I invite you to immerse yourself for a few moments into my dream of the future of Santa Cruz’ North Coast. How will Cotoni Coast Dairies fare in the future, for instance in 2064? During the past year, many things have aligned to allow my dream to be much closer to reality.
Cotoni Coast Dairies’ new manager, Zacchary Ormsby is the first with the skill, knowledge and respect to manage the property according to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) protocol for lands with National Monument and National Conservation Lands status. Zacchary is joined by a freshly hired California Coastal Monument manager, another conservation-oriented biologist, Leisyka Parrot. Congressman Jimmy Pannetta, a skilled veteran of addressing impacts in over-loved and under-stewarded wildlands of Big Sur, has been newly elected to represent Cotoni Coast Dairies’ geography. Jimmy is dedicated to helping address North Coast tourist visitation issues with his important federal government leverage. And Justin Cummings with his doctorate in multi-disciplinary environmental problem solving is newly both the County Supervisor AND the Coastal Commissioner overseeing the park. Meanwhile, many very smart coalitions are poised to work together to assure that Cotoni Coast Dairies is a park for all, well stewarded for wildlife, forever.
It is 2064, the 50th anniversary of Cotoni Coast Dairies becoming public land, and there are national celebrations of this unexpectedly exemplary project. The New York Times has a full color Sunday edition article featuring the park’s success. Cotoni Coast Dairies has become a global destination for accessible, multi-cultural nature tourism. Hundreds of thousands of visitors have enjoyed immersive educational experiences that are the gold standard being copies at other parks around the world. Programs at the park have changed lives of thousands of underrepresented schoolchildren from throughout the Bay Area. Tourists of many nationalities flock to Santa Cruz with this destination in mind. The park’s managers have worked closely with scientists and conservationists, succeeding in restoring the property’s teeming wildlife populations. Visitation is so well managed that many different experiences are available, no matter what ethnicity or language and no matter the financial means. Using cutting edge technology, parks administrators provide the vast array of experiences that visitors report wanting and have developed software to continuously adapt available park experiences accordingly. BLM has received recognition for their sound management through strong public as well as private funding and through the added capacity of dedicated partner organizations and volunteers.
Badgers, Burrowing Owls, and Tule Elk, Oh My!
Early on, BLM partnered with local scientists, State and Federal wildlife agencies, and conservation groups with what turned out to be highly successful reintroduction programs for American badger, western burrowing owl, beaver, and tule elk. Volunteers working with conservation groups adapted prior regional wildlife connectivity successes to create Western North America’s first badger preserve by reintroducing ground squirrels, installing drift fences to underpasses along roads to reduce badger fatalities, and creating landscape-scale habitat corridors, and badger populations recovered. Because badgers prefer sandy soils for denning, Cotoni Coast Dairies managers designed large recreation-free buffers around the best denning sites; at first, those buffers were insufficient, but monitoring refined buffer design, and the badgers responded positively with their first young born in 2040. The badger and ground squirrel burrows created habitat that made it possible to later reintroduce burrowing owls which have established several breeding colonies in the huge swaths of restored coastal prairies. These wildlife species have become an important focus for visitation.
Restored Coastal Prairie
Besides reintroduction of these keystone grassland wildlife species, BLM managers embarked on two other processes that turned out to be critical to the restoration of some of California’s last remaining coastal prairies. First, the entire property, including its prairies, became actively cared for by the descendants of the indigenous people who have tended the landscape for thousands of years. The importance of indigenous stewardship was an insight from the outset, including in the name of the property beginning with the tribal name of the first inhabitants, ‘Cotoni.’ In the process of recognizing and revitalizing their culture, native people have directed hundreds of programs attracting thousands of volunteers, school children, and others to collaborate in the large-scale restoration of the land. They reintroduced fire management and tended wildflowers and grasses, carefully relearning the best ways to nurture them to health. The native peoples have revived their internationally renowned basketry, tending plants throughout the park for materials.
