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NR 2001-44
May 16, 2001

Contact: Carol Dahmen
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
Ed Wilson
(916) 323-1886

PACE OF URBANIZATION PICKS UP IN BUTTE COUNTY

Nearly 600 Acres Out of Agricultural Use, 
But 5,000 Former Ag Acres Restored to Natural Uses

SACRAMENTO -- While agriculture remains a mainstay of Butte County's economy, farmland is being converted to urban uses at an increasing pace and a significant amount of farmland was restored to natural uses, according to a map released today by the California Department of Conservation. The map is designed to help local governments evaluate land-use planning decisions.

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP), part of DOC's Division of Land Resource Protection, maps 44.1 million acres of California's public and private land to produce a major study every two years. The latest, Farmland Conversion Report 1996-98, was released last fall. About 70,000 acres were urbanized throughout the state as the rate of urbanization rose 25 percent from the previous two-year survey period. More than 43,000 acres of the new urban land, an area about the size of the city of Modesto, was developed on agricultural land.

Butte County is among the first to be mapped in the 1998-2000 cycle. A net total of 589 acres of agricultural land -- including 410 acres of irrigated farmland -- were reclassified as urban land by the FMMP. During the previous mapping cycle, 181 acres of Butte County agricultural land, including 77 acres of irrigated land, were urbanized.

Additionally, 353 acres of "other" land -- -- neither built-up nor used for agriculture, such as wetlands, low-density "ranchettes" or brush and timberlands unsuitable for grazing -- were reclassified as urban in the 1998-2000 cycle. The reversion of irrigated farmland to marshes near the Sacramento River on the Butte-Glenn county line contributed to the reclassification of 5,028 net acres of farmland as "other" land.

Of the 917,909 acres mapped in Butte County, 522,297 were in agricultural use, 40,185 acres were urbanized, 21,643 acres were water and 333,784 acres were "other."

The map has been sent to Butte County planning officials, and interested organizations such as the county Farm Bureau, Local Agency Formation Commission, planning consultants and area resource conservation districts have received copies.

"We do this mapping to help counties plan and prepare for their expected growth in the coming years," explained Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young. "This information is a tool that can help Butte County and other local governments balance the needs of a growing population with those of the agricultural economy."

Butte County's agricultural land will continue to face development pressure in the foreseeable future. The California Department of Finance projects that the county's population will grow from its current 212,000 to about 294,000 by 2020.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Butte ranks No. 23 out of 58 among California counties in gross value of agricultural production ($287 million in 1999). Primary crops include rice, almonds, prunes and walnuts.

The FMMP found the following examples of agricultural land being urbanized in Butte County:

  • A 100-acre housing development in Nord, southwest of Chico.

  • New homes, businesses and a new school (Marsh Junior High) around Chico.

  • New subdivisions in southwestern Gridley and south Biggs.

  • The Oroville Airport Business Park and a new self-storage lot in that city.

Through the Department of Conservation, the state offers programs that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use. The California Farmland Conservancy Program makes monies available to local governments, land trusts or resource conservation districts to purchase permanent agricultural conservation easements from willing landowners. These easements prohibit future development. Farmland Security Zone and Williamson Act contracts provide potential tax breaks to landowners who commit to keeping their land in agricultural use for periods of 20 or 10 years, respectively.

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