Enviros, ranchers attend summit

You can’t build that there!

Usually, ranchers and conservationists on one side of the county spit and fume at the new roads and buildings taking over unspoiled land and pasture area, while at the other end developers and contractors protest at a piece of undeveloped, wooded land that could be used for something, but isn’t.

Instead of being at each other’s throats, these opposing groups had an opportunity on April 8 to meet and talk about conservation issues. No rock-throwing, no name-calling. The event was a state-funded, traveling workshop called Spotlight on Conservation that visited the Holiday Inn in Chico to gather information about resource management from both sides of the coin, pro-development and pro-conservation, and pinpoint the issues that are debated in Butte County.

“We’re not looking for consensus here. … We’re not here to figure it out—everybody vote and we go home,” said California Resources Agency representative Charles Casey, an event organizer. “We’re looking for the highlights of concern.”

With the recent passing of a series of bond measures dealing with land conservation, state agencies now have access to around $10 billion to put toward researching such issues as land cover and habitats, urban growth, river pollution and road density, Casey said. The California Resources Agency responded by going to each county individually to get a clearer picture of what resource problems the state is facing.

“Without coming to Chico, our resource managers in Sacramento don’t have the connection,” Casey said. “This gives us a sense and sampling of what we need to be paying attention to.”

Representatives from different fields of resource management in the state brought their own maps and figures for comparison, and knowledgeable locals grabbed pencils to fill in blank areas and update land features. Without local participation, the state has no way of knowing what is going on in some parts of the county, Casey said, pointing out an unmarked block of land on a map.

“This could be an important piece of ag,” he said.

The data collected will be taken back to Sacramento, where they will be put into reports tailored for each individual county, Casey said. The reports will eventually be posted online at www.legacy.ca.gov along with a digital atlas, an interactive map of California displaying natural resource information.

Cooperation is the key, Casey said, since no one can solve these problems alone.

"We’ve got a rancher here," Casey said, gesturing toward a farmer-type with a cowboy hat wandering through the crowd and browsing the various displays. "He can’t stand [development] off by himself."