Wide open and no development — that’s the kind of landscape people want to preserve in the Sacramento region, according to a new CapRadio/Valley Vision survey of residents in the six-county capital region.
The Food System Resilience Poll, conducted by CapRadio, Valley Vision, and Sacramento State University’s Institute for Social Research, asked residents of Sacramento, Yolo, El Dorado, Placer, Yuba and Sutter counties about their experiences obtaining and growing food.
But the survey also surfaced local residents’ desires for their environment. Over 90% of respondents said they felt very strongly or somewhat strongly that open space for plants, animals and farms be protected.
Environmental scientists are not surprised by the findings.
“Spending time in nature makes us happier,” says Haven Kiers, assistant professor of landscape architecture at UC Davis’ Department of Human Ecology. During an interview on CapRadio’s Insight with Vicki Gonzalez, Haven said open spaces became especially important for people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It reduces stress, it reduces loneliness, and it fosters social connections,” Kiers said.
Urban wildlands advocate Elizabeth Reid-Wainscoat of the Center for Biological Diversity also says open space has proved vital during the pandemic.
She said Sacramento-area residents’ responses about preserving natural landscapes just reaffirms the need to make sure “all Californians experience the physical and mental health benefits of nature.”
“Protecting open space is especially important as growth continues in the Greater Sacramento area,” she said. “Natural landscapes help us regulate our climate, purify our air and water, pollinate our crops, and create healthy soil.”
Reid-Wainscoat said right now, the region has a lot of natural areas like forest and shrub habitat, but only a small portion is preserved.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity’s analysis of the National Land Cover Database and Protected Areas Database produced by a consortium of federal agencies, 70% of the Sacramento region is made up of natural areas, but only 8% of it is protected.
“The danger is, it’s not protected, which means it’s really vulnerable to all sorts of things, including extractive uses and/or development,” said Reid-Wainscoat.
Reid-Wainscoat says to preserve open space in the future, regional planners could consider implementing urban greenbelts, or natural areas that surround the city where development is prohibited. Greenbelts would force new construction to build up, not out, she said, and would not only promote more housing density, but would also help mitigate wildfire risk.
“Often the sprawl development is in high fire hazard zones, and the more development we do there, the more fire risk we have there with ignition and larger fires,” she said.
Haven with UC Davis said it’s really hard to create “pure wild” areas, so she encourages planners and residents alike to create “pockets of biodiversity” within city and suburban limits.
“We can't separate... just human land and wilderness land,” Haven explained. “There's always going to be a combination of the two. And so the question is, how can you reconcile them so that the two can actually cohabitate happily?”
Kiers says locally, there are some projects to “rewild” urban or human-dominated spaces. Rice fields in Yolo County have been used to spawn struggling salmon populations. And Kiers has partnered with the Miradae Living Labs Project which gives away native seeds out of a mobile van.
Statewide efforts to conserve open spaces for future generations are also underway. California natural resource planners are still mapping out the state’s 30 by 30 plan, which strives to conserve 30% of California’s land and coastal waters by the year 2030.
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