parks

My Comments – Draft San Vicente Redwoods Public Access Plan

As the deadline for public comment approaches, I am sharing my comments on the San Vicente Redwoods Public Access Plan. The conservation partners that oversee and manage the property are a great group of organizations, but Santa Cruz County, as Lead Agency, needs some public support in helping this plan to protect the precious property for wildlife and clean water for future generations.

As we can see from the massive erosion, trash, ad hoc trail creation, and homeless trespass issues on parks around Santa Cruz, it is not easy to manage natural areas once they become open to the public.  Here, we have private organizations, together for the first time, attempting to open thousands of acres for public recreation. It will be difficult enough for these organizations to raise the funding to support the management of these uses, but add on top of that the monitoring required by this plan and one wonders how this can succeed.

If you join me in commenting on this plan, please be sure to urge the County to make all of the mitigation reporting available to the public, so together we can learn how this experiment both provides for public access while protecting our North Coast streams and wildlife.

Click here for the County’s environmental review document.

Click here for the Public Access Plan.

My comments:

Coastal Act Questions

  • What portion of the proposed project is in the State-designated Coastal Zone?
  • What portion of proposed recreational trail use would take place in Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA), which are protected by Coastal Commission policy?
    • How has the project proponent consulted with the Coastal Commission about ESHA concerns?
  • What aspects of recreational trail use are permissible in ESHA?
    • To what degree must trails be redesigned to transform them from recreational to interpretive trails to meet the requirements of trail development through ESHA?

Mitigation Measures and Public Reporting Questions

The approval process relies on a CEQA process of Mitigated Negative Declaration, requiring mitigation measures to be enacted and ongoing monitoring and maintenance to reduce certain impacts to below certain thresholds.

  • What are the specific baseline versus thresholds of significance for the all of the potential impacts that require mitigation to bring the proposed project impacts to a level of “less than significant?”
  • To what degree does the Initial Study rely on the “Construction Protocols” (Plan, p. 7-25) included in the Access Plan in order to determine that a CEQA Mitigated Negative Declaration is sufficient for environmental review and approval? Which Protocols are omitted from the Plan in the Initial Study, and why?
  • To what degree does the Initial Study rely on the “Trail Maintenance Guidelines” (Plan, p. 7-38) included in the Access Plan in order to determine that a CEQA Mitigated Negative Declaration is sufficient for environmental review and approval? Which Guidelines are omitted from the Plan in the Initial Study, and why?
  • To what degree does the Initial Study rely on the “adaptive management strategies” (Initial Study, p. 58) included in the Access Plan in order to determine that a CEQA Mitigated Negative Declaration is sufficient for environmental review and approval? Which specific strategies from the Plan are omitted as specific mitigations in the Initial Study, and why?
  • How will the public be informed about the implementation and monitoring of all of the mitigation measures that made it possible to rely on a Mitigated Negative Declaration process/approval, including success of the adaptive management strategies, construction protocols and trail maintenance guidelines?
    • Will the Lead Agency require regular reporting?
      • If so, in the absence of quantitative thresholds to monitor, how will the project proponent know what must be included in those reports?
      • Why has the public not been informed about these reporting requirements during this public review process?

Enforcement Questions

The Plan and Initial Study seem to rely on policies and regulations with some education and signage to reduce the impacts of the extensive new recreational uses of this property. And yet, there is no clear dedication to enforcement mentioned.

  • What evidence does the Lead Agency cite to support that non-enforcement-based approaches work to deter uninvited recreational uses such as with this project?
  • To what extent are the Project Proponents dedicated to legal enforcement of the recreational use policies associated with the Plan?
    • What specific County, State, or Federal laws/regulations/codes would the Project Proponents use to enforce use restrictions on the property?
      • To what extent are law enforcement personnel dedicated to assuring prosecution of those laws?
      • To what extent is the District Attorney’s office dedicated to assuring prosecution of those laws?
    • What evidence does the Lead Agency or Project Proponents cite for the ratio of trail users who abide by restrictions versus those who do not in natural areas in the region?
      • What level of effort do the Project Proponents believe will be necessary to control use to designated trails?
      • How will the public access the statistics related to enforcement activities on the property?

