New wildlife habitat, trails, and recreation areas are being developed in the Parkway!
The San Joaquin River Conservancy is funded from three sources: the San Joaquin River Conservancy Fund, the Environmental License Plate Fund, and several bond funds approved by state voters.
- The San Joaquin River Conservancy Fund is generated primarily from lease revenue. These funds are used for fundamental property management.
- The Conservancy receives a portion of California’s Environmental License Plate Fund. These funds are generated by the sale of environmental license plates by the Department of Motor Vehicles in support of the California Environmental Protection Program.
State voters have authorized $86 million in four bond acts to be used at the Conservancy Board’s discretion on land acquisition, planning, design, permitting, and construction to implement the San Joaquin River Parkway Master Plan. Approximately $36 million remain unspent as of June 2013. The Conservancy’s goal is to authorize projects to use the remaining bond funds in the next five years. Bond funds from propositions 12, 13, 40, and 84*, as well as grants and donations, provide funding for the Parkway’s capital improvement projects. The California Wildlife Conservation Board assists the Conservancy in administering bond funds and associated grants.
Public and Stakeholder Involvement
For information about public workshops and opportunities to comment on proposed projects and plans, please contact the Conservancy.
The Conservancy is committed to communicating with California Native American Tribes and tribal communities to secure meaningful input into the development of regulations, rules, policies, projects, and plans that may affect cultural resources and other tribal interests. Although we follow the California Natural Resources Agency’s Tribal Consultation Policy, the Conservancy is interested in being proactive in our relationships with local tribes. If you have any thoughts, please contact the Conservancy.
Acquiring lands for conservation and recreation in the Parkway from willing sellers continues to be the highest priority for investing bond funds to develop the Parkway. Interested landowners may contact the Conservancy’s Executive Officer, see Contact Us.
Ball Ranch & Ledger Island – Willow Unit, Tesoro Viejo and Cemex
Background: Ball Ranch is a 360 acre property that is adjacent to the Willow Unit of California Fish and Wildlife’s San Joaquin River Ecological Reserve. Ledger Island is across the San Joaquin River is 162 acres.
The community of Tesoro Viejo is a partnership between The McCaffrey Group and Lyles Diversified. Nearly a quarter of Tesoro Viejo’s 1,600 total acreage has been set aside for open space and outdoor recreation, including a planned 15-mile trail network. The McCaffrey’s formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit named the Tesoro Viejo Conservancy that collects one-tenth of 1% of every home sold or resold at Tesoro Viejo, in addition to funds from various fund-raising events. Although Tesoro Viejo is not adjacent to the San Joaquin, their property connects to the river bottom, and they have a ½ mile dirt road that leads from a corner of the development to a bluff overlooking Ball Ranch and Ledger Island. They plan to install a paved walking and cycling pathway with access to the river on this road. The access from the top of the bluff to the River will be an improved dirt trail that would continue to the gravel road that crosses the River at the Bridge. The McCaffrey’s also own a narrow strip of land next to the Sumner Peck Winery that connects Friant Road to the River in between Ball Ranch and Ledger Island and next to the Conservancy’s bridge. As part of their trail plans, the McCaffrey’s are proposing a two-lane road, with room for parking, that would provide Fresno County access to the Parkway from Friant Road. In order to connect to the Conservancy’s tail system on the Madera County side, they plan to use the Bridge that crosses the San Joaquin River onto Ledger Island.
In September 2018, the developers brought this idea to the Conservancy Board and asked that the Conservancy work with them as they work with the State Lands Commission (SLC) to connect their development’s trails to the San Joaquin River Parkway. The Board passed Resolution 18-02, Intent to Cooperate in Public Access Application for Ball Ranch and Ledger Island Trails to the SLC, formalizing our cooperation with the Tesoro Viejo Conservancy in this process. On August 16, 2019, Tesoro Viejo Conservancy submitted an application to the SLC for a general lease of sovereign lands. Brent McCaffrey had warned us that the application was a starting point, and that it would need to be modified as discussions precede. Randy Collins, SLC’s Public Land Management Specialist, sent a letter to TVC rejecting the application due to a lack of specificity. As quoted in the Fresno Bee, Brent McCaffrey said, “I view that as a good thing because it told us everything we need to do.” (https://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/marek-warszawski/article234165037.html). Of interest were a couple of issues to be clarified, including who is the most qualified lessee is for construction, use, and maintenance of improvements on sovereign land, and improvements to the existing bridge. The bridge, although the Conservancy at times informally describes it as ours, is on state sovereign land and is currently under lease (Lease No. 8364) to the San Joaquin River Conservancy by SLC. Staff has communicated with SLC staff that we believe that the Conservancy should continue to hold the lease for the bridge, and we should be the lessee for the rest of the sovereign lands within this project area. The McCaffrey’s have responded to the questions regarding the bridge modifications with the offer to undertake preliminary design for a bridge replacement that, then, could be part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) coverage for this project. As described in our Master Plan criteria, the new bridge, though focused on pedestrian and bicycle traffic, should be designed to allow passage of emergency and maintenance vehicles.
