Habitat Conservation in Eastern Contra Costa County

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell (center, in turquoise) visits Kreigor Peak with local staff and dignitaries to discuss conservation successes and take in sweeping views of land conserved through the East Contra Costa County Plan. Photo: May 2014.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell (center, in turquoise) visits Kreigor Peak with local staff and dignitaries to discuss conservation successes and take in sweeping views of land conserved through the East Contra Costa County Plan. Photo: May 2014.

Winter 2014 Ecesis, Volume 24, Issue 4

The East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation (“Plan”) is beginning to have an impact in biologically-rich, fast-growing east Contra Costa County. In the seven years since the Plan’s adoption, 28 properties totaling approximately 12,000 acres, or 18.75 square miles of habitat, have been acquired with several more properties under consideration. Chosen for their wildlife value, most of them are also spectacularly beautiful. 

Part Coast Range, part Central Valley, the slopes of Mount Diablo east to Byron support a wide variety of unique habitats and species. Many of the species that inhabit this region are so rare that they are listed under the California and Federal Endangered Species Acts as threatened or endangered. 

The East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy (“Conservancy”) is the agency tasked with implementing the East Contra Costa County Plan. The Plan proactively addresses the long-term conservation needs in the region by strengthening local control over land use and providing greater flexibility in meeting other needs such as housing, transportation, and economic growth. 

Streamlining the Permit Process

The Plan provides a regional conservation and development framework that protects natural resources while improving and streamlining the permit process for take coverage of state and federally listed species and impacts to sensitive habitat and resources. Permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2007 allow the Permittees (Contra Costa County; the cities of Brentwood, Clayton, Oakley, and Pittsburg; the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy; the Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District; and the East Bay Regional Park District) to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act and California’s Natural Community Conservation Planning Act. In May 2012, the Corps issued a Regional General Permit (RGP) related to the Plan. The RGP is designed to streamline wetland permitting in the Plan area by coordinating the avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures in the Plan with the Corps’ wetland permitting requirements. Currently, the RGP only relates to the Clean Water Act Section 404 permits, but discussions are ongoing with the State Board and Regional Water Quality Control Boards to coordinate their requirements with the RGP and the Plan. 

These permits issued to the Conservancy enable project proponents to receive their endangered species approvals through the cities and County in the Plan area.

Over the 30-year permit term, impacts from urban development and rural infrastructure projects will be offset by the creation of a Preserve System managed for the benefit of 28 covered species, as well as the natural communities that they, and hundreds of other species, depend on for habitat.

33,000 Acres — 52 square miles — to be preserved

The preliminary conservation strategy in the Plan calls for the acquisition of up to 33,000 new acres — 150% of the area of Mount Diablo State Park — over 30 years. It will protect land around the State Park and better connect Black Diamond Mines, the Concord Naval Weapons Station, Cowell Ranch State Park, Morgan Territory, Round Valley, Vasco Caves, Brushy Peak, and other open lands to the south. 

The Plan took effect just as the development market ground to a halt, stalling development fee revenues but enabling an early focus on land acquisition and habitat restoration. That focus is beginning to show results. 

With East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) as the key acquisition partner, approximately 12,000 acres of land have been acquired with additional parcels under contract to be acquired. These 12,000 acres protect a diverse range of habitats from alkali vernal pools in the southeast, to high elevations of chaparral and oak woodland in the northwest of the region.

Restoration and Management — Necessary Complements to Preservation

The Conservancy is involved in much more than land acquisition and habitat preservation. The Conservancy is also involved in actively restoring and managing habitats for species. Since the completion of the first acquisition, the Conservancy has embarked on an aggressive restoration program, with the eighth wetland restoration project completed in October 2014. 

These Projects provide important habitat for many endangered and threatened species in eastern Contra Costa County including California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, rare fairy shrimp species, and various species of rare plants. These features also perform important hydrologic functions — capturing sediment, slowing runoff and recharging ground water.

Restoration projects have varied in size and scope across the preserve system of acquired lands. Ranging from small vernal pool creation to large creek channel restoration projects, the Conservancy works with restoration ecologists, scientists and construction firms to design and construct these projects. 

Every project requires post construction management and monitoring to ensure that site specific restoration targets are met. The Conservancy works with biologists, EBRPD staff and grazing tenants to manage the restored habitat and surrounding conserved property.
For more information about the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy visit: www.cocohcp.org — by Abigail Fateman, Interim Executive Director of
the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy

References

Contra Costa County; the cities of Brentwood, Clayton, Oakley, and Pittsburg; the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy; the Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District; and the East Bay Regional Park District.