurisdictions for protecting plant and animal species covered by federal and state endangered species acts and for conserving wetland resources protected by federal and state law.

At the same time, the conservation plan would establish a streamlined, locally controlled permit process for development projects.

The PCCP would seek to avoid conflicts between urban growth and important open space resources by identifying areas where development would be likely and reserve areas that would be conserved to protect wildlife and wetland areas.

Acquiring conservation easements on the 1,773 acres at Bruin Ranch and on the 427-acre Doty Ravine Preserve would boost the county’s efforts to create the conservation plan’s reserve system. The latter property provides high-quality habitat for a number of endangered species, as well as vernal pools, grasslands and oak woodlands.

If the PCCP is adopted, these two acquisitions will help Placer County comply with federal and state rules that will require the county to conserve wildlife habitat and wetlands in reserve areas before allowing impacts in areas identified for development. The agreement approved by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday would provide conservation credits that could be used to help meet the federal and state requirements.

The Bruin Ranch acquisition will be the largest completed by Placer Land Trust to date. It views the ranch as a key link to creating a trail system and wildlife corridor that would connect more than 6,500 acres in the Bear River and Coon Creek watersheds.

Work between the two lands trusts in Placer County gave rise to the Bear-Yuba Partnership, a program started in 2009 to create a conservation strategy aimed at protecting the foothills in the Bear River and Yuba River watersheds in Placer, Nevada and Yuba counties. The Nevada County Land Trust also is a member of the partnership.

Bruin Ranch is the partnership’s first high-profile project. The next project will continue the momentum built by the trusts with the acquisition of the 652-acre Garden Bar Preserve directly adjacent to Bruin Ranch across the Bear River in Nevada County.

Placer Land Trust is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization incorporated in 1991 that is dedicated to working with willing landowners and conservation partners to permanently preserve natural and agricultural lands in Placer County.

To date, the Placer Land Trust has preserved 7,171 acres for current and future generations.

For more information about the Placer Land Trust, call 530-887-9222 or visit www.placerlandtrust.org.

The Trust for Public Land is a national, nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, community gardens, historic sites, rural lands and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come.

Since 1972, TPL has completed close to 4,000 land conservation projects in 47 states, protecting 2.8 million acres.

For more information about The Trust for Public Land, call Tim Ahern at 415-800-5177 or visit www.tpl.org.

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