A Tuolumne County committee tasked with developing a plan to help protect threatened and endangered plants and animals from land development is suggesting the county shelve the plan, saying it is too onerous for the county and developers.
Earlier this month, the group made up primarily of public officials and business interests decided they will recommend the county eliminate the Biological Resources Review Guide, known as the BRRG. The BRRG was meant to be an updated version of a 1987 wildlife handbook, which serves as a tool to help builders navigate state and federal wildlife protections.
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors will take up the matter next month.
Evan Royce, one of the two Tuolumne County Supervisors on the committee, said its recommendation to the board will suggest that the county leave it up to builders to figure out what will be required of their projects by state and federal agencies. Those agencies will enforce their regulations.
Royce also said that the county will continue to develop separate rules for preserving and protecting oak woodlands and old-growth oak trees, which was previously included in the BRRG and not regulated by the state or federal government.
The move will not be popular with conservationists, who have pressed the county to adopt a guide to ensure that environmental rules are followed on building projects.
Julia Stephens, of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, a Twain Harte-based conservation group, called the move a “really big disappointment.”
The current handbook has been a popular tool, especially for smaller developers, and used on the vast majority of building projects in the past, Stephens pointed out.
“It seems like something that’s worked really well and shouldn’t be thrown away so quickly,” she said.
But Royce said the consensus on the committee was that the BRRG will only make things harder on the builders or contractors, especially the ones working on smaller projects.
The county will instead refer people to state laws regulating development, Royce said.
The guide explains rules for protected plant and animal species, which often require developers to alter building plans to protect those species.
The guide refined the county’s Wildlife Handbook, which focused only on wildlife. When the county attempted to update the guide to include changes to state and federal laws, developers complained it was confusing and onerous.
Formed in February, the committee was made up of Royce, fellow Supervisor Karl Rodefer, Mark Banks of the Building Industry Association, Ron Kopf of the Business Council, Jeff Costello of Mt. Brow Winery, biologist Dale Keyser, former Supervisor Dick Pland, winery owner Ron Gianelli, Central Sierra Audubon Society member Tom Parrington, Blue Mountain Minerals biologist Carey Haughy and biologist Diane Moore.
An earlier group, led by Pland, spent months last year trying to simplify the guide. After making some last-minute changes requested by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, development and mining interests complained the guide was overly restrictive.
Royce, who owns a construction company and has been critical of the guide, said he believes state and federal regulations change so often and can vary so much from project to project that a handbook now would be too costly for the county to maintain. It could also confound the contractors it is supposed to help, he said.
“Why are we reinventing the wheel?” Royce said. “This stuff changes constantly, and there’s no way we can keep up with it.”
Yet Stephens, from CSERC, said representatives from state agencies attended past committee meetings and told the members that the handbook could be revised for current and future use. Without the guide, or one like it, future projects could run into difficulties that don’t “assess their biological requirements” correctly, she said.
The move was “kind of reflective of the current Board of Supervisors that the pro-building industry kind of dominated the committee,” Stephens said.