Conservation of the rare Pine Hill plants
There is a suite of eight rare plant species that occur on gabbro soils, Rescue soils series, in in the Cameron Park and Salmon Falls area. These are plants are commonly referred to as the Pine Hill plants. You can read more about the ecology of this unique flora on our Pine Hill webpage. Since first described in the 1970s, CNPS has taken an interest in the conservation of these plants. Prior to our chapter forming in the early 1990s, CNPS members from the East Bay Chapter were deeply concerned about the loss of these rare species due to development and other human activities. It was through the actions of these CNPS members that the rare plant habitat at Pine Hill was acquired by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to protect these rare plants. These rare plants and their habitat continue to be threatened by development, and also by lack of fire as a beneficial disturbance process (Fig 1.).
Today, through negotiations with various federal, state, and local agencies and the support of stakeholders like our chapter and the American River Conservancy, a preserve system is being created to protect these rare plants and their habitat in perpetuity. The Pine Hill Preserve (Fig. 2) is managed by the Bureau of Land Management for the benefit of the rare plants and their habitat.
The preserve includes approximately 3,276 acres that are critical to the recovery of the Pine Hill plants with an additonal 1,470 acres chaparral and other habitat types. Funding to acquire habitat and manage the preserve comes from a variety of sources, including state and federal conservation funds and from fee programs adopted by the El Dorado Irrigation District and El Dorado County. The fee programs collect set fees for water hook-ups or building permits in certain locations in the county. These are intended to compensate to some degree the loss of rare plant species and habitat to development.
Since about 2011, several government agencies and a representative from our chapter have been meeting to develop a conservation strategy for the Pine Hill plants. This strategy is intended to address long term management concerns as well as identify remaining lands that should be acquired to protect and conserve these plants. Due to development patterns, there is less than 1,000 acres of high quality rare plant habitat that supports the high concentrations of the rare plants. Not surprisingly, these last important habitat area are also places that people want to intensively develop. Our chapter has been working with partners to identify these last habitat areas and develop a plan of action for their conservation.
Development is still occurring in important plant habitat and in some cases rare plants are being lost. Our chapter reviews and comments on project proposed in rare plant habitat. We work with county planners and the wildlife agencies to make sure that the needed protections for the rare plants are in place before development begins.
Conservation of oak woodlands
Oak woodlands are a biologically rich and important habitat type in El Dorado County. These important habitats are also recognized as a significant character of the landscape and this place where we live. This was clearly recognized in the El Dorado County general plan approved in 2007, with the objective to “Protect and conserve forest and woodland resources for their wildlife habitat, recreation, water production, domestic livestock grazing, production of a sustainable flow of wood products, and aesthetic values.” In response to this objective, the Board of Supervisors approved a number of policies in 2004 to achieve protection and conservation of oak woodlands.
These first set of policies to conserve and protect oak woodlands requires that developers conserve oaks on-site by retaining specific amounts of oak woodland. The policies allowed the County to develop a fee program at some future point that could allow the collection of fees to acquire oak woodland as a way to compensate for the loss or removal of oak woodlands due to development. In 2008, the County attempted to develop a program to allow the collection of fees to be paid by a developer to compensate for the loss of oak woodlands. The fee program they proposed did not conserve or protect oak woodlands as promised nor did it follow state regulations for planning and environmental analysis. The Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation (CSNC) filed a lawsuit objecting to the fee program in 2008. The Court of Appeal agreed and the fee program was set aside in 2012 (read CSNC’s press release). Since that time, oak woodland conservation has required on-site conservation of oak woodlands with no option for the collection of fees to buy habitat elsewhere as mitigation for the development.
A significant issue raised in the lawsuit was that the “conservation areas” where the fees would be used to buy oak woodland habitat were too far removed from the place were oak woodland was likely to be lost due to development (Fig. 3). The greatest concern is for the area within about 3 miles along either side of Highway 50—the area where most development is expected to occur. There is significant oak woodland habitat in this region that is threatened by development. The fee program adopted by the Board of Supervisors did not protect or conserve these oak woodlands.
In 2015, the Board of Supervisors again decided to create a program to collect fees to offset the impacts of development on oak woodlands. They are doing this in an effort to eliminate the requirement that oak woodland conservation must occur on the property being develop. This is a public planning process and our chapter has been attending meetings and commenting on the proposals. The proposals we have seen so far still do not address the loss and degradation of oak woodlands in the central part of the county along the Highway 50 corridor. In our most recent comment letter, we made recommendations to the Board of Supervisors about how to correct these deficiencies.