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On 29 March 2016, our chapter’s Conservation Committee gathered at a volunteer’s private home to discuss current native plant conservation issues in the East Bay Area. Here is an outline of our main topics:

  • Antioch, CA: Vineyards at Sand Creek development: Several of our volunteers have attended public meetings to understand the impacts of this housing plan on our Four Valleys Botanical Priority Protection Area (BPPA) (map), southeast of the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. The City of Antioch and Antioch Planning Commission is deciding how to embrace this idea for a Highway 4 gated private residential community, also called the Sand Creek Focus Area. Unfortunately, Antioch decided several years ago not to participate in the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). This particular valley is an important remainder of a once larger east-west migration corridor for plants and animals.
  • Richmond, CA: Point Molate: Conflicts over land use are settling, and this beautiful area is receiving broom removal treatments. The Urban Land Institute recently delivered six future plan alternatives to Richmond City Council, including two favoring total parks or mixed use with public parks and only some housing. This would be great news compared to the alternative of a casino discussed several years ago. It is concerning to note that City of Richmond plans to perform rezoning in the area as early as this week. Our chapter’s objective is to maintain the native vegetation corridor as much as possible from hilltop to beach and eel grass beds beyond. We favor continued public recreational enjoyment of the beautiful Point Molate with simultaneous protection of native plants. The Bay Trail Commission is in planning stages for making a connection through the area, as well.
  • East Bay Regional Parks District and fuels treatments: Our chapter continues to express worry about unclear management protocols for areas like the Huckleberry Preserve, specifically for care of sensitive maritime chaparral and the endangered pallid manzanita (Arctostaphylos pallida). We are working cooperatively with the Parks District on clarifying that forthcoming vegetation management plan. Additionally, we excerpted from their current Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan for discussing how native plant protections are framed in contract language grazing guidelines, in other regions where fuel breaks are needed.
  • Oakland, CA: Knowland Park addition to Oakland Zoo:  The East Bay Zoological Society is building its California Trail project, but several of our volunteers noted enough (17) permit violations to merit an impressive letter to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) asking for immediate action to protect remaining rare plant communities and Alameda Whipsnake habitat, including independent monitoring, penalty fee collection for mitigation, and beginning weed removal. We have not received a reply yet from CDFW.

 

Brief updates

– Hilltop Drive, Richmond: One of our volunteers noted construction spoils and indiscriminate herbicide spraying on native grasslands off of this Highway 80 exit.

– Point Pinole, Richmond: Wildlife populations may be declining due to drought or park management practices, including vegetation management.

– Berkeley Global Campus, Richmond: Construction plans are currently paused, which gives us the opportunity to learn more about the native flora and prairie grasslands.

 

Our Conservation Chair Jean Robertson led the meeting and kept our discussions focused. Want to get involved with our committee meetings? We love having more hands on deck! Please contact myself, or our Conservation Chair Jean Robertson (conservation-chair@ebcnps.org). Let us know  briefly what conservation projects in your area you are interested in contributing to, and what skills you can volunteer.

The Conservation Committee will meet again on 26 April, 2016.

Participate in field trips with our chapter from our Meetup page.

Read more conservation updates from our April 2016 chapter newsletter, the Bay Leaf.

 

Karen Whitestone

Conservation Analyst

conservation@ebcnps.org

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Tri LInk Study Area and Potential Alignments. image:

TriLInk Study Area and General Road Alignments. image: Draft Feasibility Study

Since 2012, the Conservation Committee has been following and participating in a two year scoping study for a proposed roadway between Tracy and Brentwood. This roadway is being dubbed “TriLink” or State Route 239, and it is being considered due to a $14 million federal earmark grant to study the feasibility of such a project. As part of our participation as a member of the NGO stakeholders study group, EBCNPS has submitted comments regarding the rare and unique natural resources that could be impacted by the proposed roadway, and we have provided the planners with our BPPA files so that they may consider our BPPAs as planning proceeds for potential roadway alignments. The study area for this roadway includes sections of our Altamont and Byron BPPAs.

On September 12th, the Draft Feasibility Study was released for public review. You can view the Draft Feasibility Study HERE. EBCNPS reviewed the information presented and submitted a comment letter on November 1. Our letter notes specific species and communities in the study area that require avoidance in any construction plan, as well as the importance of considering regionally significant/locally rare plants during any pre-construction surveys and project design considerations. A copy of our letter can be found here: Final EBCNPS Comments for TriLink Feasibility Study 10_31_13.

EBCNPS plans to continue to follow this ongoing project and any updates will be posted here.

