Changes in El Dorado County Land-Use and Ownership
El Dorado County has experienced a change in land use and ownership patternsince 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 ownershipalong a series of transects running longitudinally through the county. Thesetransects represent a sample of land within the county. The baseline (1957)information showed 496 parcels touching transects crossing then-forestedregions of the county. The land area in these parcels comprised 14 percentof the total county land base. By 1995, the number of parcels along thesetransects had increased to 1,077; however, the percentage of the total countybase had decreased to 8 percent.
Compared to land used for agricultural production (including oak rangelandsused primarily for grazing), the land used for timber production was relativelystable over the 38-year period of the study: 69% percent of the land usedfor timber production in 1957 still was dedicated to that use in 1995, accordingto tax assessment codes. By contrast, only 39% of the land in agriculturalproduction in 1957 still was in agricultural production in 1995. This reflectsboth the greater attractiveness of agricultural land for development (gentlerslopes, better access, water availability, etc.) and, possibly, a countydecision to concentrate greater development in oak woodland areas to preserveconifer forests. Some county residents believe that the reduction in agriculturalland reflects the differences in the effectiveness of Williamson Act andtimber production zone (TPZ) protection and/or the effects of environmentalregulation. This clearly is an area for future research efforts.
The size of the individual parcels intersecting the transects declineddramatically. In 1957, the average size of all parcels was greater than300 acres; half contained 160 acres or more. By 1995, average parcel sizewas less than 80 acres, with half the parcels being 10 acres or less, clearlyreflecting the subdivision of land for residential purposes. Landholdings(which account for ownership of multiple parcels by a single owner) similarlydropped in size. The trends for agricultural land and all landholdings followedsimilar patterns. Timberland (land used for the commercial production ofwood products) deviated from this general pattern. The average timberlandparcel and landholdings are much larger than for the other land uses. Themean size of a 1995 timberland parcel was 74 percent of the 1957 size, andthe median size increased by a third. The average landholding size increasedfrom 1957 to 1995, although the median size decreased. This represents aconsolidation of parcels into large landholdings. In 1957, only one timberlandholding 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 totaltimber land on these transects.
Absentee owners (landowners not residing in the County) accounted forless than half of the parcels, acreage, and owners in 1957. The percentageof absentee owners was similar in 1995, but they then owned over 80 percentof the acreage along the transects. This large shift in number of acresunder absentee ownership (from <50% to >80%) primarily is due to changesin timberland ownership. Less than 20 percent of all timberland parcelsand acres along these transects were owned by absentee owners in 1957, by1995 this had changed to well over 90 percent. In addition to changes inacres owned by absentee owners, the total number of land owners more thandoubled and the number of agricultural land owners almost doubled. Thiswas distinctly different for timberland, where the number of landownersdecreased by 60 percent. Thus, while the ownership of transect land is generallydiversifying, the ownership of timberland along these transects is now highlyconcentrated and mostly in absentee ownership.
These preliminary data indicate fragmentation of agricultural land, aswell as concentration of ownership, and increasing absentee ownership oftimberland. The focus of this project is now shifting to address the questionof how these changes in land holding patterns affect El Dorado County.
prepared and edited by Richard B. Standiford