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50-year plan recommends spending $463 million to save species in Sonoma County

A 50-year recovery plan for endangered species in the Santa Rosa Plain, including the California tiger salamander, will require the purchase of thousands of acres of habitat from Cotati to Windsor and continued study at a cost of $436 million.

That's according to officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which recently released a draft plan for recovery of the imperiled amphibian and three plants — Sonoma sunshine, Burke's goldfields and Sebastopol meadowfoam.

The plan, part of a settlement agreement with the Arizona- based Center for Biological Diversity, is recommended to ensure survival of the species.

'The salamander is suffering so many threats pushing it to the brink of extinction,' Collette Adkins Giese, a senior attorney with the center, said Friday. 'We need to do everything we can to make sure they don't vanish.'

Fish and Wildlife officials are seeking comment on the 146-page document, both in writing and at a public meeting in mid-January, before finishing it in about 18 months. Comments will be accepted through Feb. 9, spokeswoman Sarah Swenty said, but only written comments will be added to the official record.

The exact time and place for the hearing has not been set, she said.

Swenty said the actions suggested in the plan are voluntary and not regulatory in nature. She compared it to a recently adopted $1.24 billion tidal marsh recovery plan for Northern and Central California.

'Basically, we are describing what the species need,' said Josh Hull, a recovery division chief for Fish and Wildlife.

Among the recommended steps by 2065 is the acquisition of portions of a 47,000-acre 'critical habitat' zone running through the heart of Sonoma County.

Wetlands and grasslands in defined areas could be purchased by nonprofit groups or with government grants and held in preserved status, keeping the land free of housing or vineyard development blamed for species destruction.

Only willing landowners would participate, officials said.

The plan also calls for the creation of seasonal pools for salamander breeding and continued research on topics such as roadway mortality and predator control.

Plant species recovery involves identifying habitat and collecting and storing seeds.

The goal with all species is to make them flourish again and one day remove them from protected status, officials said.

Local government and conservation officials had little to say Friday about the plan, released Thursday. A spokeswoman for the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation said she had not read it and could not comment.

Jennifer Barrett, deputy director of the county's planning department, said it was under review by a staff member. Barrett said it didn't appear to suggest new regulation beyond what has already been adopted.

'I really don't expect it to be controversial or have any impact we don't already have under the Endangered Species Act,' Barrett said. 'It's usually a good thing that there's a plan to recover the species.'

But housing industry officials were skeptical.

Keith Woods of the North Coast Builders Exchange said the cost seemed high. That kind of money could pay for higher priorities like hiring more teachers and police officers and improving roads and parks, he said.

'People in construction understand that protecting endangered species is important, but at a price tag of $463 million over 50 years we should all need to agree this money is well spent,' Woods said.

You can read the report online by clicking this link.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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Editor's note:This story has been altered to reflect the following clarification: Federal wildlife officials will take public comment at a meeting next month on a draft species recovery plan for the Santa Rosa Plain, but only written comment will be added to the official record.

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