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Commentary: A plea to save the badgers

The badgers of Paula Lane are threatened. They are about to lose their over 100-year-old home, or habitat and be displaced. It seems unreal to be writing this op-ed 20 years after the initial fight to save Paula Lane began. Here in Petaluma, this is reality.

American badger (Taxidea taxus) is a special status mammal, California Species of Concern. American badger is also a keystone species. Keystone means the badger in its grassland ecosystem, is relied upon by other wildlife. The badger reflects the health of its ecosystem. If removed from the ecosystem, the impact on other species and the ecosystem would be dramatic.

At the Paula Lane open space property, an adult female badger lives in her natal territory. Sensitivity of habitat becomes more heightened. Male badgers travel to and from the land. In fall, during mating season, if the adult female becomes pregnant, she safely creates her burrow complex, gives birth about February, and raises her young.

As a keystone species, the adult female badger holds habitat in support of other wildlife mothers who give birth and raise their young – Black-tailed deer, Gray fox, and many others. The Sunset View Bench on Paula Lane, installed in 2016 and available 24/7, is often visited, with joy felt by visitors as they look out over the quiet land and discover a variety of wild scenes.

All will be lost at this wonderful land unless the City of Petaluma is stopped, damage being caused reversed, and habitat restored. City of Petaluma contractors have extensively graded and constructed a roadway into habitat, calling this an ADA access trail. This is along the entire Paula Lane frontage. Planned earlier for agriculture along the fence line, the need for habitat safety became clear and in 2017 a Work Plan revision for the planned multifaceted project associated with the open space grant agreement was processed. Agriculture was removed from that frontage, leaving habitat untouched but able to be enjoyed from the Sunset View Bench on Paula Lane.

With this change, removing ag from the frontage, the planned project continued to include sustainable agriculture in a non-habitat area, along with an interpretive kiosk, bike rack, pollinator garden, and two additional wildlife view areas, one with a bench, inside the property entrance. Two short trail segments connected the project elements. All these activities were in balance, not disturbing sensitive habitat. An active volunteer program for habitat restoration and enhancement, along with education to include Petaluma Junior High School, an intern-mentor program for undergraduate students, and climate change data collection for the National Phenology Project were facets of the project. Public access during daytime for most days of the week would be open as well.

Through all of this, habitat would be protected, the American Badger able to live safely, and other wildlife and bird species could also live safely and be enjoyed.

ADA compliant access was planned for this property where technically feasible. Bench heights had been tailored for ADA compliance. An interior trail to a wildlife view area was planned. If you go by the Paula Lane property today, you will see an urbanization and a heavy hand imposing actions that are inconsistent with any type of balance for this 11.22-acre sanctuary.

The Open Space funded property has a Conservation Easement placed and held forever by the Sonoma County Ag and Open Space District. Priorities for this easement are clearly stated: “The priority of preservation and protection of natural resources shall take precedence over preservation and protection of open space resources, which shall take precedence over recreation and educational uses, which shall take precedence over agricultural uses.” The easement does not indicate disregard for natural resources and open space in favor of heavy-handed recreational public access and agriculture.

The open space aesthetic, as visitors sat quietly on the Sunset View Bench, has been destroyed.

The Paula Lane open space land is centrally located in an important wildlife corridor. I recently completed a Wildlife Corridors and Crossings mapping, reflecting how wildlife in Petaluma move and survive. Wildlife corridors and crossings support movement from habitat to habitat, the ability to forage, procreate and support biodiversity. The Paula Lane Nature Preserve is also PLAN’s innovative project design – high use, low impact. This design supports multi-faceted project elements with public access and low impact on our environment. This design was part of the adopted Climate Action Framework of the city of Petaluma. Now, that is being violated.

Our Petaluma community deserves the long-planned multifaceted project designed and implemented by Paula Lane Action Network (PLAN). Our wildlife deserve to live in their habitat safely, without encroachment, in their sanctuary.

Susan Kirks is the a California Naturalist and an expert on the American Badger. For more information about efforts to aid the local badger population, email info@paulalaneactionnetwork.org or call 707-241-5548.

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