Good use of open space? Bank on it

Bidwell Ranch seems a good place for a conservation or mitigation bank—with Chicoans’ support, that is.

Restoration ecologist Dan Efseaff works for River Partners and has called Chico home since 1993.

Bidwell Ranch discussions: River Partners will hold its first public workshop in early March. For updates and information on the conservation/mitigation bank project, check over the next few weeks.

Sitting on the doorstep of Upper Bidwell Park, the sensitive vernal-pool savanna known as Bidwell Ranch has been the subject of a political tug of war between local environmental groups and developers for more than two decades.

The latest chapter provides an opportunity for solutions that could resolve several issues on the property in the long term.

Last May, the Chico City Council rejected last-minute offers from developers and voted 4-3 to rezone the 750-acre Bidwell Ranch property as open space. Since then, the City Council has directed city staff to explore using the site as a conservation and mitigation bank.

Working closely with city staff, agency partners and the community, River Partners will develop the technical information necessary to submit to federal and state agencies to establish the site as a conservation and mitigation bank. Once the agencies authorize the bank, it will be up to the city to decide whether to move forward with it.

Conservation or mitigation banks are land set aside for environmental benefits in exchange for allowing development or improvements in public infrastructure in other areas. Entities making those changes buy habitat credits to mitigate for unavoidable environmental impacts associated with their projects.

As a city-owned mitigation bank, Bidwell Ranch would be protected as habitat and open space, and would keep the profits for the citizens of Chico. The bank would provide the means to mitigate for environmental wetland impacts associated with key city capital projects, as well as streamline mitigation requirements for new local development.

River Partners is committed to an open, transparent process and will establish a citizens and stakeholders advisory group to focus on the development of the property as a mitigation bank. The group will provide opportunities for citizens to become familiar with the process and project, and provide input.

Public access will be thoroughly examined. Not all recreational activities that people enjoy in Upper Bidwell Park are likely to be compatible with the property as a conservation or mitigation bank, but we will work with the agencies to find compatible uses.

The project is in the early stages, and the available information will be refined over a two-year process. However, we believe that this project provides an extraordinary opportunity to protect the environment and Chico’s open space, partially offsetting the costs of the property, and streamline local mitigation issues. We are hopeful that we can engage the community to find sustainable solutions (both economically and ecologically) for Bidwell Ranch.