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River Islands fishermen friendly plan
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LATHROP - Trying your luck fishing in the San Joaquin River without being in a boat means you either have to trespass and cast your line from near a levee, pay entry fees to county or state park, or else get down to the river side by a bridge crossing.

That will change when the transformation of the 4,800-acre Stewart Tract into the 10,800-home River Islands at Lathrop project that could break ground as early as 2012.

River Islands will feature 14 miles of shoreline along the San Joaquin River, Paradise Cut, and the Old River as well as 16 miles of lakefront with the River Islands community.

Plans along the river call for clustered private docks for 10 boats placed around River Islands on the river side. After every third cluster boat docks for residents’ public fishing piers will be put in place.

That means there would be between 15 and 20 public fishing piers on the river that would all have access to anyone regardless of whether the reside on River Islands or not.

It is just part of the plan to make River Islands not just a pleasant place to live but a magnet for river lovers.

All 16 miles of river front will be accessible to the public with the usual restrictions that cover public parks - no use after dusk or before dawn.

It will be access unparalleled anywhere on the San Joaquin River - or any other river in California for that matter.

The plan is for full restoration of the river bank ecological system that was disrupted when levees were first built over 130 years ago. That is good news for the endangered riparian brush rabbit.

Cambay Group is designing environments conducive to the rare rabbits along the Paradise Cut that goes from the main San Joaquin River channel back to the Old River for flood relief.

Studies in 2000 determined that the riparian brush rabbit was limited to just two tiny populations in Caswell State Park six miles south of Manteca.

That was when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau  of Reclamation, California Department of Fish & Game and the Endangered Species Recovery Program of California State University, Stanislaus announced they had devised a plan to reintroduce the brush rabbit to native stream side habitat in the northern San Joaquin Valley.

The severe flooding in January 1997 significantly reduced numbers of the brush rabbits at the state park located at the end of Austin Road along the Stanislaus River.

Cambay Group found several colonies of riparian brush rabbits on Stewart Tract while doing environmental studies for their project.

Plans to help improve the survivability of the rabbit dovetails into the vision to create a 900-acre greenbelt in Paradise Cut to buffer a future urbanized Stewart Tract from the south side of the cut.

River wildlife also is expected to benefit from a series of protected bays that Cambay plans to create off the river and along waterways that they will create in developing River Island. They will essentially be inlets with a “finger” of land extending out between the bay and river that will be left in its natural state and planted in native vegetation.

The riparian brush rabbit is a small to medium sized cottontail whose back and sides are covered with dark brown and gray fur. Their bellies are white.

They can reach a length of 13 inches and weigh almost two pounds. The riparian is among 13 subspecies of brush rabbits, eight of which are found in California.

A small tail and long, uniformly colored ears help distinguish it from other subspecies.

Unlike other cottontails that may breed year round, the female riparian brush rabbit breeds only from January to May. Only five of six brush rabbits survive into the next breeding season.

More than 90 percent of the Central Valley’s riparian forests have been cleared since 1850 prompting the decline in riparian brush rabbit population.

The rabbit has been protected by California’s Endangered Species Act since 1994 and was extended federal protection in February of 2000.