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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
SACRAMENTO FWO: Lengthy Effort Ends With Release of UC Merced Campus  Environmental Documents
Region 8, April 28, 2009
University of California - Merced campus. (photo: UC Merced)
University of California - Merced campus. (photo: UC Merced) - Photo Credit: n/a

 By Steve Martarano, Sacramento FWO
MERCEDBrad Samuelson, the environmental planner for UC Merced, the newest campus in the vast University of California system, said simply “it was a long time coming.”

"It” pertains to the release in late April 2009, of the campus’ final environmental permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, formally called a biological opinion (BO). It enables the take of listed species for current and future construction projects while also mitigating for the adverse impacts and preserving those listed species.

 

“The first application was in 2001,” Samuelson said, noting that the original footprint of habitat to be damaged was 2,000 acres, then reduced to 910 in 2001 and then finally to 815 in 2009. “It was a long, arduous process.

 “But 30,000 acres have now been preserved, and that would have never happened without the campus being there.” The huge area protected is an important ecological achievement in this rolling grassland region, rich with vernal pools and species that have adapted to the challenging wet-winter dry-summer conditions in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Urban growth in the valley is eliminating much of the vernal pool habitat.

The finalization of these agreements was especially complicated because of the large number of listed species found on the development site, 13 in all, including vernal pool fairy shrimp, California tiger salamander, valley elderberry longhorn beetle, the San Joaquin kit fox, and several plants. The site for the campus had to be moved two different times to work around the incidental take of listed species that would occur during construction.

 

Cay Goude, with the Sacramento Fish & Wildlife Office of USFWS, was recognized in 2007 as Agency Staff Person of the Year by the California Native Plant Society because of her work on UC Merced. She was lauded for her “persistence and perseverance” in keeping all interests working together to reach agreement.

 

“The main thing was how we worked as a cooperative group. There were lots of endangered species; lots of vernal pools,” Goude said, lauding the efforts of USFWS, the university, Army Corps of Engineers, US Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Fish and Game. “The key was the development of a conservation strategy for the listed species concurrently, as part of the project, and we used this comprehensive strategy to get to the finish line – the BO.”

 

UC Merced officially opened its doors in 2005 with the mission to establish a world-class university focused on teaching, research and public service in the heart of California’s rapidly growing San Joaquin Valley. The long-range plan needed to identify the physical plan for the future development of the campus, guided by campus academic planning efforts. The campus and associated lands are located in eastern Merced County, two miles northeast of the City of Merced.

 

Four years after opening, the school has almost 3,000 students, more than 110 faculty members with credentials from some of the world’s top-ranked universities, and nearly 700 staff members. By 2020, UC Merced’s population will increase to more than 10,000 students, with an ultimate size of 25,000 students to be reached in succeeding years.

 

"This moment in time is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lay the foundation for a diverse, vibrant campus that promotes learning, discovery and community engagement,” Chancellor Steve Kang said in the introduction of the long-range plan document, which is a comprehensive physical development document and land-use plan that will serve as a guide for future growth of the Merced campus.

 

Now, with the BO issued and long-range plan complete, UC Merced is moving forward with construction projects as needed.       

 

“The first will be the solar power project,” Samuelson said, noting that the long-planned project for a 1.1-megawatt solar array should get off the ground in a few weeks and be complete by the end of the year. The array will be the first structure to break ground outside of the campus’ original 104-acre footprint. The array, expected to cover nine acres, will include ground-mounted solar panels that will follow the sun throughout the day. It is expected to produce up to 20 percent of UCM’s yearly electrical supply.

 

 

Contact Info: Steve Martarano, 916-930-5643, steve_martarano@fws.gov