Oak Woodlands

​Healthy oak woodland ecosystems, which can support both human communities and native wildlife, are part of the County's legacy, and each generation has an obligation to be a good steward so that this legacy may be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

The Resource

Ecologically functional woodlands are those that allow for the normal life cycle activities of wildlife including cover, denning, nesting, foraging , migration corridors and other functions necessary to complete a life cycle. Essential habitat elements must be in sufficient quantities and arrangement to support the diverse assemblage of wildlife species that are normally found on or use oak woodlands. The oak woodlands habitat has a rich abundance of wildlife species in California with over 330 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians depending on them at some time in their life cycle. These woodlands are able to sustain such abundant wildlife primarily because they produce acorns, a high quality and abundant food supply, and because they provide important shelter and nesting habitat.​

In addition to its wildlife habitat value, the oak woodland ecosystem plays an important role in soil development, watershed protection and sustaining air and water quality. The resource is also appreciated for its natural woodland beauty, and its availability as a recreational and spiritual retreat, as well as for its historic and cultural values. Many consider the oak woodland with its interspersed grassland and stream courses to be the classic California landscape, a perception that contributes to higher land values and improves the quality of our lives. Oak woodlands support enterprises such as livestock grazing, firewood harvesting and residential land use. Today recreational uses, i.e..,hiking, picnicking, camping, wildlife observation and photography further enhance the quality of living in Sacramento County and add to the economic benefits of managing the oak woodland resource.

Woodland Preservation and Management

In spite of the many environmental and human benefits of oak woodlands, there is growing concern statewide for the health of this limited resource and the wildlife it supports. Earlier decades of rangeland clearing and development have compromised hundreds of acres within Sacramento County. Rangeland clearing has become relatively insignificant in recent decades but urban and suburban development continues to compromise and fragment habitat and is the primary cause today for oak tree and woodland loss in Sacramento County. Current development proposals too often provide inadequate room for both improvements and tree/woodland preservation. The concept of 'cluster development,' which would concentrate development into smaller areas and thereby preserve greater areas of woodland, is not promoted or required. Building codes are not written with oak tree preservation in mind and often are too inflexible to accomplish tree preservation. Significant tree encroachment, particularly grading impacts, are often not identified early in the planning process when the preservation effort is most effective. Other changes accompanying development such as indiscriminate recreational use and the introduction of exotic (nonnative) species of plants and animals, often affect wildlife and the woodland resource well beyond the boundaries of development.

It is difficult to preserve the resource if its value is not clearly defined and quantified. We more readily define a single Heritage Oak Tree by assigning a cultural-historical value; by assessing its health, age and size, and even by applying formulas that can determine its monetary value. However, the complexity of the oak woodland resource with its multiple age stands and diverse environmental and human benefits is not so easily quantified or valued. The developer capitalizes on the resource to enhance the value of his product; the homeowner values the shade in his backyard; the off-highway vehicle user seeks the challenge of the woodland trail; still others seek the solitude and spiritual renovation found in the woodland experience; we benefit collectively from the contribution to cleaner air and water; and of course, the wildlife this resource supports depends on it for its very existence. The values of this resource are many and complex and often are in conflict. The conflict arises because of the many competing uses and because the resource is limited. As we come to recognize this diversity of benefits and the increasing user pressure, and to understand its limited and irreplaceable nature, we will begin to understand its true value. With inadequate planning that allows incremental fragmentation and encroachment, and management that ignores restoration and permits overuse, the resource is compromised or lost; and once lost is essentially irreplaceable for generations. Mitigation for loss of mature oak trees with a few saplings falls far short of replacement. These saplings cannot begin to replace the decades of growth or the intangible cultural and historical values; indeed, they don't even replace the tree physically for several generations. Our best efforts at restoration even over decades of time cannot replace the complex and intricate ecological balance of plant and animal life that required hundreds of years to evolve into the oak woodland plant community. If we are to be successful in this effort, it is essential to recognize that much of the true value of the oak woodland resource in human terms is historical, cultural, spiritual and intangible in nature and cannot be quantified in monetary terms. We must also recognize that avoiding the removal of one or a few oak trees at a time within an approved subdivision or other discretionary project does not equate to oak woodland preservation. Once the trees become part of the subdivision their human value is arguably enhanced by increasing the economic value of a particular lot and perhaps by becoming a source of enjoyment to the ultimate lot owner, but the trees cease to be a fully functional part of the oak woodland ecosystem. The only way we can preserve an ecologically functioning woodland and sustain its values for future generations is to preserve it essentially intact.

Recent research conducted in California regarding the preservation of oak woodland bird habitat has planning implications for the conservation of this limited resource. Although additional follow-up research is needed several complementary strategies are proposed.

  • Preserving the remaining large, undeveloped parcels of oak woodland (>40 acres) should help ensure the persistence of sensitive species
  • New development within the rural residential landscape should be concentrated into relatively small areas, and subdivision of rural residential parcels into small ranchettes (1-5 acres) should be limited.
  • Oak woodland on small parcels should be managed to retain a variety of habitat types, including large trees, snags and interior live oaks.
  • Maintaining a mosaic of habitat types is important to preserving a variety of species.

Oak woodlands of Sacramento County can be preserved now and for future generations with careful and creative planning and with informed land use decision making that minimizes fragmentation and emphasizes preservation and restoration. Community-wide recognition of the many diverse natural and human benefits of the resource and recognition of its limited availability is essential to its preservation. Planning efforts must include oak woodland renewal as well as preservation, soil erosion control, ground water recharge, heritage tree preservation, fuel modification and fire management, natural watershed and drainage management, watercourse preservation, view corridor identification and preservation, habitat preservation, judicious use of conservation easements, and promotion of public, professional and decision-maker awareness.

Pursuant to the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act and the intent of the "Conservation Element" of the Sacramento County General Plan, it is the responsibility of the Sacramento County Department of Environmental Review and Assessment to promote the preservation, protection and restoration of the oak woodland resource in Sacramento County. Within the framework of the planning and environmental review process, the Department informs the Sacramento Community of the many values of the oak woodland resource; identifies potentially harmful impacts which are likely to result from construction associated with discretionary projects, and provides recommendations for specific mitigation, management, preservation and planning programs.

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