Oak trees in El Dorado County are about to get some special attention — again. Because of inconsistencies and conflicting interpretations, the 2008 Oak Woodlands Management Plan must be amended.
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Toward that end, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors recently approved a recommendation for a “Resolution of Intention to Amend” six General Plan policies dealing with oak trees and their related environment. The county’s Planning Services Division requested board action to move forward on the amendment process and to hire a consultant to help prepare an Environmental Impact Report regarding the proposed changes.
As written, the plan does not clearly delineate between oak trees and “oak habitat” relative to development and subsequent mitigation for loss of oak trees/oak habitat. However, when the OWMP was adopted, the Board of Supervisors “stated its intent to mitigate for oak trees only, not habitat and provided maximum flexibility in mitigation,” according to Development Services Director Roger Trout.
In a Sept. 20 letter to the board, Trout summarized the history of the OWMP noting that a challenge by “oak advocates” had resulted in a trial court decision upholding the policy. On appeal, however, that decision was reversed.
The appeals court ruling held that “the Board’s interpretation resulted in impacts not previously addressed in the General Plan Environmental Impact Report,” Trout wrote.
Two sections of the plan represent the major sticking points. Policy 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199 describe the basis on which a proposed development must mitigate any significant loss of oak trees and/or habitat. The policy offered two options; the developer could replace (or pay to replace) lost trees one-for-one or contribute to future mitigation measures that would be developed in the county’s Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan.
The ruling in January by the Third District Court of Appeal blocked the second choice known as Option B which would have required a two-to-one replacement ratio and would have been stalled waiting for the INRMP to be completed.
Trout’s letter outlined a recommended course of action for the board to pursue which addresses the six policy elements dealing with protection of trees and “comprehensively addresses difficult policy choices.”
Documents attached to Trout’s letter include the department’s rationale behind each of several possible ways to address the problem, but the overriding benefits of amending the policies is not in question. Trout notes first, that the county has tried and failed to implement the policies, mainly due to their “ambiguities.”
Secondly, he writes that opponents perceive that the policies “protect oak trees to a greater extent than necessary.” That sets up a cost burden to landowners in El Dorado County that landowners in neighboring counties do not have — and potentially steers development away from El Dorado County.
The current policies furthermore have not led to the most efficient method of protecting “the biological value of oaks over the long term,” according to Trout’s discussion. In effect, it “protects fragmented oaks with marginal biological value instead of accumulating funding to protect large unfragmented areas that would have a better biological value.”
In the years since the 2004 General Plan was completed new information and new research have significantly increased local knowledge and awareness of biological issues such as “corridors and connectivity,” Trout said. Through the process of amending the target policies and the EIR, the county will have a more comprehensive and flexible means of addressing those issues, he wrote.
He explained in an e-mail to the Mountain Democrat last week that his department staff will likely begin developing alternative policy language this month, and he is “hopeful that something can be released to the public by next month.”
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.