Butte Environmental Council
For 25 years, the Butte Environmental Council (BEC) has educated and advocated for the land, air and water. It has provided stewardship, education and a voice for the preservation of open space, sustainable communities, healthy ecosystems and agricultural lands.
After its founding in 1975, one of BEC’s first major contributions to Butte County was the creation in 1977 of a multi-use recycling service. Since then, BEC has expanded to include education, advocacy and referral services.
Reflecting on BEC’s long history, Executive Director Barbara Vlamis points to six of the organization’s accomplishments with particular pride: creation of the Bucks Lake and Ishi Wilderness areas; the rejection of a coal-fired power plant; creation of a wetlands preserve at Bidwell Ranch; groundwater protection; wetland advocacy; and the Endangered Species Faire.
In 1975, representatives from BEC, North State Wilderness and the Sierra Club began efforts to get the Ishi, Bucks Lake, and Chips Creek areas designated as wilderness. As an umbrella organization, BEC used its newsletter to encourage readers to write letters to Congress. Thousands of people responded and wrote Congress to request the establishment of the wilderness areas. In 1984, the 4,100-acre Ishi area and the 1,900-acre Bucks Lake area were designated as wilderness.
A coal-fired power plant might have been built in Butte County in the late 1970s had it not been for BEC’s reporting in its newsletter. The plant would have added 40 tons per day of sulfur dioxide pollutants to the air and would have withdrawn 20,000 acre-feet of water per year from the local aquifer.
The developers of the 750-acre Rancho Arroyo project first sought approval for their project on the edge of Bidwell Park in 1982. The project was approved by the Chico City Council, and then soundly rejected in 1988 by citizen referendum lead by BEC’s Michael McGinnis and Kelly Meagher. In 1991, Rancho Arroyo reappeared as the downscaled Bidwell Ranch development.
BEC proposed that the city of Chico acquire the land and combine it with an adjacent mitigation site to form a 1,000-acre wetland preserve. The site is covered with vernal pools, provides groundwater recharge and leaves intact a wildlife corridor connected to Bidwell Park. In 1997, the City of Chico purchased Bidwell Ranch.
BEC participated in a coalition with many typical environmental adversaries, water districts, farmers, and state Senator Maurice Johannessen in 1997 to protect groundwater in the North State from massive extraction by the Department of Water Resources. From this effort, BEC expanded its working partnerships for sustainable land and water policies and practices to include local family farmers.
In addition to annual creek cleanups that benefit local waterways, the Butte Environmental Council produced an educational conference on The Vernal Pool Complex: Biology, Conservation and Management in 1996. It was attended by 90 city and county planners, federal agency personnel, landowners and the general public.
The Endangered Species Faire, the oldest environmental fair in Northern California, presents a full day of exhibits, activities and entertainment to an audience of between 6,000 and 8,000 individuals of all ages. The 22nd annual faire, with the theme of “Wild Woodlands,” is coming up on Sat., May 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Bidwell Park’s Cedar Grove. Admission is free.
Schools, government agencies, environmental organizations and community groups create interactive educational booths to present information on ecology, wildlife and a host of environmental issues. Arts, crafts and entertainment add to the fun and the learning environment.
While BEC’s 800-plus membership continues to grow, the organization welcomes continued community support. Interested individuals can help by becoming members, donating time or money, or volunteering at the Endangered Species Faire.