Why We Should Save Farmland and Habitat in Natomas

It is not good that proposed large master plan projects are located outside of the County’s Urban Services Boundary. “The county zoned [this] area as agricultural and has numerous policies in place to protect agricultural land. These projects would eliminate the remaining farmland and habitat of the Natomas basin, in Sacramento County, and weaken the Natomas Basin Habitat Plan.”

By Heather Fargo and Susan Herre | The Natomas Buzz | May 9, 2022

In response to the Sacramento Bee article “Washington sending millions to fight Natomas Basin flooding” by David Lightman and Michael McGough:

Portions of the front page article on April 18 regarding Natomas Basin Flooding were inaccurate and misleading. It’s important to correct the record.

The need for strengthening the levees along the Sacramento River are well known, not just for Natomas, but all the way to South Sacramento. And we all appreciate the support of the federal government to help keep Sacramento safe from flooding.

It’s important to recognize that much work has been completed in Natomas and the previous moratorium on construction has been lifted. Natomas now has a similar level of flood protection to the rest of the city. Thousands of housing units have been built, and thousands are currently under construction. But they are all in areas previously planned for housing within the city limits of Sacramento.

Housing developments in the adjacent farmland, outside of the city, are prohibited currently by Sacramento County’s Urban Services Boundary, approved in 1993. And that’s a good thing. It allows agricultural uses to continue, endangered species to survive in protected habitat areas, and contributes to the region’s economy and quality of life, and the build out of Natomas.

The article erroneously states that “The levee improvements are expected to help trigger important economic benefits, allowing more construction to occur.” This is not true. It goes on to say that “The Sacramento River flood threat has choked off development on new homes on the acres west of Interstate 80 and El Centro Road, and south of San Juan Road.” This is also not true.

The project area referred to includes proposed, but not approved, projects. The county zoned the area as agricultural and has numerous policies in place to protect agricultural land. These projects would eliminate the remaining farmland and habitat of the Natomas basin, in Sacramento County, and weaken the Natomas Basin Habitat Plan. This plan which requires one half acre for acre that is developed with the city limits was a state and federal requirement to allow North Natomas to be developed in the first place. The future of North Natomas along with the protected species will be endangered if new projects of thousands of acres are ever approved.

The abandoned Joint Vision for Natomas, approved by both the city and county of Sacramento, called for development to occur only in the city limits, and agriculture and habitat to be done in the unincorporated areas of the county. It still makes sense.

While it’s a developer’s dream to buy prime farmland for cheap, and have it approved for development, the “highest and best use” in unincorporated North Natomas is farming and habitat.

Click here to view the article.


Photo by Edith Thacher

Cranes and more

Photo Credit: Lon Yarbrough

By Tina Suarez-Murias of Save Our Sandhill Cranes | February 2022

Tina Suarez-Murias, AICP, is a certified planner by profession and a Board Member of Save Our Sandhill Cranes (SOSC), based in Sacramento.

On behalf of those who were able to visit the Isenberg Preserve on the ECOS Field Trip on January 21, I’d like to thank Mike Savino, a trained docent for the CA Department of Fish & Wildlife. He was able to take us into the restricted research/study area of the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve to observe the “evening fly-in” to one of the cranes’ overnight roosting areas. Mike also explained frequently observed crane behaviors and the special anatomical adaptions of these large, but elegant birds. Generally, the cranes arrive by October and stay through February, before flying north, as far as Alaska, where they breed and fledge their young during the summer.

The Reserve, also known as the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve, honors Phil & Marilyn Isenberg for their efforts to protect this habitat for the Greater and Lesser Sandhill Cranes that migrate to this region every fall to overwinter until spring. The Reserve is split in two parts along Woodbridge Road off I-5, south of Galt. The northern portion is restricted to docent-led tours, but the southern portion is always open to the public for viewing the Sandhill Cranes and other waterbirds that utilize the large shallow ponds near the parking area.

It’s a visual and audible treat to be on the southern side of Woodbridge an hour before dusk when hundreds of cranes fly in after a day of foraging in nearby harvested farm fields. The viewing area has beautiful educational signs about the cranes and their behaviors, so you can share what you learn with your friends as you watch cranes land and dance. Cameras and simple binoculars add to the fun. With a higher-powered scope you can see the adult crane’s red head – which is blood-filled skin, not feathers! Watch for the resident barn owls that occasionally swoop through too!