 

In the quiet confines of Southeastern Contra Costa county lies a seemingly endless expanse of rolling hills filled with California annual grassland vegetation.  In some of these valleys, alkaline soils have formed over hundreds of thousands of years, providing habitat for rare California flora. One such known repository of alkaline grassland is along Kellogg creek.

The creek drainage and habitat around it is currently a wind farm, which is planned to be “upgraded” with larger turbines in the near future.  EBCNPS provided the following comment letter on the Vasco Winds DEIR, hoping that the alkaline values of this site can be better protected with this “repowering” process.  EBCNPS also notes that this falls within the Byron Botanical Priority Protection Area, insert shown below.  Although we believe that this habitat contains more rare plants than currently recorded, the project failed to conduct a focused survey for rare plants (as well as locally rare flora) which we believe makes the EIR incomplete and out of compliance with CEQA. EBCNPS is also concerned with how this will affect the ongoing Altamont Wind Power Resource Area HCP, as well as the approved Eastern Contra Costa HCP-NCCP.

 

The DEIR should be posted by the County here. [Caution this is a large PDF file and may take a while (2-3 minutes) to load.]

Briones Valley, Cowell Ranch

California State Parks has finished their preliminary draft of the general plan and EIR for the Cowell Ranch/John Marsh State Historic Park.  This new 4,000 acre park is set in eastern Contra Costa County, notably at the edge of the Great Valley ecoregion and the SF Bay Area ecoregion.  Although this park lies within the Eastern Contra Costa HCP boundary, its conservation was made independent of that process back in 2007.  The Park is still not open to the public, but this planning process, once completed, will be a large step forward to that end.

EBCNPS has found many current and historic records of rare and unusual plants including: alkaline denizens like Atriplex ssp. and iodine bush, big tarplant, California macrophylla, and others.  The rolling hills and salty bottomlands give this place a bucolic feel.

EBCNPS is working to provide comments on the general plan.  We would happily include flora-specific comments from anyone who is interested in the area.  The planning documents can be found here.

Iodine Bush leafing out

Comments need to be delivered by December 9th to:

Steve Bachman, Acting District Superintendent
Diablo Vista District
845 Casa Grande Road
Petaluma, CA 94954
sbachman@parks.ca.gov

The East Bay Chapter of CNPS holds one seat on a 12 seat Public Advisory Committee for the implementation of the Eastern Contra Costa Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The goal of this committee is to provide input on the function of the HCP Conservancy. The group consists of representatives from 4 groups: environmental, developer, local landowner, and agriculturalist/conservation easement holders. Quarterly meetings provide a venue in which new information is reported as well as open discussion on topics that arise which have not been covered by the original document. The last meeting on November 10th continued to address the difficult question of whether “non-covered activities” should be allowed to provide mitigation credits to the HCP. The governing committee of the HCP asked that the Advisory Committee provide a recommendation for dealing with this issue.

Some of the examples presented indicate that this would be a good idea. For example, CalTrans required a small permit to allow for road widening for improving safety on a small section of rural roadway. Other such “non-covered activities” present a more difficult conundrum.  Notably, the Antioch question.

Antioch was a non participant in the HCP process.  All other local agencies and cities helped participate and pay for this plan, whereas Antioch flat out said “No thanks.”  Well, we moved forward with this giant (geographical) hole. The plan was eventually completed and the exclusion of Antioch worked perfectly fine. Now, Johnny-come-lately would like to obtain permits and guarantees from the HCP for new development.

EBCNPS disapproves of this recommendation. We were the only member at the table that asked that consideration for Antioch projects be removed from this recommendation. A fair discussion ensued, but in the end, John Kopchik, head of the HCP Conservancy didn’t feel this was the place to discuss this topic. We still disagree. The camel’s nose is under the tent. Allowing a non-participating (opposing the initial plan) agency to “opt-into” the plan when it is convenient for them sets terrible precedent. It allows for the City and its developers to benefit from the hard work of others without bringing any value to the table.  No sweat, no blood – just glory (in the form of permits and “pre-approved mitigations”).

EBCNPS will be writing a letter to the Advisory Committee and Governing Committee asking that this question continue to be discussed before any recommendations are forwarded for approval.

Please see item 2b – “Mitigating non-covered activities” for more information by clicking here.

The East Bay Chapter has just received late notice of a 930 MegaWatt gas fired plant site only footsteps away from the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge.  This refuge is home to two endangered plants and a butterfly which are found no where else.  Additionally, some of the vegetation bordering the site is classified as Stabilized Interior Dunes, a California rare vegetation type.

