This week the Orange County Register reported in an article titled "Transportation agency to spend millions saving habitat" that the Orange County Transportation Commission is "beginning quietly" with what could be "one of the largest habitat preservation efforts in county history" by which the OCTA may acquire millions of dollars of land to protect native landscape.
The article states:
The preservation push [is] meant as a hedge against possible habitat damage from a 30-year, $4.8 billion freeway improvement project the agency is planning.
According to the article, the OCTA will use Measure M Funds (the County's 1/2 cent sales tax initiative) to purchase the properties, and the OCTA is currently studying 26 properties for possible acquisition, hoping that the current economic climate will make the owners interested in selling.
Such large-scale habitat conservation efforts are becoming a standard approach for trying to achieve balance between the need to construct infrastructure and the need to protect wildlife habitat. For example, we previously reported on conservation/acquisition efforts by the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority, which was established by the County of Riverside and other jurisdictions to implement a massive Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, or "MSHCP," and similar plans have been adopted in a number of other parts of California.
Experience from these other conservation plans suggests that in addition to balancing infrastructure needs and wildlife habitat needs, the OCTA will find itself needing to balance the rights of the owners of potential conservation properties, ensuring that they are truly "willing sellers" -- not sellers with no option but to sell because their property has been identified as potential conservation land.
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