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Local Sierra Club and Audubon Groups Raise Concerns about Burrowing Owls at Mace 25

Burrowing-owls
Buow picture taken by R. Millstein, 8/2017

Davisites may recall the large proposed business park, the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC), which would be sited on the farmland outside of the Mace curve to the east of Davis, subject to a Measure R vote.  The project proposal was withdrawn in 2016, but the commission on which I serve, the Open Space and Habitat Commission, has been told informally that the project may be re-proposed again in some form.  In its original form, the proposal included 25 acres of land purchased with funds from the City’s Open Space program, widely referred to as the “Mace 25.”  (See my op-ed in the Davis Enterprise, “How 25 acres of open space got into the MRIC proposal” for the history of how that occurred).

In response to the widespread belief that the MRIC proposal will back in front of the City, two local environmental groups have raised concerns about the presence of burrowing owls on the Mace 25: the local chapters of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. Note that burrowing owls have been designated as a “species of special concern” in California, and their numbers have been declining precipitously in recent years.

According to Catherine Portman, president of the Burrowing Owl Preservation Society, on Thursday, April 4, the Sierra Club Yolano Group passed the following resolution supporting the City retaining Mace 25 for habitat and open space purposes:

Whereas, the Institute for Bird Populations state wide breeding burrowing owl censuses have revealed an estimated decline of 8% from 1980s to  1990-1993 and another 8% decline in 2006-2007

Whereas, the IBP and Burrowing Owl Preservation Society Yolo County census revealed a 76% decline from 2007 to 2014

Whereas, the California Department of Fish and wildlife has no burrowing owl conservation plan

Whereas, the burrowing owl has minimal protections as a “species of special concern”

Whereas, the citizens of Davis elected to tax themselves via Measure O to provide revenue to purchase open space and wildlife habitat at the edges of the City limits

Whereas, the City of Davis used Measure O funds to obtain 25 acres on CR 104 (Mace-25)

Whereas, the area of CRs 104 and 30B and including Mace-25 have hosted a breeding colony of burrowing owls since, at least, 2007 and therefore represents a unique and potentially irreplaceable habitat

Therefore be it now resolved that the Yolano Group of the Sierra Club, urges the City of Davis to maintain ownership of Mace-25 and remove it from the FEIR of Mace Ranch Innovation Center and manage it as open space and wildlife habitat in perpetuity.

Similarly, an article on the Yolo Audubon Society website, “Burrowing Owls at Risk on the Urban Fringe,” states that “Yolo Audubon and other conservation groups are contacting the City Council with our concerns about losing yet more owl habitat.”  I understand that a more formal response is in the works.

As I suggested above, it is not yet known what form the new MRIC proposal will take, and thus, it’s not yet known for certain whether Mace 25 will be part of that proposal.  But if it is, I think we can expect the project proposal to be controversial, both because of the presence of burrowing owls and because Mace 25 was purchased with open space funds. (Of course, the project proposal may be controversial regardless).

Many Davisites, myself included, feel that open space monies are for open space, not for acquiring properties for developer’s later use.  The presence of burrowing owls on the site makes preserving that open space that much more important.

Comments

Ron

I'd like to see a conservation easement placed on the entire site of the proposed MRIC.

Perhaps receiving conservation easement funds might also appeal to the developer (vs. spending additional funds in a highly uncertain attempt to gain voter approval, for yet another peripheral development).

There's not enough traffic on I-80 (and its access points), already?

Perhaps it's time for the city to demonstrate that it's serious about curbing its own contributions to habitat loss, sprawl, traffic, and global warming. But, I wouldn't count on that, with the current council.

Roberta L. Millstein

Agreed, Ron, I think the current Council is highly unlikely to go for that as long as there is a willing and interested developer for the property, which there seems to be.

It's been a year and a 3/4 since the old FEIR was certified. I wonder how the traffic has changed since then?

Ron

Roberta: I agree that conclusions regarding traffic (as well as other concerns) might be challenged.

Can you provide a brief background regarding exactly how the city obtained the 25 acres? It is not clear to me why that location was selected, who owned it prior to that, etc.

Nancy Price

Thanks, Roberta, for bringing this to our attention. I would add that before the MRIC proposal is re-proposed, there should be a thorough discussion of the so-called “Guidelines” passed when Request for Proposals regarding innovation parks where released, because these aspirational “guidelines” were just that - hoped that the developer might consider them. A lot has changed since then. A number of us spoke at the City Council meetings urging that these guidelines needed to be more than wishful thinking when it comes to such a large peripheral development of such large environmental impact. Maybe it’s time to dust them off!

Roberta L. Millstein

Ron, my Enterprise op-ed (linked above) mentions the Mace 390, now called Leland Ranch. It was originally purchased in late 2010 with the intent of being sold with an agricultural easement placed on it. It was right before I joined the OSHC, so I don't know all the details, but I think the City got a good price for it. What we call Mace 25 was originally part of that Mace 390 parcel, not a part of the parcel closer to the City that has been proposed to be used for MRIC. As my op-ed describes, the OSHC recommended that an easement not be put on the Mace 25 so that it could be used for a community farm, so that is how it got separated out -- retained by the City rather than sold with an easement. Little did we know that it would get sucked up into the MRIC proposal, or (I believe) we would have recommended that it be sold with an easement as the rest of Mace 390 did.

Is that explanation clear?

Roberta L. Millstein

Nancy, good idea!

Ron

Roberta: Yes - thank you.

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