Background on the issue
What’s the deal with development at Mather Field?
On September 16, 2015 the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors decided not to approval the current version of the Mather Field EIR (Environmental Impact Review). Approval of the EIR would have been a big step in the County’s permit process, to get permission from federal environmental agencies to destroy vernal pools in areas of future development.
Specific development projects would follow approval of the EIR. The first project in the pipeline is the Mather South Community Plan Area (Mather South). This would be built between Sunrise and Zinfandel, south of the Mather Golf Course. The proposal included a large housing development, a sports park, a university, and more and bigger roads and infrastructure.
Of particular concern to Splash was the County’s plan to destroy two vernal pools of critical importance to the ecosystem and to Splash’s education programs: The Splash Critter Pool and the Spadefoot Pool. We have advocated for 15 years that the County plan to work around these pools, to allow for both development and conservation. The results of the hearing on September 16th improve the chances that these pools will be saved.
The configuration of this development was of great concern to both Mather residents and Splash. The majority of the high-quality vernal pools at Mather would be within the Mather Field Vernal Pool Preserve (the Preserve), west of Zinfandel. However, the County has not yet made an enforceable commitment to fully fund management of the Preserve. We wanted the Critter Pool and the Spadefoot Pool added to the preserve.
What’s at stake?
For over 15 years, Splash has delivered a place-based education program that leverages the Mather Field Vernal Pools to engage children in science and the outdoors. In this time we have brought more than 32,000 students to explore the pools. Thousands of citizens have also visited this famous eco-hotspot during public tours in April.
Some visitors and scientists return year after year and they notice that things are changing. Non-native, invasive plants are overrunning the pools and displacing native plants and animals. Vandals and off-road vehicles are ripping up the landscape with impunity. A persistent lack of planning, funding and action by the County have led to significant ecological damage that needs immediate attention.
Seriously, there isn’t a vernal pool preserve yet?
The Preserve is a critical ingredient to the successful completion of this Air Force base closure. To meet its permit requirements, the County needs the Preserve to maintain species and viable habitat in perpetuity. Splash needs this landscape to teach children how an ecosystem functions. The region wants to continue to visit and celebrate this ecological claim to fame.
The County intends to create a preserve but has not yet managed to do so. Over the past 15 years, invasive plants and vandals have been steadily eroding the fabric of this landscape. Significant work will be required to slow the rate of decline and even more to reverse it. We have to hit the ground running to prevent further degradation of this endangered habitat.
Mather can be a showcase for how a community develops and successfully stewards its natural resources or it can continue on its current trajectory, which ends in an ecological train wreck within 10 years. Our community has the capacity to pull the Mather Field Vernal Pools back from the brink but we will need to adopt a new, more collaborative approach to do it.
Splash scientists and other local vernal pool advocates have been involved in a Mather planning process that has spanned 20 years. While this process has resulted in some improvements to the development plans, the County has repeatedly failed to demonstrate a true commitment to adequately planning, funding and managing the Preserve.
We concluded that the County would not do right by the Mather Field Vernal Pools without significant pressure from the public. On September 16th we went to the Board of Supervisors’ hearing to make it clear that this community can and must do a better job of protecting the ecological and educational assets at Mather Field for ourselves and for our children.
Influencing Decisions about Mather
The Mather EIR approval process created a rare opportunity for the public to show its concern for the future of the Preserve. With all eyes on Mather, this community mobilized around critical issues that have gone unresolved for too long. Supporters sent over 350 emails to Supervisors and hundreds of letters. Over 200 people showed up at the September 16th hearing to say loudly and clearly, “The Mather Field Vernal Pools matter to me!” They spoke in support of a well-managed Preserve, to save the vernal pools for future students, for the animals and plants, and for everyone who loves this exquisite landscape.
Splash has always wanted to put boots on the ground to begin the long-delayed process of protecting this habitat from encroaching invasive non-native plants and off-road vehicles. Now, with better support from the County we can begin. If you would like to be involved in the positive and rewarding restoration of this beautiful place, please let us know by joining the Splash Restoration Team.