Wastewater treatment plants need to be good neighbors to the local community. That’s why in the 1970s Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District decided to purchase a property to develop a buffer between the treatment plant and its nearest neighbors. This 2,650-acre expanse of open space minimizes the potential for odor and other nuisances that could impact the surrounding neighborhoods. However, the Bufferlands provides much more than a nuisance buffer. This important nature area now provides hundreds of acres of high quality wildlife habitat, farmland and open space in a rapidly urbanizing area of California.
Riparian Habitat, a Home to Wildlife and Endangered Species
With a varied mix of upland and wetland habitats, the Bufferlands is an important wildlife area, supporting over 200 species of birds, 20 species of native mammals and several native fish, amphibians and reptiles. The Bufferlands is also home to more than 20 species of rare plants and animals, including several threatened and endangered species such as Swainson’s hawks, vernal pool fairy shrimp and giant garter snakes. Beginning in 1989, SRCSD teamed with the National Audubon Society, the Sacramento Job Corps Training Center and other groups in an ambitious effort to restore wildlife habitat on 650 acres near the bustling Interstate-5. With our Bufferlands resource management experts taking the lead, by 1995 this unique coalition had planted more than 10,000 native riparian trees and shrubs and enhanced or restored over 300 acres of prime seasonal and permanent wetland habitats. This area now provides high quality habitat for many species of waterfowl and other wetland birds and mammals including the annual return of thousands of canvasback ducks, a species that had all but disappeared from this region.
Ongoing Restoration Efforts
Habitat restoration and enhancement efforts on the Bufferlands are ongoing. Through these efforts, the size of our riparian forests has more than doubled, and native perennial grasses are now an integral part of the landscape. Also, our staff continues to work with the resident farmers to better structure the Bufferlands agricultural operations to benefit wildlife. For example, cattle grazing is used to enhance areas for the western burrowing owl, where vegetation would otherwise become too thick for these small raptors to hunt. Other farmed areas provide foraging and nesting areas for coyotes, northern harriers, the endangered Swainson’s hawks and a host of other bird and mammal species. In addition, the excess water from an on-site aquaculture operation provides fresh water to a portion of the Bufferlands wetlands.
The unique nature of the Bufferlands and its relationship with Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant have gained both local and worldwide attention. The Bufferlands has been featured in print and video media as far away as Japan and has hosted visiting natural resource managers from around the globe. In addition, the Bufferlands maintains an educational outreach program including tours for all ages, field trips for schools and other nature related activities. The annual “Walk on the Wildside” event draws 1,200 or more visitors each year.