The Burrowing Owl is the only bird of prey in the Sacramento Valley that nests underground, usually in abandoned ground squirrel burrows and most often on the edges of farm fields. Farmland on the border of cities is where most development occurs; Burrowing Owl nest sites are lost as building proceeds.
It is lawful to destroy owl burrows during property development, so long as no owls are killed. The fate of owls subsequently driven away is typically unknown. When owl habitat is destroyed, the developer is required to pay for or provide another parcel of land that either has or could support Burrowing Owls. The developer must also encumber it with use restrictions that prevent loss or deterioration of the habitat.
However this mechanism fails to add a single acre of occupied owl habitat to the landscape. Thus, development and its mitigation requirements are normally a net loss for the birds.
A development proposal on the east edge of Davis, the Mace Ranch Innovation Center, typifies the situation. The project includes land on which Burrowing Owls have nested recently. As it happens, the City of Davis owns the parcel with the owl burrows.
The parcel was purchased with funds from Proposition O, a voter-approved ordinance designed specifically to preserve open space and wildlife habitat on the urban fringe. Ironically, it appears to be legal for the City to sell Proposition O land for development. Indeed, the City has shown no discomfort at the prospect.
Yolo Audubon and other conservation groups are contacting the City Council with our concerns about losing yet more owl habitat. Recently the Mace Ranch Innovation Center was put on hold for reconsideration by its proponents. It remains to be seen whether a revised project will leave out the parcel in question.
Michael Perrone, YAS Board, Conservation