The six counties of the metropolitan Sacramento region, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba are experiencing rapid population growth. Depending on future land use decisions by local governments, this growth may result in revitalization of many existing developed areas and retain vibrant communities. Or it may result in extensive sprawl of low density suburban development across large acreages that are currently agricultural lands, wildlife habitat and floodplains.
The Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) ( projects that between 1999 and 2025 the six counties will grow from a population of 1,821,566 to 2,814,223 people, a 55% increase.
Overall, the lands within the current city boundaries, plus some unincorporated areas set aside for growth in County general plans, are sufficient for several decades of the regionís projected population growth, even if new development continues in the relatively low density pattern of the 1990's. And there is growing public interest in shifting development patterns to effective Smart Growth. This would mean even less long-term need for additional development acreages. In 2003 and 2004 a SACOG- Valley Vision ďBlueprint ProjectĒ examined alternative land use patterns to accommodate growth to 2050. In its many city and county workshops, the Blueprint Project found strong interest in a shift to smart growth and a reduction in sprawl style development.
Despite the region having sufficient land designated for development, there is enormous pressure on local governments to extend the growth boundaries and allow conversion of extensive agricultural lands and wildlife habitat to future suburban development areas. Much of the pressure comes from influential landowners with properties outside of the current designated growth areas If local governments succumb to this pressure, the result will be extensive and unnecessary sprawling development that consumes large acreages of agricultural lands, wildlife habitat and scenic open space. At the same time the sprawl will lessen the regionís future quality of life.
North Natomas, Sacramento County. Strong pressure to develops lands outside the current urban boundary. The City and County of Sacramento are currently preparing a Joint Vision for the region that would allow for an additional 10,000 acres of development, with 1:1 conservation of open space (including habitat and agricultural values.) These lands are in a basin floodplain, close to Sacramento International Airport, and have important endangered species, other wildlife and agricultural values. A Habitat Conservation Plan for the entire Natomas Basin is based on a limit to total development in the Sacramento and Sutter County portions of the Basin. Absent a reduction in proposed (General Plan) development in Sutter County, the additional 10,000 acres of development will exceed that total.
East Sacramento County. Area between Highway 50 at Folsom and Rancho Murietta. The portion between Highway 50 and White Road is now within the City of Folsomís sphere of influence. The City is starting a vision process for the area, while citizens are running a 2004 ballot measure requiring a vote of city residents before any development occurs south of Highway 50. Between White Rock Road and Rancho Murietta there is an additional 34,000 acres. This is a magnificent ranchland landscape, with areas of grasslands, vernal pools, oak savanna and oak woodland - the major oak woodland / oak savanna habitat in the County. It is important bird area, including wintering raptors. One portion, Deer Creek Hills, now county-owned. Much of this area is owned by development interests interested in suburban development. Also there is possibility of large parcel (80 acre) ranchette development.
South of Elk Grove. The new City of Elk Grove is interested in expansion southwards, beyond its current general plan boundary and sphere of influence. This is an area of pasture and crop lands, with very high wildlife values, including foraging habitat for Swainsonís hawks (state listed) and a wintering population of greater sandhill cranes. It is adjacent to the Cosumnes River Preserve, one of the most important biological areas in the Central Valley.
South-west Placer County. Lands west of the cities of Roseville and Lincoln. Significant portions now owned by development interests. In early 2004, the City of Roseville approved annexation of two large landholdings and a specific suburban development plan. The City of Lincoln is considering expansion. There are two university proposals outside the current growth boundaries. There is also a proposal for a new highway, the Placer Parkway, running east-west and connecting Highway 65 to Highways 70/99. This is area of important vernal pool grasslands and rice fields.
The growth debate plays out in a Central Valley Floor and Sierra Nevada Foothills area with a tremendous wealth of wildlife and natural habitats. However, there have been tremendous losses over the past 150 years, with some key habitats reduced to less than 10 percent of the pre-settlement level. Many species have already disappeared from this region and the list of endangered and very rare species is growing. Ecological processes, the key to long-term biological health, are severely disrupted in many locations.
There is increasing realization that the conservation and restoration of ecological health is an important component of regional sustainability, including protection of quality of life and economic health. To ensure the Sacramento region will be ecologically healthy over the long term, very substantial increases in the amount of protected land are needed, along with extensive restoration of key habitats that have been almost wiped out. The restoration of stream and river corridors should be a very high priority wherever it is possible. This includes more natural stream flows, adequate riparian (riverside) vegetation, and re-connection of water ways with at least parts of their historic floodplains.
In total, there are eight components to the effective conservation of biological resources and ecosystem functions in a region.
The development of Natural Community Conservation Plans and/or Habitat Conservation Plans is under way in many parts of the region. These plans will address conservation of listed and sensitive species and some generic conservation of natural communities. It is very unlikely, however, that they will provide for all the conservation needed for the long term ecological health of the region.
The Natomas Basin Conservancy is implementing an approved Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan. Court challenges to this plan continue. Regional conservation plans are under development in Placer, South Sacramento, Yolo and Yuba-Sutter.
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The Central Valley floor portion of the region is a rich agricultural area with very extensive acres of field crops, rice fields, orchards and vineyards. The wide variety of field crops include alfalfa, tomatoes, safflower and barley. There are extensive almond and walnut orchards. In the past few years there have been significant vineyard plantings in some areas, such as south Sacramento County and the Somerset area of El Dorado County
Grasslands on the east and west sides of the Valley Floor as well as the foothill mosaic of grassland, woodland and chaparral scrub provide large acreages of rangeland.
These invaluable agricultural resources are under siege in a variety of ways, including low prices for farm products, speculative pressure on the land and rural ranchette development. In 2001 the Green Valley Alliance produced a very helpful report Building the Future of Agriculture in the Sacramento Region. A successor effort, the Valuing Agriculture Initiative is focusing on ways to assist the regionís agriculture.
Biological Resources and Conservation Needs in the Sacramento Region
Report prepared by IEH for the Green Valley Initiative. Provides detailed information on the Valley-Foothill biological values and needs and on current conservation areas and projects.
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December 2001 series in the Sacramento Bee on problems of growth and sprawl in the Sacramento Region