As noted here before, the conservation goals of Yolo Audubon are to protect and expand local bird habitat and ensure public access to that habitat, wherever possible. The situation at Fremont Weir Wildlife Area is unusual in that a formerly accessible public recreation area is now much harder to get to.
Fremont Weir Wildlife Area lies at the north end of the Yolo Bypass, on the bank of the Sacramento River about six miles northeast of Woodland. Its 1,461 acres contain good bird habitat, including patches of old-growth floodplain forest, extensive wetlands, and willow scrub. According to eBird, it has hosted 157 species.
Yolo Audubon has run field trips there over the years. For example, I led two such trips in Spring, 2005. In those days, the preferred access was on the west side of the weir at the east end of County Road 116A, where there was a small gravel parking lot and a pedestrian gate through a fence.
This all changed about four years ago, when the adjacent private landowner put a locked gate across the road and posted No Trespassing signs. One can still park on the shoulder further west on the county road and walk in, but the same landowner has continued to challenge visitors, declaring them to be trespassers on his land.
One can enter the Wildlife Area from the east side, but the drive from Woodland takes about five times as long, and requires a considerable hike on the Yolo Bypass levee to get into the Wildlife Area.
Local advocates have researched the deeds to the property under the access road, and found a public easement to allow for access. From my perspective, access along a public right-of-way has been denied to us birders by the unilateral action of a private party.
Corrective action is daunted by the complexity of jurisdiction over the area. It is owned by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, maintained as a floodway by the Dept. of Water Resources, and managed for outdoor recreation by the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Most of the area is in Yolo County, but part of the area in question is in Sutter County.
Thus far, inquiries to State agencies to restore access have not succeeded. In light of the complexity of the situation, the next step for us birders is uncertain. However, some conservation groups are considering legal action to remove the gate and restore access. I will keep you informed.
Michael Perrone, YAS Board, Conservation