Tuesday, March 01, 2005

$100,000/acre estimate NOT from CTS Team, but Wildlands, Inc/Press Democrat

Here's what happens when the local daily paper reports the news, then editorializes on its own version of the facts. The Press Democrat has been warning that preserving California Tiger Salamander habitat could cost $100,000/acre, and a total of $400 million. The source is a PD story two weeks ago saying,

"The $400 million is a preliminary figure based on a plan to set aside 4,000 acres around seasonal ponds where salamanders breed. The cost estimate was contained in a study by a Bay Area habitat conservation specialist who shared his findings last week with government officials, environmentalists and developers studying the salamander issue.

The calculation is based on a cost of $100,000 an acre to not only buy and prepare the land, but also set up an endowment to maintain it and monitor the salamanders. " Clark Mason's 2/14/05 story was headlined, "Saving salamander could cost $400 million/Coalition pegs price of buying 4,000 acres of Sonoma County land to be set aside for habitat".

If the PD meant "Coalition" to refer to the Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team, Mason's story was accurate, but the headline wasn't. The "very preliminary" financial analysis came from Wildlands, Inc., a mitigation banking company with corporate offices in Rocklin, and four branch offices in California and Washington. Wildlands did the analysis to decide whether to do business here, so it may have inflated the cost of land for bargaining purposes.

According to the Team's meeting notes for 2/10/05, "Greg Lyman of Wildlands, Inc., a mitigation banking company, met with the team and discussed the results of an analysis they conducted to determine the feasibility of their company becoming involved in mitigation banking in the Santa Rosa Plain. Greg indicated that this is a very preliminary analysis, but gives a general sense of what it would cost a project proponent to purchase credits in a preserve or bank established for CTS, listed plant, or wetlands, or a combination of these. This analysis results in an average cost per acre to acquire, improve, and maintain of about $100,000.

The Team did not delve deeply into the assumptions upon which this analysis was based; therefore, the Team did not agree or disagree with the conclusions that were reached. The Team, however, did not have any particular basis for disagreement with the conclusions reached by the analysis."

The minutes say the Team "did not agree or disagree" with Wildlands' numbers. The Team was scheduled to meet today, and to hold four more meetings this month. We probably won't see its draft report and recommendations until at least April.

So the Team itself hasn't determined the price per acre for local habitat, or recommended spending $400 million to preserve CTS habitat. The PD was misreading its own coverage last week, when a two-part editorial began, "What's certain about Sonoma County's ongoing debate over the preservation of the California tiger salamander is that the outcome will be unprecedented - and breath-taking in its expense.

We are hard-pressed to find a habitat conversation effort anywhere in the nation that equates to what this region is experiencing in terms of the scope and expense for mitigation. That's because rarely has the habitat of a listed species been identified in an area so urbanized - and in a part of the country where land prices are already so astronomically high."

[Go here for the CTS Team's webpage: http://ci.santa-rosa.ca.us/default.aspx?PageId=1111 ; and here to learn more about Wildlands, Inc. http://www.wildlandsinc.com/index.htm ]


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