A local land trust is finalizing a $1.5 million deal that will result in the preservation of 652 acres of South County ranchland along the Bear River that would have been underwater had plans for a dam been consummated.
The Bear-Yuba Land Trust used funds provided by the Wildlife Conservation Board to purchase Garden Bar Preserve, which is located at the end of Perimeter Road and contains about 2 miles of frontage along the Bear River and includes the tributary Little Wolf Creek.
“It’s really beautiful,” said Marty Coleman-Hunt, executive director of the Land Trust. “It provides habitat for an endangered species of bird called the black rail.”
The black rail is threatened due to habitat loss as the small secretive bird relies on the thick topiary cover provided by wetland areas. The land further provides habitat to river otter and beaver species, Coleman-Hunt said.
The land trust has tentative plans to implement trails and other recreational opportunities on the parcel. Hiking, equestrian trails and swimming in the river are being contemplated, Coleman-Hunt said, adding that much of the property fronting Bear River is in private hands, making the availability of a public access point important.
In the interim, the property will be leased to a cattle rancher, as it has been used as grazing land for the past 150 years.
The Sierra Nevada Conservancy recently awarded the Bear-Yuba Land Trust a $68,000 grant to formulate a grazing management plan that “will help establish a grazing regime and infrastructure that preserves water quality,” according to the SNC project scope report.
“Lack of management has led to many negative impacts — seen in the erosion of sensitive riparian corridors used as water sources by cattle, as well as the establishment of invasive plant communities,” the report states.
“These noxious weeds have built up and are creating thick layers of thatch that inhibit other native plant and forage growth and increase fire danger.”
Coleman-Hunt said the Land Trust will put the property out to bid in quest for a cattle ranching lessee.
Under a recently abandoned proposal by the South Sutter Water District to construct a 300-foot-tall dam at the Garden Bar Preserve, the 652-acre parcel would have been submerged under a reservoir.
In 2011, South Sutter Water District partnered with Castaic Lake Water Agency, the Palmdale Water District, the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District and the cities of Napa and American Canyon to fund a “Preliminary Study” of a proposed dam. The proposal was controversial and opposed by a number of local environmental organizations, including Sierra Watch.
In July 2012, water district officials voted to stop pursuit of the dam, citing the cost and regional opposition to the plan to impound water for delivery hundreds of miles south.
Coleman-Hunt said the Land Trust’s acquisition will make it harder for agencies to embark upon a similar plan in the future as they would have to reimburse the state of California the $1.5 million.
The property is in escrow and is a couple of months away from being finalized, Coleman-Hunt said.
Garden Bar Preserve connects to about 8,600 acres of protected lands within the Bear River watershed, according to SNC.
The Bear-Yuba Land Trust finalized a deal to purchase the Rice’s Crossing property in November, assumed ownership of the Independence Trail in July and bought a 50-acre piece along the border of Nevada and Yuba counties called Black Swan Ranch.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.