Our 2014 Yolo County Burrowing Owl Census found a 76% decline in the population over a seven year perior from 2007 to 2014. The majority of that loss was in and around the City of Davis which previously hosted the largest colony in Yolo County. As a result of these findings we developed the following Protections and Conservation Measures. We are advocating that the City of Davis use its lead agency to ask for more when it approves development projects.
We recruited two qualified burrowing owl biologists to consult on development of the following Protection and Conservation Measures. We have given public comment, met with the City's Open Space Commission and met with four of five City Council members to define the population decline and advocate that the City adopt these Measures to recover the population. Biologist qualifications include "qualified and experienced" burrowing owl biologists, as defined in the 2012 CDFW Staff Report on Burrowing Owl Mitigation (Staff Report). Biologists must have adequate survey experience with this species, understand their local ecology and habitat requirements, and be familiar with applicable state and federal statutes. This ensures that, if and when individual owls are detected, the conservation needs of burrowing owls are considered. This also affords the project proponent assurance that they do not violate the law.
Nest burrow protection and associated habitat enhancement Where nest burrows occur on City property, enhance the surrounding habitat through vegetation management. Threats, such as ground disturbing activities, harassment, predation by domestic animals, and rodenticide use must also be minimized. Consider all open land, empty lots, and fields within the City as burrowing owl foraging habitat and require that project proponents mitigate habitat loss.
Additional Requirements for the Biologist position include:
Require project proponents to ensure that alternative burrows are available before "Burrow Exclusion and Closure" is implemented. Burrow exclusion allows developers to hire biologists to install one-way doors in burrow openings throughout a project site to permanently exclude burrowing owls from their shelter. After an owl exits a burrow, the burrow is permanently destroyed to enable ground-disturbing construction activities to move forward. Burrowing owls use burrows for nesting, roosting, protection from inclement weather, and to evade predators. Without alternative burrows, owls will likely die because they do not have a safe place to retreat. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must include a Burrowing Owl Artificial Burrow and Exclusion Plan as described in Appendix E of the Staff Report before City Council certifies the Final EIR.
Commitment to specific mitigation measures:
Require that project proponents specifically state how they will implement mitigation measures recommended in the CDFW Staff Report. The language used in the Staff Report leaves much room for interpretation, and states recommendations rather than requirements. It falls to the lead agency to ensure project proponents comply with the Staff Report recommendations.
For example, the Staff Report recommends that project impact evaluations include breeding season surveys that are to be conducted at least three weeks apart during the peak of the breeding season (in California 15 April to 15 July). Commenters for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center DEIR noted that Sycamore Environmental conducted burrowing owl surveys in October and December, rather than during breeding season when owls are more likely to be active. The response from the project proponent was that the breeding season surveys are recommended but not required.
Require that project proponents specifically state the ratio at which they will replace the permanent loss of burrowing owl habitat, not simply that they will comply with the Staff Report. The 2012 Staff Report does not specify a minimum habitat replacement recommendation. The 1995 Staff Report recommended 6.5 acres per pair or individual owl. Loss of burrowing owl habitat in the City of Davis shall be mitigated with 10 acres of habitat better than that of the impact area. Mitigation habitat shall be obtained within Yolo County.
Require the vegetation on the agriculture buffers be restored to replicate California native prairie. Currently, project proponents plant trees and shrubs, which results in unsuitable habitat conditions for burrowing owls because these features limit foraging opportunities and also provide habitat for their predators.
Artificial burrow installation:
Burrowing owls rely on burrows created by California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beechyi). Where natural burrows are absent or unavailable, artificial burrows will be installed on City owned property where there is otherwise suitable habitat. To ensure occupancy, it is imperative that these artificial burrows are maintained and a management plan must be implemented.
Yolo Habitat Conservancy mitigation fees:
Obtain an MOU with CDFW to collect burrowing owl mitigation fees now to be held to purchase burrowing owl conservation easements through the Yolo Habitat Conservancy, when it is permitted.
Once a year the City, in collaboration with local wildlife advocacy groups, will evaluate the effectiveness of these Protection and Conservation Measures and propose revisions, if necessary. The City will monitor the population and the numbers of acres of mitigation habitat acquired and managed.
Burrowing owls are dependent on burrows for survival at all times of year. Burrowing owls use burrows for nesting, roosting, protection from extreme weather, and to evade predators. Yet, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) routinely allows owls to be evicted from their burrows.
CDFW calls this practice "passive relocation". When development is planned on land where owls are living, CDFW allows biologists (hired by developers) to install one-way doors in burrow openings. After an owl exits a burrow, it cannot get back in to its shelter. One-way doors are placed on, not only the occupied burrows, but every available burrow on the project site. There are no burrows for the owl to use. "Passive relocation" is eviction. Evicting owls is inhumane.
