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(US CA) Government group to protect 775 acres for kit fox August 30, 2005 9:11 AM

By Bob Brownne
San Joaquin News Service
Last updated: Tuesday, Aug 30, 2005 - 06:44:05 am PDT

The San Joaquin kit fox will soon have 775 more acres south of Tracy where it can live and thrive free from human activity.

Steve Mayo, senior regional planner for the San Joaquin Council of Governments, said Friday that COG planned to close escrow this week on the purchase of development rights for land in the hills along Lone Tree Creek from landowner Andrew Rustan.

That would bring the total land acquired in this area under COG's Habitat Conservation Plan to 1,085 acres. It includes 310 acres protected under preservation agreements from 2001.

COG's Habitat Conservation Plan allows the agency to charge fees to developers and use the money to buy conservation easements on private land. A conservation easement allows a landowner to use the land as it is, in this case for cattle rangeland, but includes a promise that the land will otherwise remain undisturbed.

COG uses the California Department of Fish and Game's California Natural Diversity Database to determine which lands should be protected. The database lists the hills around Lone Tree Creek as the home of six animal species the department is concerned about, such as the kit fox, listed as endangered under federal law; and seven plants, including the endangered large-flower fiddleneck.

Mayo added that on one section of the Rustan property COG's biologists have seen California tiger salamanders and red-legged frogs, making the land even more valuable as a preserve.

The agency has its eye on several hundred more acres around Lone Tree Creek, which is in the hills southwest of Interstate 580, just north of the Stanislaus County line.

Much of that area is already protected by separate conservation agreements. Mayo said that the California Rangeland Trust, which holds conservation easements for Caltrans, Mountain House, DSS Engineering and Brentwood Union School District, manages a section of land directly east of the Rustan property.

The California Department of Fish and Game also holds easements on land near Lone Tree Creek and Mayo said COG is negotiating for preservation of several hundred more acres where individuals hold conservation easements.

Contact reporter Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com.

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