For the past 15 years, SPAWN has fought to pass a science-based stream conservation area ordinance in the San Geronimo Valley that would protect some of the most vulnerable salmon habitat left in California from development.
Litigation has its time and place, but so does compromise. While this ordinance may not be perfect, it is a pragmatic solution that adequately addresses the environmental hurdles before us.
The Salmon Conservation and Watershed Network is dedicated to alleviating the uphill battle salmon face due to increased dams, concrete retaining walls, and anthropogenic-driven climate change.
The Convention on Biological Diversity found that nature is being destroyed at a rate up to hundreds of times higher than the average for the previous 10 million years. Marin County is on the front lines. Loss of riparian habitat has contributed to a 95% reduction in coho salmon.
Marin officials identified the Lagunitas Creek watershed as the most important coho run in California, and the San Geronimo Valley is home to many coho. Marin’s scientific study identified habitat loss as the most likely cause limiting salmon production and the adoption of a conservation ordinance as a solution to protect coastal habitat.
I am here to clarify that this ordinance does not contain anything revolutionary. It includes reasonable science-based safeguards and county policy initiatives proposed in the 2007 and 1994 statewide plans.
Contrary to popular belief, passing the ordinance was the county’s idea, not SPAWN’s. The 1994 plan identified streamside habitat as “irreplaceable and should be formally recognized and protected as essential environmental resources.”
This sentiment was embodied in the 2007 plan document, which called for “a net loss of sensitive habitat area, value, and function.” This is the guiding principle of the current stream conservation ordinance.
Policies to achieve this goal include a 2-1 ratio for habitat replacement when development occurs within the ordinance area. This initiative was recommended in the 1994 and 2007 plans, the county’s final supplemental environmental impact report, and the county’s salmon growth plan. The environmental report proposed a 3-1 replacement of out-of-place riparian vegetation habitat, and the salmon plan called for a 4-1 ratio of replacement of shallower shorelines.
An additional component of the ordinance is to have tighter restrictions on development within the first 35 feet of a stream, a policy that stems from the county’s salmon plan.
Extending a 35-foot protection to ephemeral (seasonal) streams is not new. Napa County’s version of a stream conservation area ordinance also requires a 35-foot minimum setback for ephemeral streams. They are of great ecological importance, serving as a transfer system for nutrients needed by perennial streams that support salmon.
If this policy passes, the best available science will continue to guide the ordinance. The Board of Supervisors will receive biennial reports that quantify the effectiveness of the ordinance through eight performance indicators, allowing for a science-driven dialogue about how to best protect streams.
A final misconception is that the ordinance can compromise fire safety. However, he says homeowners can trim trees and remove dead, exotic and invasive vegetation without a site review.
Homeowners may remove fire-prone trees as long as it complies with existing county tree removal and fire laws. It also says any tree that puts the public in immediate danger can be removed without a site plan review.
This ordinance does not conflict with or replace existing protected space requirements.
In a show of unity, most local organizations support the passage of the ordinance, including the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group, Sierra Club Marin Group, West Marin Environmental Action Committee, Marin Audobon Society, Natural Heritage Institute, River Ecology Project. , the Marin Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, the Marin Watershed Alliance, and the Marin Conservation League.
Marin’s streams are in greater danger than when the ordinance was proposed nearly 30 years ago. As the valley goes, so do the salmon, making it important to protect the riparian habitat we have left while we continue to work hard to restore the habitats we’ve lost.
Let’s think globally, act locally and pass the expanded stream conservation area ordinance.
Scott Webb, of San Francisco, is manager of advocacy and policy for the Salmon and Watershed Protection Network, a nonprofit organization based in Marin.