During the 1990s, BEC was focused on preserving local wetlands, of which vernal pools are an important type. These small seasonal wetlands are a treasure for Butte County and provide critical habitat for endangered species such as the fairy shrimp and the meadowfoam plant. Because these endangered species are not necessarily "cute and cuddly," many people can not relate to their importance and their scientific values.
BEC published a booklet entitled The Vernal Pools of Butte County to educate the community about these regional treasures. The pamphlet text was written by Dave Ross of the Sierra Club Yahi Group, and the detailed graphics were drawn by Pavia Wald. the publication was BEC's attempt to help others relate to vernal pools and fairy shrimp so they could support their preservation. Over 1,000 copies have been distributed to students, professors, and local government agencies.
Designating critical habitat is the precursor to recovery for species under the Endangered Species Act. Habitat necessary for recovery must be mapped in order to inform statewide and local conservation planning efforts.
BEC sued on April 12, 2000 for a critical habitat designation for four vernal pool dependent crustaceans. On February 9, 2001, the District Court for the eastern district of California ordered the US Fish & Wildlife Service to complete a final critical habitat designation for the crustaceans. The Service requested an extension for one year past the court ordered deadline and BEC concurred when the negotiations created a more comprehensive benefit for the habitat by including 11 vernal pool plant species.
On August 6, 2003 the Bush administration issued the final critical habitat rule and justified the removal of one million acres and six counties on economic grounds. Their analysis was feeble and concentrated almost exclusively on the economic costs over the economic benefits, illuminating its bias. The list of economic benefits of the critical habitat designation that were ignored by Washington was quite extensive and included flood control, water quality, tourism, animal husbandry, hunting, recreation, education, and all the species in the food chain. The counties omitted from the 2003 critical habitat designation are: Butte, Madera, Merced, Riverside, Sacramento, and Solano.
BEC, the California Native Plant Society, and Defenders of Wildlife filed a complaint over the 2003 VPCH Rule for the 15 endangered and threatened vernal pool plants and animals. In August 2005, the Interior Department released their second, final VPCH Rule for 15 vernal pool species. While acreage was added to the five counties previously excluded, other counties lost the valuable VPCH designation in the 2005 Rule.
In 2006, the US Fish & Wildlife designated critical habitat for 4 vernal crustaceans and 11 vernal pool plants.
Butte County meadowfoam was listed as a federal endangered species in 1991, and is only found in the vernal pools of Butte County. Before destruction of habitat containing Butte County meadowfoam occurs, developers must seek a biological opinion fro the US Fish and Wildlife Service through a wetland application to the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The Pleasant Valley Assembly of God (PVAG) church purchased 19.5 acres at Humboldt Road and Highway 32 in Chico to build a church and school. Unfortunately, this same tract of land was home to one of the last sites of the endangered Butte County meadowfoam. BEC and area environmentalists participated in public input hearings to develop a conservation plan for the plant.
In 1990, the Army Corps of Engineers allowed PVAG to fill just under an acres of wetlands on its property, provided additional wetlands at the west end of the property would be left untouched. PVAG graded a larger area than agreed upon and violated its wetlands permit causing the Corps to institute a development ban on the land.
In 2004, BEC approached a local development group, New Urban Builders, with a proposal to acquire the PVAG property adjacent to their project south of Humboldt Road to connect the two special vernal pool peroperties that are bisected by Humboldt Road, forming a valuable Butte County meadowfoam preserve.
Vernal Pool research and publications - published by Studies from the Herbarium at CSU, Chico
Vernal Pools - Islands of Life (article) by Jon Aull of The Chico Creek Nature Center
Wetland Preserves In and Around Butte County - California Open Lands