Development may destroy birding in Martis Valley |

Development may destroy birding in Martis Valley

Cliff Hawley, one of the best young birders around, reminds me of a farm boy with his hefty body and Chevy truck. A junior at CSUS, he had just completed a botany course and augments his bird knowledge with information about plants.

Cliff led a recent field trip to the Martis Valley – an area outside of Truckee in Placer County and the subject of a controversial development plan – for six of us to bird and examine. The controversy concerns the traffic and pollution arising in Placer County that could be most noticeable in Nevada County.

We stopped at a parking area off of Route 267 and started down the trail, finding a yellow warbler, song sparrows and green tailed towhees along Martis Creek. Cliff identified the big fuzzy plant with large yellow flowers as mule ears.

The fuzzy leaves are a protection against the arid atmosphere of this montane meadow. We also were virtually run over by people and their dogs. A ranger was trying to get people to clean up after their pets. Unfortunately, this area, which should be off limits to dogs, is so popular that we gave up birding and went across the road.

More than 130 species of birds have been noted in the Martis Valley, and nine of them are designated as sensitive species: Northern Goshawk, Golden Eagle, Sandhill Crane, California Spotted Owl, Great Gray Owl, Long-eared Owl, Vaux’s Swift, Willow Flycatcher and Yellow Warbler.

Of these, the Spotted Owl and Willow Flycatcher are probably the most at risk. It is one of the Important Bird Areas of California and one of The 500 Most Important Bird Areas in the United States.

We didn’t reach the headwater of these creeks and the Siller Ranch, a 1,200-acre site that may become a gated community with some 500 units. The plan Placer County approved for this area contains almost all high-end communities with no affordable housing. The needed service personnel will come either from or through Truckee.

This plan implies a population expansion of about 20,000. Also projected are at least two more (there are three there already) golf courses – so called open space. They use millions of gallons of water, for the “benefit” of only a few. California’s Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, in reviewing the Martis Valley proposals, called this plan “the opposite of smart growth.”

He also noted and commented on the fact that nothing in the plan deals with the issues of increased traffic, air quality, noise and the impact of large numbers of workers forced to commute.

A coalition of Sierra Watch, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, the Sierra Club and the Planning and Conservation League have filed suit, alleging “the project, as approved, allows for development that will severely degrade and irreparably impair this sensitive environment.” Audubon of California plans to file a friend of the court brief in this suit.

Cliff re-entered Nevada County, watching brewer’s sparrows and green tailed towhees in the chaparral, when we heard an olive-sided flycatcher give its “I see you” call. After locating it sitting atop a Ponderosa, we found a pair of pygmy nuthatches feeding their brood in a hole in a pine tree stump.

Down on Martis Lake, we spotted white pelicans, mallards, a lone white-faced ibis, a couple of green-winged teal and a few gadwalls.

Around the water were several horned larks, a male mountain bluebird resplendent in his many shades of blue, and the usual red-winged blackbirds, all this in an area of Nevada County across the road from the planned developments and the future recipient of its runoff and effluent.


Walt Carnahan is the president of the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society.

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