Biological resources panel named

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

The county Board of Supervisors set up a new committee dedicated to setting direction and goals for the controversial Biological Resources Review Guide.

The latest in a string of efforts to update the Wildlife Handbook long used in the county by developers, the committee is also expected to take a step back and decide whether such a guide is even useful.

"We always moved forward with the perception and idea that this is really going to help developers," said Evan Royce, a county supervisor who is on the committee. "But I don't think I know one person besides a biologist who can read that thing and decide how to apply it."

The group is made of 11 people who will discuss the document, its purpose and its future. Royce and Supervisor Karl Rodefer will both serve on the committee as representatives on the Board of Supervisors. Mark Banks of the Building Industry Association, Ron Kopf of the Business Council, Jeff Costello of Mt. BrowWinery and biologist Dale Keyser and former Supervisor Dick Pland, all of whom served on a committee for the guide last year, will continue the task.

But the board also named winery owner Ron Gianelli, as well as Central Sierra Audubon Society member Tom Parrington, who represents the conservationist voice on the committee. Blue Mountain Minerals biologist Carey Haughy and biologist Diane Moore, who criticized the guide's latest draft on behalf of the mining company, also were added to the committee.

An earlier group led by Pland spent months last year trying to update and streamline the guide to make it clearer and more user friendly. But after some late changes at the request of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, critics - largely from the development and mining fields - lined up to decry the resulting document as overly restrictive.

"I know there's a sense out there that the BRRG document as it exists right now is way too cumbersome," Rodefer said.

Rodefer said the new committee's first steps won't be to update the actual guide as much as decide what the program should entail in the first place. The county does have to come up with a program to set up guidelines for protected oak trees, and the current Wildlife Handbook on file is out of date, he said.

But Rodefer said questioning whether a Biological Resources Review Guide should exist will be on the table.

"If it is useful to the people trying to get stuff done in the county, I'm all for updating it or writing a new one. If its not useful, I'll wave goodbye to it and go on," he said.

The guide details regulations related to protected plant and animal species and informs builders how they can navigate myriad local, state and federal guidelines. It is the latest incarnation of what started in 1987 as the Tuolumne County Wildlife Handbook, a similar program that focused only on wildlife.

When the county attempted to update the guide to include changes to state and federal laws, developers expressed concerns that the program is confusing, onerous and simply adds another bureaucratic hoop to the process.

The Union Democrat
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