Because the wet areas around Sacramento are on the Pacific Flyway, you can see all sorts of birds migrate through. Other migrating birds, such as snow geese, stilts, and so many ducks (!) visit Woodbridge, the flooded rice paddies, the Nature Conservancy’s Staten Island, the Yolo Bypass, and the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Here’s a tip: Cranes always travel in pairs or groups, which helps you notice the difference from the large Great Blue Heron and the white egret, which are usually solitary in behavior when foraging in this region’s wetlands.

To watch crane families’ summer activities, I recommend this link to one of my favorite websites about Lesser Sandhill Cranes in Alaska: Featured Videos | Kachemak Crane Watch. Nina Faust, of Inspiration Ridge Preserve near Homer in Alaska, posts all her wonderful videos of cranes parenting and colts (baby cranes) learning to fly. The Greater Sandhill Cranes fly north to Modoc County to breed in the summer at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge Modoc National Wildlife Refuge – Modoc – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (fws.gov).

On another subject, the vernal pools of the Central Valley spring to life as winter ends. Both SMUD’s Rancho Seco and SPLASH south of Mather Field have trails around theirs and offer tours. The vernal pool habitat cannot be recreated easily. The pools are ephemeral and evolved over time in slight depressions underlain by hardpan (tight, compressed, clay soil) found in the Central Valley’s ancient inland sea lake bed. There are only one or two months each spring when the dormant plants and animals found in these otherwise desiccated pools can emerge and flourish in the water that ponds during the wet season. Be on the lookout for vernal pools in the undeveloped prairies and meadows near you! Take pictures and enjoy this disappearing habitat.

We do need to have better ways to “design with nature.” It’s difficult to balance the needs of a growing human population with the other non-human communities we need to live with too. It would be good if more people understood the trade-offs.

Spring Native Plant Sale 2022

When: Online Sale from Wednesday, March 9th noon; to Sunday March 13th 5 p.m.

Pickup on a Sunday: either March 20th from 10:00-2:30 or March 27th from 10:00-2:30
Where: Elderberry Farms Native Plant Nursery
2140 Chase Drive, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 (On the American River Parkway at Soil Born Farms)

Contact: Gina Radieve, gina[dot]radieve[at]gmail[dot]com or Chris Lewis, cnpschris[at]gmail[dot]com

More information: SacValleyCNPS.org/PS

Native Plants are not only beautiful and climate adaptable but they also feed and shelter birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Come find a wide selection of native perennials, shrubs, and trees, grasses, vines and native annuals! We’ll have plants from Cornflower Farms, and Elderberry Farms Native Plant Nursery.

Use this link – SacValleyCNPS.org/shop – to browse the entire list of plants we grow and sell. Not all plants will be available at every sale. The site will show which plants will be for sale two weeks before the upcoming sale starts.

The native plant sale is one of our best opportunities to connect our community members with their community of native plants. We have a wide variety of positions available. Currently we are looking for:

  • Plant Puller – help us gather the orders and bring them to the pickup area
  • Plant Loader – help us get the plants from the pickup tables into customers’ cars
  • Customer Service Specialists – greet all customers and call in their orders

If you are interested in any of these opportunities, please reach out to Lorena at Volunteer[at]sacvalleycnps[dot]org.

Hosted by the California Native Plant Society Sacramento Chapter, a member organization of ECOS.

U.C. Davis study finds dams ineffective for conservation…

By Dan Bacher | September 9, 2021 | Sacramento News and Review

For many years, federal, state and corporate proponents of building more dams in California have touted cold water river releases provided by increased water storage behind dams as a key tool in “saving” struggling salmon and steelhead populations.

Yet a just published study by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, Dams Ineffective for Cold-Water Conservation– 8/25/21, has found that dams are ineffective for the cold water conservation that is needed to preserve imperiled salmon, steelhead and trout.

”Dams poorly mimic the temperature patterns California streams require to support the state’s native salmon and trout — more than three-quarters of which risk extinction,” according to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE by the University of California, Davis. “Bold actions are needed to reverse extinction trends and protect cold-water streams that are resilient to climate warming.”

The study helps identify where high-quality, cold-water habitat remains to help managers prioritize conservation efforts.

https://sacramento.newsreview.com/2021/09/09/u-c-davis-study-finds-dams-ineffective-for-conservation-of-salmon-and-trout-in-sacramento-area-waterways/

Click here to read this article in full.