Evictions continue despite CDFW acknowledgement that owls are likely harmed when they are evicted. CDFW's 2012 Staff Report on Burrowing Owl Mitigation (Staff Report )contains a section titled "Burrow Exclusion and Closure" describing what happens to evicted owls: "Eviction of burrowing owls is a potentially significant impact under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). The long-term demographic consequences of these techniques have not been thoroughly evaluated, and the fate of evicted or excluded burrowing owls has not been systematically studied. Because burrowing owls are dependent on burrows at all times of the year for survival and/or reproduction, evicting them from nesting, roosting, and satellite burrows may lead to indirect impacts or take. Temporary or permanent closure of burrows may result in significant loss of burrows and habitat for reproduction and other life history requirements. Depending on the proximity and availability of alternate habitat, loss of access to burrows will likely result in varying levels of increased stress on burrowing owls and could depress reproduction, increase predation, increase energetic costs, and introduce risks posed by having to find and compete for available burrows."
What's more, burrow exclusion and closure violates California Code of Regulations 14 CCR § 251.1 § 251.1.Harassment of Animals. "Except as otherwise authorized in these regulations or in the Fish and Game Code, no person shall harass, herd or drive any game or nongame bird or mammal or furbearing mammal. For the purposes of this section, harass is defined as an intentional act which disrupts an animal's normal behavior patterns, which includes, but is not limited to, breeding, feeding or sheltering."
Further, CDFW does not know how often or how many owls are evicted. CDFW admits they are unable to review all CEQA documents. The CEQA biological assessment would identify owls on a development site which are destined to be evicted. CDFW approves evictions without requiring the evicted owls be banded or monitored or that the biologist evicting owls is qualified.
Multiple data sources (including the Institute for Bird Populations' 1990- 1993 and 2006-2007 state wide censuses) over decades have consistently demonstrated the burrowing owl population continues to decline. It is our opinion that evictions allowed by CDFW have contributed to this decline.
Through social media, educational outreach, on line and hard copy petitions and our volunteer email contacts, we generated an undetermined number of letters to CDFW Director Chuck Bonham and 5,600 petition signatures from California residents who are concerned about the impacts of evicting burrowing owls. We submitted a CEQA comment letter to a local lead agency protesting their acceptance of eviction as a mitigation measure (when the CDFW's 2012 Staff Report on Burrowing Owls says eviction is not a mitigation method). We met with the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and the Senate Natural Resources Committee consultants to provide education and ask for an oversight hearing on CDFW eviction practice. We met with Assembly Member Bill Dodd's office to educate them on the decline of the population and seek their help getting a meeting with CDFW. We had a conference meeting August 2016 with CDFW. We purchased an advertisement in the Davis Enterprise to educate the public on evictions. We persuaded the local Audubon chapter to include burrowing owl conservation issues in their educational talks series.
BOPS has been invited into libraries, elementary and high school classrooms to provide power point lectures on the ecology, population threats and conservation strategies for burrowing owls. We share our taxidermy diorama, demonstrating the symbiotic relationship between squirrels and owls. We have developed an activity that demonstrates reproduction threats to nesting owls, students incubate (plastic Easter) eggs, then open them to learn the fate of the egg and the reasons for the owls' low reproduction rate. BOPS has met with CA legislators to inform them that the current wildlife conservation tools are not effective for burrowing owls. BOPS has assisted graduate students exploring Yolo County for their thesis. We loaned the students our burrowing owl library, toured owl locations and facilitated professional contacts at the California Burrowing Owl Consortium.
BOPS informed Yolo County and City of Davis officials that the habitat management plan for the Burrowing Owl Reserve at Grasslands Park was not being implemented - rendering it useless for burrowing owls. The City reviewed the data provided and changed their management practices to grazing to keep vegetation short and contracted with NRCD to manage invasive plant species.
BOPS completed a burrowing owl survey of Yolo County in July 2014. Fifty-two volunteers surveyed 49, 5km by 5km blocks to detect burrowing owl breeding pairs. The field observation data was submitted to the Institute for Bird Populations who will analyze and compare to the 2007 census. The status of the burrowing owl population will inform conservation planning.
Burrowing owl field observations were completed within the 2014 breeding season and field data was submitted for analysis according to time line. Fifty-two volunteers were recruited and 49 Yolo County blocks were surveyed. Artificial burrows have been occupied and owls have used them to reproduce. A manuscript has been prepared of the Yolo County census and has been submitted for publication in the Journal of Raptor Research which is expected in print mid 2017.
Mitigation for habitat destroyed by development is not happening as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Activists have noted several instances where mitigation measures and conditions of approval for the development permit were not implemented, though the development proceeded. Many lead agencies had no monitoring policy to ensure mitigation was implemented. We are searching for lost Burrowing Owl mitigation and will advocate that promised mitigation be implemented. We will advocate with lead agencies to implement policies to monitor and ensure mitigation measures are met. The short term goals are: 1) increase Burrowing Owl habitat by acquiring the mitigation lands promise and 2) demonstrate that failure to monitor mitigation measures, that results in "lost" mitigation, is a wide spread problem with CEQA and needs improvements. The findings will be published in burrowing owl and other wildlife advocates' media out lets.
We have acquired funding. Three volunteers were recruited to identify projects that impacted burrowing owls and investigate whether project mitigation's were implemented. Three projects have been identified. The projects are: Winters Highlands, Dublin Crossings and the Colusa Generating Station. Volunteers have obtained CEQA documents. Interviews with lead agency staff and document review is in process to determine exact mitigation promised and whether those mitigation's were implemented.