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David Morrison

David Morrison
Assistant Director, Yolo County Planning and Public Works Department
Fifteen years ago this was a square hole in the ground.

My name is David Morrison, and my connection to the Cache Creek Conservancy began as the Natural Resources Manager for Yolo County for a number of years and currently as the Assistant Director of Planning and  Public Works for a total of over 10 years.



Can you tell us about the beginning of the Cache Creek Conservancy and what people thought at the time?

There was a lot of hesitancy at first with the idea, because it was going to be a large burden on the county and difficult to manage. But it had potential, and it was exciting to see people push outside their boundaries and step up to the responsibility of caring for what has become one of the largest parks in the county and largest nature preserves in California.

What about issues concerning public access to the nature preserve?

This is important, because if made too available to the public, the preserve could be less hospitable for the wildlife that is naturally present.  Wildlife includes mountain lions, various types of hawks, coyotes, beavers, bears, just to name a few. With unrestricted access, people might be coming in hordes to enjoy the preserve, and the wild creatures might be scared away.

Can you describe what we are seeing right now at the Cache Creek Nature Preserve?

Well, we are facing the wetlands right now, but fifteen years ago this area was nothing more than a big hole in the ground. The work done by the Conservancy has turned it into 10 to 15 acres of wetlands that now serve as habitat for native species of plants and animals. Just to the west is the riparian area, and to the south is Cache Creek itself. Over to the east are the visitor center and administrative buildings, and to the north are oak woodlands. When this site was first transferred to the county, it was still an active mining site for sand and gravel. That being said, most of the land was barren, and there was definitely none of the restoration that you see here with the wetlands.

How have you watched it change?

Since there wasn’t any water or islands or trees or shrubs or walkways, you could say we started from the ground up. For the concept of the restoration we had a young wetland biologist come out and make some pen and ink drawings. She came up with an idea that we submitted to Teichert, the mining company that was currently operating in the area. We told them “build this” when we handed them the design, and their employees seemed to have fun with the project. When the biologist who had produced the drawings came out and saw what was being done, she was aghast and exclaimed, “No! Those were just my drawings, not engineering drawings!” But we just took them and went with it, whereas the normal process would entail geological surveys and stabilization analysis.  Our goal was to make the restoration come along as fast as possible. That is one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about working with the Conservancy and the Preserve: the emphasis is on getting to actual results and not crossing every “t” and dotting every “i.”

What are some of those results?

Biodiversity has just exploded over the past few years.  We now have a refuge for wildlife that wouldn’t have existed without the restoration. Also, more than five thousand school children come out every year to see the Preserve. It has provided opportunities for public education not only through school visitation programs, but through the public outreach work of the program. 

Where do you feel this is going? What are some future goals?

As far as the future for the Conservancy and the Preserve, it’s always been the county’s view that while this is a great achievement, it’s not the end of the story. The ultimate goal or hope is that this may become the anchor for what will eventually be a fifteen-mile parkway. This was in the original  Cache Creek Area Plan, that this parkway would reach from Capay Dam at the west to all the way to the Cache Creek settling basin in the east. This would be a very big undertaking for such a rural and relatively poor county as Yolo, but the vision was to connect to the Yolo Bypass, to the West Sacramento Delta, and then all the way down to the Bay Area. This vision will take decades, a lot of public investment--several million dollars, and a lot of private effort.  But you have to have a goal; otherwise you’ll never achieve anything.

Hearing about the gravel wars and the conception of this preserve, does this sort of “divine collaboration” inspire you?

Looking back, things always seem easier than they were at the time. The collaboration that came was largely an end product of exhaustion. I think both the mining industry and the environmental groups were exhausted by their struggles, which opened the door for compromise. I know that this place is something that I am very proud of; I am greatly honored and blessed to have been part of the process. Now that we stand at the halfway point—the plan was adopted in 1996, scheduled to go for 30 years, and we’re currently in 2011—I think it has worked beyond my expectations.

How do you see this place helping other watersheds in the future?

This institutional creation is seen as model for many other parts of the state, at least within the narrow confines of mining and reclamation work. It has had quite a bit of impact. You can see that the principles we used here are showing success in being replicated in other parts of the state. I think the county’s plan has had significant influence on how gravel mining within riparian zones is now conducted in California.

Written by: 
Robert Barnhill

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