Supes agree to limit county’s land inclusion in river restoration effort

The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed Tuesday to recommend that a major habitat restoration effort along the Sacramento River not sweep any more Butte County farmland into its boundaries.

The decision came after more than an hour’s worth of pleas from farmers who came from as far away as Colusa County. In essence, their case was this: the Sacramento River Conservation Area (SRCA) has grown too far, too fast and is taking far too much farm land out of production and making life too difficult for the remaining farmers who are trying to make a living on land adjoining the habitat.

The Family Water Alliance, based in Colusa County, is leading the charge against the continued growth of the SRCA. Sue Sutton, a farmer who serves as the alliance’s president, said that when the plan was adopted by the state Senate in 1989, it was supposed to be made up of 30,000 acres of a narrow swath of land along the Sacramento River from Shasta County all the way to Sutter County. However, she pointed out that a recent SRCA handbook distributed to riverside landowners reports that the state has plans to expand the reach of the protected lands to 213,000 acres—a plan that takes thousands of acres of farmland out of production and off of several counties’ tax rolls.

Her organization is advocating that all of the counties affected by the land acquisitions pass recommendations to limit the acres of farmland incorporated into the habitat. That, she said, would “send a message” to the SRCA.

Several farmers spoke in favor of the recommendation, saying that farming next to state-protected lands makes turning a profit difficult because of strict land use requirements on the land. The measure was also supported by a couple of hunters, who complained that, while SRCA land is bought with taxpayer money, it is off limits to sportsmen.

“This takes away for us citizens the opportunity to take this land and make a living from it … and forces the taxpayers to pay to maintain it,” said landowner Shirley Lewis. “It’s backwards thinking.”

However, Tehama County farmer Burt Bundy, who farms on land inside the SRCA, said that the habitat’s Board of Directors (which is made up of landowners, local government and state government representatives) argued that claims that the preserve is eating up ag lands are overblown. He pointed out that while there are plans to expand the SRCA, it is still only “about 30,000 acres,” and the land incorporated into the preserve is purchased from willing buyers.

Supervisor Jane Dolan, who represents the Board of Supervisors on the SRCA’s board, agreed with Bundy and said that the board has no intention of eliminating farming along the river.

“If that’s the message that we’re getting out, [the SRCA] is way behind the curve in getting that message out,” Dolan said.

The board’s resolution will now be forwarded to the SRCA board for its consideration.