At the same time, BLM managers have used cutting-edge, science-based livestock grazing management to restore coastal prairie health. They have collaborated with many other coastal prairie managers, from Humboldt to Santa Barbara, to manage cattle alongside tule elk herds, moving the animals through a matrix of patches of grasslands managed with prescribed fire and reseeding. The prairies draw visitors each spring to view stunning spring wildflower displays unrivaled in the region.
Vibrant Lagoons and Beaches
The 2050s were a decade of sea level rise adaptation made possible by the strong North Coast public lands managers partnership facilitated for decades by Santa Cruz City Parks. The first beach and Highway 1 realignment to be redesigned was at Scott Creek Beach, back in the 2030’s. Then, there were successes in restoring Lidell Creek/Bonny Doon Beach and Laguna Creek/Laguna Beach, and then the coalitions managed to redesign all the other North Coast Beaches and highway crossings. Economic development, transportation and conservation interests all converged, and every beach has moved inland of Highway 1. Multi-use bridges accommodate public transport, pedestrian, and bicycle use as well as interpretive and viewing areas which draw the highest numbers of visitors.
The redesigned bridges allowed reintroduction of beavers, which in turn restored fish habitat. Coho salmon and steelhead have been reproducing in all the newly restored streams. After 40 years, BLM wildlife biologists have succeeded in restoring California red-legged frog populations to every beaver pond and lagoon on the North Coast; this is the last place they can be reliably found, the last viable population remaining on Earth. While beachgoing recreation is no longer possible on most North Coast Beaches, the small slivers of sand now support snowy plover nests alongside elephant seal nurseries, drawing wildlife-oriented tourists to high tech, wildlife sensitive viewing opportunities.
Cotoni Coast Dairies has become known for its approachability and accessibility. Visitors are greeted by guides who can communicate in 14 languages; interpretive information on interactive signs is available in an additional 30 languages. Guides are provided state of the art, sustainably constructed family homes attached to visitor interpretation outposts spread throughout the property, allowing 24-7 oversight.
Visitor experiences at Cotoni Coast Dairies vary with time in response to ongoing surveys of existing and potential users. While it has become necessary to limit use, a universally available reservation system assures fair distribution of tickets. Free transportation into the park is available from nearby public transit hubs. The reservation system allows park managers to adjust amount and types of use, including segregating users within the park, to accommodate visitor expectations and reduce use conflict. Families feel safe walking small children or elderly family members on tranquil trails while thrill seeking bicycle riders enjoy uncrowded downhill forays without worrying about others’ safety. If you don’t mind more crowded conditions, you won’t be surprised by what you experience. But, if you want more solitude or better wildlife viewing opportunities, parks managers have specific days, trails and destinations just for you.
One of the most popular reservation requests is for guided nighttime wildlife viewing. For this opportunity, small groups are guided into one of 10 remote viewing locations designed to minimize wildlife impacts while maximizing the opportunity to view nighttime wildlife using the latest night vision technology. Visitors enjoy these immersive experiences, with interpretation and storytelling by expert volunteer naturalists.
Digital communication has allowed active feedback about visitors’ experiences to parks managers, and data feeds into the network of universities participating in the studies and assisting with adaptive management. Management response to real time social carrying capacity analysis has become second nature to Cotoni Coast Dairies users and the vastly superior visitor use experience has resulted in a high demand for updating other park system management protocol.
Realizing the Dream
What I describe above is truly attainable if we want it bad enough and are willing to act. The key element of success is public will which is necessary to raise our capacity to succeed. We’ll need leadership, volunteers, capital, technology, and kindness. And, we need to have a common vision: I hope I began that by communicating something we can work together to hone and then aspire to. If you like this vision, let BLM, Jimmy Panetta, and Justin Cummings know by clicking those links and writing a short note referencing this essay.
-this post originally posted via Bruce Bratton on his vastly illuminating weekly blog at BrattonOnline.com: subscribe now and SAVE!