Isn’t it interesting what political candidates are willing to say about their environmental platforms? If they are good at running for office, they gage what they say carefully in reflection of what they think will be supported by the majority of voters. So, what political candidates are saying is as much a reflection of who we are as who they are. Let’s look at some of the things that District 3 Supervisorial candidates have been saying about how they will conserve wildlife and protect parks in northern Santa Cruz County. And, let’s reflect about how what they say reflects on Santa Cruz County residents.
Wildlife Protection and Parks Conservation
Let me start by outlining the main threats to the County’s wildlife and parks so that it is easier to put candidates’ positions into context. The main threats to wildlife and parks are as follows: loss of social support for wildlife conservation, loss of habitat, loss of landscape-level habitat connectivity, mismanagement of recreation on conservation lands, mismanagement of disturbance regimes on conservation lands, and invasive species. County Supervisors have the capacity to influence all of these threats, some more than others. It is important that anyone elected to office in our region understand these threats and have well formed ideas about how they can help.
I have yet to meet anyone in District 3 who does not hold wildlife conservation and parks protections as among their highest level of concerns. And yet, for many years they did not reflect those concerns in their support for a Supervisor to represent them. Let’s consider the present two District 3 Supervisorial candidates’ recent statements and what that says about District 3 voters.
I cannot find any mention from either candidate that they recognize the peril that lack of social support is creating for protecting wildlife and parks in the County. In their positions as elected officials, they have had the opportunity to use their positions as megaphones for the importance of wildlife conservation. During their campaigns, they could mention the importance of healthy wildlife populations to County residents’ quality of life. Instead, Shebreh’s campaign notes that she will create a very mysterious ‘conservation academy,’ but no description of this academy is anywhere to be found. So I’m not sure of what problem will be solved through this effort. It has been a long time since any County Supervisor has championed wildlife conservation: why are they embarrassed to do so?
Habitat Loss and Habitat Connectivity
I cannot find any mention that loss of habitat in the County or habitat connectivity within and around the County are things that either candidate is concerned about. County Supervisors can influence these issues by working with the Planning Department to assure enforcement of existing sensitive habitat and open space ordinances and by pushing for General Plan amendments/updates to bring the County up to modern standards to address these critical issues. Supervisors have been remiss about these issues for years, resulting in widespread loss of sensitive habitats and loss of habitat throughout the County.
Poor Recreational Management in Parks
Parks recreation is the one area that both candidates have something to say. Shebreh mysteriously notes that she will “prioritize safe and accessible parks and beaches for everyone to enjoy.” What the heck does that mean? But it sounds good, right? Justin has said will “work on infrastructure issues related to beach access”…“bathroom facilities and adequate trash collection.” Both candidates have a lot of media about their strong support for keeping parks free of litter.
Neither of the candidates’ statements come anywhere close to addressing the grave situation facing conservation lands due to poorly managed recreation. Business interests and recreational offroad biking coalitions have been important forces in creating a wildlife habitat crisis due to overuse and degradation of conservation lands. County Supervisors could broadly galvanize support to better protect conservation lands while alleviating traffic, safety, fire and other impacts related to poor parks recreation management. Supervisors could also help County Parks to better manage beaches to protect endangered beach-dependent wildlife, something that is dearly needed.
Poor Habitat Management
Mismanagement of disturbance regimes on conservation lands and invasive species are the last two major threats facing wildlife in the County. For these, only Justin has anything to say: he supports creating a “countywide vegetation management program” so that fires “serve their role in the ecosystem.” How Justin could do that as Supervisor is not clear. But, if you can ignore that detail, his statement shows some wisdom and a nod to the importance of managing intentional fires. Shebreh has nothing to say about how she can help better manage habitats and invasive species in the County.
There is a lot that County Supervisors can do to help to better manage wildlife habitat in the County. They can fund and otherwise incentivize County Parks to better manage habitats and control invasive species. They can also work with County Public Works to better manage invasive species along roadsides. And, they can provide leadership to work with the State and County Agricultural Commissioner to ban the sale of invasive species at nurseries. And, they can work with fire response agencies to do more intentional burning to reduce fuels. No Supervisor has been leading in these ways recently.
What Candidates Are Saying Says About Us
For wildlife conservation and protection of open space, is it true that all we really care about is trash and restrooms in parks? It seems so, because that’s all our District 3 Supervisorial candidates think they need to address in their political messages! What does that say about how vocal we are about these issues? Can we do better?
Look Around You
If you examine our success with wildlife conservation and open space protection, what the candidates are saying seems to be enough to get them elected.
Lots of people volunteer for beach cleanup: so, that seems like a good group of constituents to speak to. County residents have worked hard to protect open space, to create and make accessible our beautiful parks, another thing to mention that garners votes. The successful politician knows to focus on these two non-controversial and positive environmental areas.
The problem is, once parks are “protected,” open space advocates disappear and there aren’t many conversations about how to manage parks so that wildlife remain in those spaces for generations to come. In that vacuum steps in business and recreational interests that commodify nature and destroy wildlife values. No number of toilets or bags of trash collected on beaches will mitigate those impacts.
I believe that Justin knows about all the threats to wildlife and open space conservation I outline above. Maybe he feels he would lose support if he mentioned the things that he could do as supervisor to address them. However, he has said some critical things that show that he understands at least some of the issues. He also has the training needed to understand all the issues. Shebreh could likewise be in a position of not seeing any advantage of a more nuanced platform for addressing environmental threats. But, Shebreh does not have any training in environmental conservation, and she has chosen not to say anything about any environmental action she could take to address the threats to wildlife conservation and open space degradation in the County. The contrasts I’ve drawn between the two candidates should be enough for those of you vote for the environment to make an informed decision for this election.
Voting is probably the easiest way to let our concerns be known that wildlife conservation and open space protection are our priorities for elected officials. You get few chances to vote for Supervisor. Once this is done, I’ll outline next steps for your political actions to help make our County a better place for wildlife conservation and open space protection.
-this post originally published in Bruce Bratton’s BrattonOnline.com