Antioch Dunes Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides ssp. howellii)

Antioch Dunes Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides ssp. howellii)

Sadly, since CNPS is only learning about this project at the 11th hour, it is already approved with little room for input.  CEC Information on the Marsh Landing Project can be found here. We will be working with US Fish and Wildlife to see if there is anything we can do to help minimize impacts to native flora and vegetation.  Cay Goude of the USFWS recently wrote this letter on the project impacts.  Mrs. Goude raised some important concerns about the project which were addressed in the following response letter from CEC to Cay Goude, USFWS.

Cay’s letter had the following positive impact on weed management – text is extracted from the Errata to the Presiding Member’s Proposed Decision – CEC Docket No. 08-AFC-3 – August 2010.  Thanks for your work Cay!

In response to a PMPD comment from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) alleging the annual payment required by Condition BIO-8 was inadequate mitigation, Mirant Marsh Landing agreed to add $20,000.00 to the $2,693 annual payment recommended by Staff as its proportionate share of the costs of weed mitigation. The condition as adopted below, contains additional requirements that the moneys be specifically directed to the removal of noxious weeds and that a report on the use of the funds be
provided to Staff.


We will keep you updated as new information is received.

References:

Biological Impacts Section from Application (warning this is a 5MB file)

On a mild mid-May afternoon, several members of the Eastern Contra Costa Habitat Conservation Plan Public Advisory Committee were given a tour of three properties that were newly acquired by ECC HCP funds.  These lands will be conserved in perpetuity and have directed management as approved by the ECC HCP Conservancy.  Conservancy staff directed the tour which was in the Byron/Vasco area, a transistion zone between the Bay Area and the Central Valley.

Vaquero Farms South

Alkaline soils and alkaline scalds were found in some of the deep valleys of the Vaquero Farms South property.  Here is a natural Northern Claypan Vernal Pool that is still filled with water well into May.

Brittlescale - Atriplex depressa

Brittlescale (Atriplex depressa) is a native Californian plant that thrives in alkaline soils.  This plant is predominantly restricted to the Central Valley, although some populations are found in adjacent ecotones.  This plant is state-protected and is ranked as a CNPS 1B.2 plant.

Vaquero Farms North landscape

The Vaquero Farms North landscape feels like an extension of the Southern parcel minus the windmills.  We spotted both a golden eagle and a pair of burrowing owls as we traveled through this landscape.  Also, a locally rare tarplant – Lobb’s tarplant (Deinandra lobbii) was observed on this parcel in full flower.

looking from N to S - Vaquero Farms

EBCNPS is trying to coordinate a late summer field trip to the Vaquero properties in order to view some of the rare alkaline plants in flower.  Please note, this area is not yet open to the public.  Stay tuned for more information.

EBCNPS has been impressed with the success of the implementation of the Habitat Conservation Plan.  Although very little development has occurred in this area since the approval of the plan, the implementation has been well funded by federal grants and matching funds from the EBRPD.  We are encouraged that implementation of this plan will continue to value stewardship and restoration of resources in Eastern Contra Costa county.

Fritillaria agrestis by John Game

Fritillaria agrestis by John Game

The East Bay Chapter of CNPS has been working on a publication that will help communicate the value of our local botanical resources to a greater general public.  This project, the Botanical Priority Protection Areas (or BPPA), outlines 15 of the most important landscapes in the East Bay that convey a “sense of place”.  Many of these areas will have development proposals in the next decade and we hope that our project will help communicate the importance of these areas.
There is a team of individuals that is helping make this project a success.  Please feel free to email Lech Naumovich (conservation@ebcnps.org) with comments and suggestions on this project.  Thanks for your everyone’s generosity and support!!!

Here’s a sneak peak at a DRAFT layout of the 4 Valleys area near Antioch, CA.

DRAFT 4 Valleys BPPA publication

As required by a settlement in a recent law suit, the Altamont Pass area will be undergoing an HCP planning effort for wind projects.  This planning effort has been attended by Heath Bartosh, Rare Plants Committee Chair of East Bay CNPS.   Our comments recommend additional no-take plant species and more of a concentration on flora throughout this planning process.

APWRA_Comment_Letter_083109 [written by EBCNPS Rare Plant Committee Chair, Heath Bartosh]

Windmills of Altamont

Windmills of Altamont

Photo credit: KQED QUEST team – CC license

EBCNPS has commented on the scoping of this project which is located next to the Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County. The project would involve removing old wind towers and building 13 miles of new roads that cross sensitive habitat. These are our submitted comments.

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Conservation Analyst Contact Information

1-510-734-0335
conservation@ebcnps.org

Conservation Analyst Fund