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UC Merced, County Unite to Conserve Land, Enhance Recreation

December 15, 2015

UC Merced and Merced County agreed to a memorandum of understanding to develop recreational resources on land between the campus and Lake Yosemite.UC Merced is working with the County of Merced on plans for a new recreation area between campus and Lake Yosemite and protection for wetlands adjacent to campus.

The Merced County Board of Supervisors at its Dec. 15 meeting agreed to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the university to develop recreational resources for the entire community on land between the campus and Lake Yosemite. The agreement does not include specific plans for the space.

The university will also purchase, for $2.4 million, a conservation easement on 167 acres east of Lake Yosemite and adjacent to the area proposed for recreation. The land is home to California tiger salamanders, fairy shrimp, Swainson’s hawks and other endangered species unique to the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Nature Reserve and other undeveloped land adjacent to campus. The conservation easement contributes to environmental mitigation of campus development.

“We are very pleased to work with the county on these exciting projects, which preserve the environment for future generations and provide amenities for the community,” Chancellor Dorothy Leland said. “This kind of cooperative spirit for the benefit of all is central to the university's mission of contributing to the San Joaquin Valley community."

Plan Will Protect Wetlands Habitat

The county and campus will place a conservation easement that includes a long-term management plan to govern grazing rights and protect the wetlands habitat, subject to approval by regulatory agencies. The county will still own the property, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will administer the conservation easement.

Because there are so many vernal pools on the land, the expense of replacing them so the land could be developed would be prohibitive for the county. Additionally, the vernal pools habitats are valuable to UC Merced for research and satisfy an important part of its obligations to mitigate seasonal wetlands on the campus footprint.

The county and university will work together on the idea of building a perimeter trail so the public could learn more about the vernal-pool ecosystem. The university already has a grant that will fund the initial planning study.

No specific plans have been agreed upon yet for the property between the Le Grand Canal and Lake Road and between the campus and Lake Yosemite, but the MOU specifies that the land will be set aside for recreational use for the campus and the community. The campus and county will seek regulatory approval and grant funds to develop the property, which could include playing fields, nature trails and other recreational amenities.

“We’re very excited to have the opportunity to partner with UC Merced to help move this effort forward,” Board of Supervisors Chairman John Pedrozo said. “This will be of enormous benefit to students seeking higher education here in Merced County and will be of great benefit to the UC as it moves toward accomplishing the goals of its 2020 Project.”