By Colleen Cecil
Executive Director, Butte County Farm Bureau
For more than 12 years I have served as the Butte County Farm Bureau, and subsequently the agriculture representative, for the Butte Regional Conservation Plan (BRCP) Stakeholder group.
The BRCP is a 50 year plan that is both a federal Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and a state Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP). It provides a streamlined permitting process to accomplish transportation projects, urban and residential development and other covered activities.
The plan area for the BRCP includes the western two-thirds of Butte County’s total area and encompasses all of Butte County’s Agriculture zoned land.
The BRCP has always been touted as a plan to “streamline” the environmental permitting process for developers. As a BRCP stakeholder, I often asked “what does this plan do for agriculture?” I was told that it would benefit agriculture by allowing our area irrigation districts an easier permitting process for their annual projects.
While that is in fact a benefit, what never could be resolved were the obvious impacts to agriculture that I often questioned. If you’re at all familiar with the environmental permitting process for development and how a conservation easement works, than you know that in-perpetuity easements are placed on other non-developable ground, and in this example agriculture zoned ground, to mitigate for a threatened or endangered species that may be on a parcel destined for development.
As a result of the size and scope of the plan, the potentially negative impacts to agriculture and very few direct benefits to agriculture, the Butte County Farm Bureau has been and remains opposed to the BRCP being approved in Butte County.
The BRCP is a 1,106 page document including all appendices, maps, charts and templates with a $434 million dollar price tag. The magnitude of technical information and detail included in this large document means there is no chance of me explaining all of the BCFB’s concerns in this editorial.
I wanted you to all know the BCFB is opposed to the BRCP being approved in Butte County and will remain opposed. Additionally we have suggested that this plan fails for lack of total community support (the developers, for whom it is supposed to benefit, have said they can do without it) and for its disregard of the importance for agriculture to Butte County’s open space, environment and economy.
I would encourage you to go and take a look the BRCP under the documents tab at www.buttehcp.com.
Please don’t read this as BCFB being opposed to conservation and easements. NOTHING could be farther from the truth. Butte County’s farmers and ranchers have always been and will continue to be staunch environmental stewards of our land and its critters. Development, mitigation, new easements and environmental protection will still continue and will happen just as it has been happening in Butte County.
If you own agriculture zoned ground in the plan area, you should understand this plan. If you farm and own rice ground, you should be concerned about this plan. If you own land ideal for grazing, you should understand this plan. If you already farm next to federal and state owned protected land, you too should understand this plan. And if you ever plan to develop anything in Butte County, you should read this plan.
Butte County is rich with environmentally protected, public and privately owned, open space habitat ground and we accomplished all of it without the BRCP.
I encourage your phone calls and all of your questions. After you call me, call your Chico, Oroville, Biggs and Gridley City Council members and the Board of Supervisors. They will have the final approval.
After 12 years of stakeholder meetings and reading drafts, I still learn something new about the HCP and NCCP process every time I open the document. Let’s learn and understand together. Maybe a collaborative plan that celebrates our agriculture and protects habitat can be created for future generations rather than the selfish plan we’re being asked to support.
(Reprinted from the September/October Butte County Farm Bureau News.)