Rangeland conversion threatens GHG goals

rangeland to exurbs, USGS photo
rangeland to exurbs, USGS photo

A research paper posted on PLOS entitled Whither the Rangeland?: Protection and Conversion in California’s Rangeland Ecosystems highlights the problem that exists everywhere but is a particular concern in the Sacramento area. Though the paper is pretty science-y, and does not emphasize the carbon impact of rangeland conversion, it is worth a read for all the other impacts and loss of public resources and ecosystem services entailed when rangelands are converted. It say this about Sacramento:

“The vast majority of the development in the Sacramento Metro region occurred in the grasslands and woodlands leading to the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento, with large conversions directly adjacent to the existing urbanized area (Figure 5).”

The SacBee article “Lost California rangeland is said to pose greenhouse gas risk” puts this rangeland loss in the context of greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals required by A.B. 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. From the SacBee article:

A study by UC Davis plant scientist Louise Jackson found that conversion from rangeland to irrigated cropland correlated to a threefold increase in greenhouse gas emissions per unit of land. When rangelands were converted to development, that number increased exponentially. Urban areas account for 217 times more greenhouse gas emissions.

I’ve asked Louise Jackson for more information on this statistics quoted, but so far no response.

My take on all of this is that we cannot possibly meet our climate change goals if we continue to convert rangelands to exurbs. This development form, which Sacramento so dearly loves, and the surrounding counties like as well, is simply not tenable if we are to have a future free of traumatic climate instability and warming. Every greenfield development, which in this area is almost always a conversion of rangelands, must be stopped. Now.

Cordova Hills on Tuesday

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will consider the Cordova Hills sprawl development again on this coming Tuesday, January 29. The issue is agenda item #44, which will not be considered before 2:00PM, but may be considered later if the meeting is behind schedule. I don’t know whether this will again be a marathon meeting going on for hours, but if you wish to comment or observe, it is better to be there on time.

On the request of Phil Serna, SACOG considered the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) implications of the development, with and without a university. You can read the full letter SACOG_MikeMcKeever-on-CordovaHills (1.6MB), but the summary statement on page one is enough:

Cordova Hills will face challenges being included in the next MTP/SCS (to be adopted spring, 2016) largely based on market feasibility considerations, with or without a University. Those challenges are greatest if it is not clear when the University is likely to be built.

On a per capita basis (the relevant performance metric for SB375) Cordova Hills will create higher transportation greenhouse gas emissions relative to other development opportunities in the region, with or without a University. Per capita emissions will be significantly greater without a University than with a University.

An updated Air Quality Mitigation Plan has been provided, with approval from the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, which reflects their midnight conversion to accept the project. The primary added mitigation is the reduction of natural gas combustion through the use of tankless water heaters. As I’ve said before, if it was so easy to achieve these reductions, why were they not included in the project to begin with? [If you want to look at this and other documents (there are now about 72), go to the agenda page and download them. Some are huge.]

There have been several letters and comments in the Sacramento area media since the last hearing, urging that the development be approved because we can trust that the developer will obtain a university. There is no evidence for this, but I guess if you have enough friends in high places, you can make such claims.

I remain absolutely opposed to this project. If we can stop this one, there is hope that there won’t be any more of these sprawl-inducing, urban-services-boundary-busting proposals, but if this one goes through, the floodgates are open and quality of life in Sacramento County for all of us is down the tubes.