July 6, 2005

Karen Mantele, Director
Planning and Community Development Department
14050 Olympic Drive
Clearlake, CA 95422

Re: Provinsalia Specific Plan

Dear Director Mantele:

The California Oak Foundation (COF) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Provinsalia Specific Plan (Plan). COF review of the Plan finds that the oak woodland mitigation measures do not reduce direct or cumulative oak habitats impacts to less than significant and are inconsistent with the resource conservation goals of the Clearlake General Plan.

Wildlife Habitat Impacts The Environmental Science Associates resource study of the project area ³revealed the presence (on the site) of bobcats, mountain lions, deer and bears.² The presence of large mammals like mountain lion and bear demonstrates that the site is an important component of a larger wild land ecosystem (>12,000 acres). Furthermore, oak woodlands habitats with an associated riparian element like Cache Creek are of the highest-biological value, supporting more wildlife species than any other California habitat type (California Department of Fish and Game 1996).

Direct Habitat Impacts The Plan destroys the connectivity of the north-south wildlife corridor linking oak woodlands to Cache Creek. Planting oaks on the eastside of the project to ameliorate this impact may serve aesthetic purposes, but the proposal is biologically and economically pointless.

Cumulative Habitat Impacts The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Guidelines set forth the minimum elements necessary for an adequate analysis of cumulative impacts: (1) a list of past, present, and probable future projects producing related or cumulative impacts, including, if necessary, those projects outside the control of the agency; (2) a ³summary of the expected environmental effects to be produced by those projects....,² and (3) a ³reasonable analysis of the cumulative impacts of the relevant projects.² (Guidelines, § 15130, subds. (b)(2), (3).)

Notably, it is wrong as a matter of law and fact to conclude that cumulative impacts are addressed by maximizing mitigation measures for the project at hand (Environmental Protection Information Center, Inc. v. Johnson (1985) 170 Cal. App. 3d 604).

Development breeds development. The proposed modification of Provinsaliaıs north-south wildlife corridor linking oak woodlands to Cache Creek means the only other similar wildlife passage is located east of the project site on land that the Provinsalia developers own, but dropped from the project. If Provinsalia is as successful as the Plan predicts, then this critical offsite Blue oak woodland habitat will undoubtedly be subject to future development pressures.

Oak Habitat Mitigation The Plan statement that, ³Implementation of the oak conservation strategy and project restoration plan will result in more acreage of oak woodland than currently exists on the site² doesnıt fully capture the oak woodlands habitat cost resulting from the project.

In fact, Provinsalia proposes to remove 30 acres of mature, high-quality oak woodlands and replace it with 45 acres of planted oaks that may someday attain habitat value. Whatever the future biological value of the planted acreage, it will never approach the habitat value of the existing oak stands. Furthermore, a great deal of faith is inherent in oak restoration forestry; it is not as predictable a technology as road building or the hydraulic design of flood control channels. Most scientific publications recognize that restoration forestry is for the foreseeable future an experimental science and immature technology (Baye 2005, unpublished).

University of California studies have confirmed the ineffectiveness of planting Blue oaks as a mitigation measure for the loss of Blue oak woodlands habitat: "The results suggest that it is important to evaluate if tree planting is a viable method of mitigation. Many important habitat elements, such as cavities, acorns, snags, and woody debris will not be mitigated through a tree planting strategy alone" (Standiford 2001)...."There appears to be a need to improve the methods used to evaluate and assess impacts on oak woodlands. The practice of planting to mitigate losses is itself questionable" (Harris and Kocher 2001).

The Plan proposes to retain 64 acres of onsite oak woodlands as ³active and passive open space areas.² Concomitant impacts from this development, intensive recreational activities, pipelines, transmission lines, children and pets, will greatly degrade the wildlife habitat value of the remaining oak woodland areas.

CEQA Compliance The project does not appear to have utilized the services of a Registered Professional Forester to quantify site conditions and habitat impacts, as required by Public Resources Code § 750 et seq. and § 15149. Therefore, the Provinsalia Specific Plan oak woodland findings are unlawful. Confirmation of applicability of the Professional Foresters Law can be obtained by contacting the Board of Forestryıs Office of Professional Foresters Registration at (916) 653-8031.

Summary Certainly the presence of mountain lions and bears is not compatible with a housing/golf community, thus the proposed onsite oak woodlands mitigation will not mitigate for the loss of habitat for Provinsaliaıs large mammals. Nor will the combination of well considered, but futile, oak planting mitigation and public open space areas meaningfully replace habitat for many of the 290 wildlife species that prefer Blue oak woodland habitat attributes.

Given project circumstances, COF recommends the following measures to provide feasible and proportional Provinsalia oak woodlands habitat mitigation:

  1. Recommend that the proposed Specific Plan oak restoration planting be eliminated, except for the southwestern corner of the project where planting to reestablish habitat connectivity between oak woodlands and Cache Creek should proceed.
  2. Recommend that a conservation easement enjoining future development on all applicant owned oak woodlands east of the Provinsalia Golf Community and north of Cache Creek be adopted as a Specific Plan oak habitat mitigation measure.

Thank you for your consideration and cooperation in conserving oak woodland resources for future generations.

Sincerely,

Janet S. Cobb, President
California Oak Foundation

cc: Rose Marie Moore
RMM Environmental Planning
3010 Beacon Blvd
West Sacramento, CA 95691

References

California Department of Fish and Game. 1996. California Wildlife Habitat Relationships System. California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento, CA.

Harris, Richard R. and Kocher, Susan D. 2001. Oak management by county jurisdiction in the central Sierra Nevada, California. In: Proceedings of the fifth symposium on oak woodlands: oaks in Californiaıs changing landscape. 2001 October 22-25; San Diego, CA. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-184. Albany, CA: Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; 846 p.

Standiford, R. B. 2001. Modeling the effectiveness of habitat loss mitigation in blue oak woodlands with tree planting. In: Proceedings of the fifth symposium on oak woodlands: oaks in Californiaıs changing landscape. 2001 October 22-25; San Diego, CA. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-184. Albany, CA: Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; 846 p.