River Partners received Proposition 1 funding from the Conservancy in 2015 to develop a restoration opportunities analysis document for the Ball Ranch and Willow Unit properties. River Partners produced the “Habitat Restoration Opportunities Analysis for the San Joaquin River Parkway, Ball Ranch and Willow Unit: Fresno County, California” in 2017. This analysis covered all of the Conservancy’s Ball Ranch and 137 acres of the 225 acre Willow Unit (see below). It describes scientifically based ecological design and implementation activities for restoring and enhancing approximately a total of 515 acres of riparian, wetland, and upland habitat along the San Joaquin River (Figure 5). Based on their analysis of the site, River Partners identified 78 contiguous acres of both Ball Ranch property and Willow Unit property that would provide habitat and species benefits if restored in the near future. This would be the first implementation of a multi-phase restoration project. The Board approved a project in September of 2019 by River Partners to undertake: 1) A site-specific restoration plan that builds off of the Opportunities Analysis and provides planting and irrigation designs for Phase 1 restoration (restoration to be completed with future funding); 2) Filing of a CEQA document that will cover restoration actions across the Ball Ranch and Willow Unit project sites (a total of 604 acres, including the 78-acre site identified in the Opportunities Analysis); and 3) A hydraulic analysis and Encroachment Permit from the Central Valley Flood Protection Board (CVFPB) that will allow implementation of Phase 1 and subsequent phases of restoration.
In December of 2019, CEMEX filed the Rockfield Modification Project application with Fresno County proposing to modify and continue their operations with a new operational plan. As part of their announcement, they have consulted with staff so that their proposal remains consistent with the San Joaquin River Parkway Master Plan by helping further the Conservancy’s work to extend the multipurpose trail (Eaton Trail) through their properties. Their plan proposes deeper mining but will not expand the boundaries of the current operations, will include operational modifications and new equipment and will update the quarry’s reclamation of the site. Such plans serve as an environmental blueprint for how the quarry will be restored when the quarry’s supply of hard rock reserve is depleted. At that point, the plant and quarry operations will close, and the processing plants removed. The sites will be graded, and the areas around the ponds will be planted with native vegetation for the benefit of local wildlife, habitat, and potential outdoor recreation. They plan to begin reclamation while mining is actively underway. In our discussions, the Conservancy is proposing that CEMEX help us with the multipurpose trail along the front of their current plant site and along the River at their extraction site. As part of the county’s planning process, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be prepared and made available to the public, as required by the CEQA. During this process, the project will undergo extensive environmental review by an independent third party hired by Fresno County, and there will be multiple opportunities for the public to submit written and oral comments and to attend public hearings.
Finally, the Conservancy is working with the Sierra Resource Conservation District (Sierra RCD) and the Southern Sierra Regional Water Management Group (SSRWM Group) in fuels reduction and re-use of biomass. The Sierra RCD has received funding through the California Fire Safe Council and to implement the Eastern Fresno County Firesafe and Stewardship Fuels Reduction Program. The Sierra RCD’s District Manager, Steve Haze and I have been working on the SSRWM Group since its inception over 10 years ago. The SSRWM Group has been able to secure funding for several organizations and agencies over the years for water and ecological projects and has been integral in working with the Sierra RCD in putting together plans for an integrated healthy forest/fuels reduction/biomass effort. Sierra RCD has received funding from the California Department of Conservation (DOC), California Department of Water Resources (DWR), California Fire Safe Council (CFSC), CAL FIRE and others, totaling approximately $5,000,000 in funded commitments. As part of this, Sierra RCD has been developing an implementation strategy working with small landowners that have been significantly impacted by tree mortality in providing for the removal of log decks remaining from fuels reduction programs. In discussion with Steve Haze, the Conservancy will be taking some of the first logs to be removed under their program and storing them at Ball Ranch. In the future, we will put these logs to use either in restoration implementation – adding carbon to the soils over time as they decompose, or to help with traffic control by placing logs at spots along access roads and trails as a natural fence. Again, as these logs are placed, we will be looking over the long term for them to decompose in place and create healthier soils. At this point, we will have them stacked along one of our gravel roads near the big pond, and out of the way, but in an area that has plenty of room and historically has been compacted by gravel truck operations.
Current Status: Tesoro Viejo CEQA work is on hold, while Tesoro Viejo gets a better read on the economic picture and how to adjust to current conditions. In the meantime, their consultants are still working through initial designs and analysis. River Partners had their initial kickoff meeting electronically on Tuesday, April 21st. One of their first issues to undertake is to secure a CEQA consultant. We also discussed how to set up stakeholder meetings electronically but have further discussions once they have their sub-consultants hired. CEMEX’s status is similar to Tesoro Viejo, in that the County of Fresno is working on their processes to hold CEQA scoping meetings virtually. CEMEX and their consultants said that they will keep us informed as this process continues. The Sierra RCD is moving forward with their work, though Conservancy staff has only agreed to this first transfer of logs at Ball Ranch, so that we can put together plans to use the materials and to get an idea of what it will entail to move them around.