BCFB Opposes Butte Regional Conservation Plan

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.

Plan area

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.)

What is the BRCP?

Editorial from the Executive Director…

For almost nine years, the Butte County Association of Governments (BCAG) has been working on behalf of the cities of Biggs, Chico, Gridley and Oroville and Butte County to develop the Butte Regional Conservation Plan (BRCP.) The BRCP is a federal Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and a state Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP). It reportedly is supposed to provide streamlined state and federal endangered species act and wetlands permitting for transportation projects, land development and other covered activities over the 50 year term of the state and federal issued permits. It also provides comprehensive species, wetlands and ecosystem conservation and contributes to the recovery of endangered species within Butte County.

The BRCP Formal Public Draft is currently closing in on the conclusion of its 180 plus day public comment period that ends on June 8, 2016. The Butte County Farm Bureau would encourage you to consider sending in your comments about this environmentally motivated plan.

The plan will be executed through in perpetuity contracts with land owners who voluntarily wish to sell a conservation easement on their land, or sell their land in fee title for conservation purposes.

The drafted plan identifies an estimated $377 million dollars in plan costs. Of these costs $139 million will come from direct mitigation or developer fees to carry out the program. The remaining $238 million required for acquisition of land for the conservation portion of the plan to be executed will be derived from state and federal grants according to the plans draft. This places the burden directly on tax payers. Moreover the plan was written using figures generated in 2011 and does not take into account inflation and the 50 year term of the plan and the likely increase in costs.

What the plan draft does not tell you is who it will impact and how. The Butte County Farm Bureau believes the BRCP will create unnecessary permanent burdens on our most valuable ag land and for that reason should not be approved in its current form.

The written plan is more than 1000 double sided pages and is not written in a format designed to be casual reading for the general person in my opinion. BCAG has created some easier to understand fact sheets that you will find at www.buttehcp.com that we encourage you read.

We would also encourage you to read the Butte County Farm Bureau comment letter we submitted on the Formal Public Draft of the Butte Regional Conservation Plan. Read it here. Have questions about our letter? Feel free to call me at (530) 533-1473 or send me an email.

If you wish to submit your own letter, you must do so by June 8, 2016 to the following:
Chris Devine, Planning Manager
Butte County Association of Governments
326 Huss Drive, Suite 150
Chico, CA 95928
Fax (530) 879-2444
Email: cdevine@bcag.org

Thanks for reading!

Colleen Cecil has served as the Executive Director of the Butte County Farm Bureau since 2006. As Executive Director, Colleen advocates for the more than 1300 family members of the Butte County Farm Bureau on issues such as land use, rural crime, and water and manages the day-to day operations of the organization with guidance from the 26-member volunteer Board of Directors.