My Indian name is "Runs with Beer"
- Nov 4, 2007
- Reaction score
- So Cal
Its getting harder to sort out the heros and villians. Waterfowl aside, the plan for San Jacinto wildlife area sure looks like a political morass.
SAN JACINTO: After seven years, wildlife area plan still unfinished
After seven years and nearly a half-million dollars, a San Jacinto Wildlife Area management plan has never been completed
In seven years, the state has dedicated nearly a half-million dollars to create a management plan for the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, but nothing has been adopted or shared with the public.
A state official, blaming budget problems and necessary revisions, said the plan is still in the works and should be finished within a year.
The goal is to chart the future of the wildlife area, a 10,000-acre complex of ponds, marshes and meadows established between Perris and San Jacinto about 30 years ago to help make up for wetlands destroyed during construction of the State Water Project.
It is the most significant marsh habitat in western Riverside County. It also is in a part of the county targeted by developers, who have plans for 41.6 million square feet of warehouses north of the wildlife area and more than 8,000 houses to he south.
The state allocated a $221,000 grant for the reserve plan back in 2007 and an additional $260,000 in 2010. The same year, a public meeting in a tractor shed at the reserve was held to gather input from hunters, birds watchers and others who had an interest in how the area is managed.
The plan is expected to assess the area’s wildlife resources, water needs and habitat types to determine future uses and restoration needs, among other issues, according to state records.
Without the guidance the plan would provide, the Eastern Municipal Water District this month backed back away from a tentative agreement with the state that would have cut the maximum amount of recycled water the state could purchase for the wetlands by more than half. The cut effectively would prevent a wetlands expansion envisioned earlier.
A new water deal was needed because the existing agreement, reached in 1987, was set to expire this month. Currently, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife can buy as much as 4,500 acre-feet of reclaimed wastewater annually for the wildlife area.
Water district officials say they are postponing the new agreement for a year so the state can finish the management plan.
“We believe that plan will offer a clearer direction as to the appropriate amount of water required for the state to support the environmental needs of the Wildlife Area,” Paul Jones, the water district’s general manager, said in a news release.
‘WORKING ON IT’
The state Wildlife Conservation Board approved the first of two grants for the wildlife area plan seven years ago.
The money went to Oakland-based nonprofit California Wildlife Foundation Inc., which hired Dudek, an Encinitas-based environmental consulting firm, to do the work.
Janet Cobb, the foundation’s executive officer, said Dudek has completed its work and a draft went to Fish and Wildlife “some time ago.” She referred further questions to Eddy Konno, a senior environmental scientist for Fish and Wildlife.
“We are still working on it,” said Konno, adding that it should be made public within a year.
Konno said the plan faced its first delays in 2008 when it and other projects funded by state bonds were halted because of budgetary constraints.
Once the department received a draft, he said, there were problems that required revisions. He declined to elaborate.
The plan – or the lack of one – gained attention this year after the state and the water district worked out a tentative agreement to cut the maximum water allocation by more than half — to 2,200 acre-feet a year for the next 20 years. The pact proved to be controversial.
Idyllwild resident Tom Paulek and other environmentalists argued that the more stringent water limit would curtail eventual expansions of ponds, marshes and creek habitats in the wildlife area – expansions envisioned in the 1987 water agreement
The proposed limit also would make it more difficult to maintain existing wetlands during drier years anticipated with climate change, they said.
Water officials said they based the proposed allocations on the volume of water the wildlife area has used in the past 10 years.
A Fish and Wildlife spokesman said in March that it was enough water to meet long-term objectives “to develop and manage SJWA for the benefit of wildlife and the public.”
But Paulek, who was manager of the wildlife area for 15 years before his retirement in 2006, contended that the long-awaited land management plan would address future water needs.
“Setting the water allocation without the management plan was putting the cart in front the horse,” said Paulek, who is active in a group called the Friends of Northern San Jacinto Valley.
After hearing complaints about the proposed deal, the water district held a public meeting in April and had discussions with environmentalists and state wildlife officials, district spokesman Kevin Pearson said.
Members of local Sierra Club and Audubon Society chapters were among those who said they were unhappy with the state’s management of the wildlife area. The district board voted June 18 to extend the existing water agreement with the state for another year.
Paulek said healthy water allocations are essential to a thriving preserve.
The state established the San Jacinto Wildlife Area along the path of the San Jacinto River in the early 1980s.
Treated wastewater from Eastern supplies a network of ponds that are an important stop on the Pacific Flyway for ducks, geese and other migratory waterfowl.
The area is one of the few public places in Southern California where duck hunting is allowed.
Water from Eastern also flows to creeks and wetlands that are home to the least Bell’s vireo, an endangered songbird, and the tri-colored blackbird, whose numbers are declining and is listed as a state species of special concern.
The wildlife area also is renowned among birders as a place to view hawks, falcons and other birds of prey.
The wildlife area is an important piece of a 500,000-acre wildlife reserve being assembled by Riverside County and the cities in the western part of the county.
A need for a land management plan was identified when Paulek was still manager of the wildlife area, he said.
“It is amazing that seven years has passed and no management plan has been released to the public,” Paulek said. “There is a huge public investment in the wildlife area.”