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California City Solutions: Antioch Creates Natural Burrowing Owl Preserve with New Community Center Development

April 11, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries. These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Antioch’s Natural Burrowing Owl Preserve Project was submitted in 2013 for the Planning and Environmental Quality award category.
 
The city of Antioch found in 2008, during the planning process of its new 35,000 square foot community center at Prewett Park, that the project site contained a Burrowing Owl habitat, housing at least one breeding pair with an active burrow. The city, local residents, and a consulting biologist embarked on a joint effort to establish a 24-acre section of the 98-acre community park for the Prewett Family Park Burrowing Owl Preserve.

Because the area surrounding Prewett Park had considerable development in the past two decades, people in Antioch were well aware of the presence of Burrowing Owls. Burrowing Owl habitats discovered on these surrounding project development sites typically required mitigation, which meant purchasing conservation land banks for a habitat outside of the city. However, Prewett Park featured a vast area of reserved open space in its original master plan, a natural location for a Burrowing Owl habitat. This would make the Prewett Family Park Burrowing Owl Preserve the first preserve established on public property in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
 
A preserve of this kind required authorization from the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agencies were supportive and enthusiastic about the preserve, but cautioned that alternative land purchase mitigation would be necessary if the Burrowing Owls were not occupying the preserve.
 
The consulting biologist prepared a habitat management plan that identified specific management actions, monitoring methods and use restrictions that comprised the long-term management strategy. It took 20 volunteers approximately 10 hours to create the artificial burrows and numerous city staff hours to secure the wildlife agency approvals and assist with project coordination. Materials were donated by the Burrowing Owl Preservation Society and private citizens.
 
After monitoring the site for three years, the results confirmed successful Burrowing Owl breeding with two breeding pairs producing at least 12 juveniles in 2010, three pairs producing at least nine juveniles in 2011, and five pairs producing at least 26 juveniles in 2012.
 
A new relationship between the city and the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network (BOCN) had developed, which was founded by local residents and provides organizational support for volunteer efforts to maintain and monitor the preserve. In addition, BOCN has raised funds and volunteer hours to install interpretive signs on trails near the preserve and is working on creating an informational kiosk to be placed inside the community center. BOCN hosted field trips to the preserve in 2012 for 174 elementary school children from across Contra Costa County.


 
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