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Changes in El Dorado County Land-Use and Ownership

Oaks ‘n’ Folks – Volume 13, Issue 2- August. 1998

El Dorado County has experienced a change in land use and ownership pattern since the late 1950s. We recently completed a study of some of these changes,using information collected for 1957 and 1995 from the county tax assessor.A comparison was made of land use as indicated by assessment codes and ownership along a series of transects running longitudinally through the county. These transects represent a sample of land within the county. The baseline (1957) information showed 496 parcels touching transects crossing then-forested regions of the county. The land area in these parcels comprised 14 percent of the total county land base. By 1995, the number of parcels along these transects had increased to 1,077; however, the percentage of the total county base had decreased to 8 percent.

Compared to land used for agricultural production (including oak rangelands used primarily for grazing), the land used for timber production was relatively stable over the 38-year period of the study: 69% percent of the land used for timber production in 1957 still was dedicated to that use in 1995, according to tax assessment codes. By contrast, only 39% of the land in agricultural production in 1957 still was in agricultural production in 1995. This reflects both the greater attractiveness of agricultural land for development (gentler slopes, better access, water availability, etc.) and, possibly, a county decision to concentrate greater development in oak woodland areas to preserve conifer forests. Some county residents believe that the reduction in agricultural land reflects the differences in the effectiveness of Williamson Act and timber production zone (TPZ) protection and/or the effects of environmental regulation. This clearly is an area for future research efforts.

The size of the individual parcels intersecting the transects declined dramatically. In 1957, the average size of all parcels was greater than 300 acres; half contained 160 acres or more. By 1995, average parcel size was less than 80 acres, with half the parcels being 10 acres or less, clearly reflecting the subdivision of land for residential purposes. Landholdings(which account for ownership of multiple parcels by a single owner) similarly dropped in size. The trends for agricultural land and all landholdings followed similar patterns. Timberland (land used for the commercial production of wood products) deviated from this general pattern. The average timberland parcel and landholdings are much larger than for the other land uses. The mean size of a 1995 timberland parcel was 74 percent of the 1957 size, and the median size increased by a third. The average landholding size increased from 1957 to 1995, although the median size decreased. This represents a consolidation of parcels into large landholdings. In 1957, only one timberland holding was smaller than 380 acres. In 1995, 23 were smaller than 380 acres(10 were less than 40 acres), accounting for the decreases in median size.However, these landholdings account for a very small amount of the total timber land on these transects.

Absentee owners (landowners not residing in the County) accounted for less than half of the parcels, acreage, and owners in 1957. The percentage of absentee owners was similar in 1995, but they then owned over 80 percent of the acreage along the transects. This large shift in number of acres under absentee ownership (from <50% to >80%) primarily is due to changes in timberland ownership. Less than 20 percent of all timberland parcels and acres along these transects were owned by absentee owners in 1957, by 1995 this had changed to well over 90 percent. In addition to changes in acres owned by absentee owners, the total number of land owners more than doubled and the number of agricultural land owners almost doubled. This was distinctly different for timberland, where the number of landowners decreased by 60 percent. Thus, while the ownership of transect land is generally diversifying, the ownership of timberland along these transects is now highly concentrated and mostly in absentee ownership.

These preliminary data indicate fragmentation of agricultural land, as well as concentration of ownership, and increasing absentee ownership of timberland. The focus of this project is now shifting to address the question of how these changes in land holding patterns affect El Dorado County.

prepared and edited by Richard B. Standiford