A broader plan

BCAG and stakeholders should expand Butte Regional Conservation Plan to incorporate ag

The Butte County Association of Governments wants to codify both growth and conservation over a geographically diverse area—for 50 years, no less—in a single document. It’s a massive task, and a thankless one. As detailed in the CN&R’s last issue (“Slow go,” Newslines, by Evan Tuchinsky), the Butte Regional Conservation Plan has drawn critiques from business, agricultural and environmental interests. This, despite 50 meetings and workshops over eight years.

The BRCP’s public comment period ended yesterday (June 8). Now BCAG has to decide how to handle its barrage of input.

The Chico Chamber of Commerce essentially wants BCAG to take a do-over, recommending an outside facilitator—i.e., consultant—moderate talks between dissatisfied parties. Foremost on this list is the Butte County Farm Bureau, representing growers and ranchers who’d just as soon see the plan die on the vine than thrive in any form close to the current incarnation.

Taking a big step backward, thereby adding at least a year and six figures to the process, strikes us as imprudent. So, too, does throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

BCAG pitches the BRCP as a tool for streamlining development by consolidating local, state and federal permitting, with the added benefit of a state- and federally approved plan for habitat preservation. That’s a worthy aim, but we propose taking it one step further.

Think of the BRCP not just as a regional conservation plan, but as a resource conservation plan.

Since agriculture drives Butte County’s economy, ag land clearly is a Butte County resource. Treat it as such. Include it in the BRCP. Set acreage protections. Delineate boundaries, in the vein of the Greenline.

Moreover, rather than bind land in perpetuity, allow for wildlife easements under the Williamson Act, which represents a firm commitment with an escape clause (albeit complex and costly).

With a broader plan, BCAG can not only bring everyone to the table but also allow the stakeholders to leave satisfied.