Friends of Bidwell Park Position on Preserving Bidwell Ranch

Some suggest that portions of the Bidwell Ranch property be developed and the money used to buy, build and maintain other parks in Chico. Since the decision on whether to rezone the property to open space is imminent, benefits of not developing the land should also be considered.

If zoned open space, the most obvious benefit to the people of Chico is preservation of the Upper Bidwell Park view-shed. To most citizens, a horizon of rolling hills and foothill woodland is infinitely more pleasing than one filled with buildings, fences and the nighttime glow of porch-lights and lampposts. That first view at the entrance of Upper Bidwell Park always brings a sense of excitement because you feel a part of the untamed landscape; now the recent developments on the lower south rim allow park users to visualize what could come from the north and west.

Open space zoning will also protect the functioning watershed. Non-permeable surfaces like asphalt, concrete and roofs reduce ground water recharge capacity and increase surface runoff into drainages and creeks. This runoff increases flooding and erosion and is laden with heavy metals, household and automotive chemicals and sediment. Development can also affect the hydrology of adjacent vernal pools by either increasing or decreasing the amount of water within a given vernal pool complex. As a consequence, pools dry up and are invaded by non-native plants, or they become more like a seasonal marsh, unsuitable for the endemic plants and animals that call vernal pools home.

A springtime wildflower tour of vernal pools at Bidwell Ranch

Protection of the continuity between vernal pools, adjacent grassland and the oak woodland habitats in Bidwell Park benefits numerable wildlife species. Deer, coyotes, raccoons, reptiles, amphibians and over a dozen types of hawks and owls use these grasslands and woodlands to forage, nest and/or hibernate. In the winter and spring, flocks of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl feed on vernal pool invertebrates to help build flight muscles necessary to complete their long migration along the increasingly fragmented Pacific Flyway. Many vernal pool species depend on migratory birds to spread their seeds and eggs and this dispersal prevents possible geographical isolation and/or extinction. Small narrow preserves surrounded by development do not provide these essential habitat functions.

Our children and future generations will appreciate and benefit from this wonderful public-owned remnant of California’s natural heritage of vernal pool complexes; an ecosystem already reduced by 80-90% since pre-settlement times. These quality and dynamic wetlands, located next to foothill woodland and riparian habitats and so close to town andBidwell Park, should serve as an outdoor classroom for education and enjoyment at all levels, kindergarten to University and beyond.

Once lost, these benefits of the Bidwell Ranch property are gone forever.