Conservation Easement-Project Purpose Questions

The document informs the public of seemingly contradictory directions of the conservation easement: “…allowing for public access is a requirement of the Conservation Easement that protects the property. (Plan, p. 1-3; Initial Study p. 12) versusThe Conservation Easement gives the SRL the right to allow public access. (p. 1-5)

Questions:

  • In what ways has legal counsel determined that it is a requirement that the owners provide public access on the property?
  • How does the cited easement language giving the property owner the ‘right to allow public access’ correlate with the requirement for public access?
  • How important was it to the Lead Agency review that the conservation easement may require versus allow public access?
  • What communications from the Easement holders including their legal counsel(s) indicate the degree to which public access must be allowed?

“The Public Access Plan includes a Recreational Access Plan and a Research and Education Access Plan, though the focus of the Public Access Plan is recreational access and regional trail connections. While all research and educational activities are not necessarily open to the public, they are included as part of the Public Access Plan because of the education potential and because research and education will be supported by the same trails and access features required for recreational access. Research access will be managed by the owners, while educational and special use will be managed by the Land Trust.”

The Initial Study says The purpose of the proposed San Vicente Redwoods Public Access Plan is to identify the short-and long-term vision and tools to initiate and maintain public access for at least 10 years.” (Initial Study p. 12)

  • How was the level of public access determined?
  • Why was the level of public access not included in the CEQA project purpose statement?
  • How does the project proponent distinguish between public access and private access uses of the property?
  • How does the project proponent foresee the ratio of public access versus private access uses of the property over the course of the 10-year project timeframe?
  • To what extent have public entities or private funding agencies mandated public access as part of their funding obligations?
    • If so, to what extent have these funding obligations informed the project purpose?

Public Outreach and Engagement Questions

Extensive activities are outlined in the Plan and Initial Study including the types of attendees, but not the issues raised. Of the many activities, the document states that only the input from the community meetings was used to revise the Plan.

  • Why did the Plan authors spend so much time and money on public outreach and engagement?
  • In what ways did feedback from the community meetings affect the content and direction of the Plan?
  • Why wasn’t input from the other extensive public outreach and engagement activities used to revise the Plan?
  • How did the Plan authors apply social science tools to analyze and summarize the public input into the planning process?

Trail Planning Questions

“RECREATION 4.1 Designate a Skyline-to-Sea Trail corridor through San Vicente Redwoods, extending from Empire Grade to the Cotoni-Coast Dairies property.” (Plan, p 3-4)

Questions

  • How was it determined that regional trail connections are a priority for the property?
    • What percentage of recreational needs will be met by this priority?
      • How was this determined?
    • What socio-economic demographic is most likely to be served by such a priority?
      • How was this determined?
    • How was it determined that a Skyine-to-Sea Trail corridor should be a priority for the property?
      • What percentage of recreational needs will be met by this priority?
        • How was this determined?
      • What socio-economic demographic is most likely to be served by such a priority?
        • How was this determined?

Trail planning for the Laguna tract has been conducted in coordination with CDFW…” (Initial Study, p. 28)

Questions:

  • Has the CDFW approved through trail use by the project proponents?
  • What level of environmental review has CDFW undertaken in order to allow the current trail access, which would be less than the additional proposed access?
  • How does CDFW have the authority to permit uses for the next 10 years on an Ecological Reserve without an approved management plan?
  • Has the Coastal Commission previously communicated to CDFW about visitor use at the Ecological Reserve in the absence of an approved management plan?
  • Would the target group for the Laguna Parcel trail – recreational trail users – be impacting Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas at the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve?
  • How is the trail system at the Ecological Reserve, and, by extension into the Laguna Parcel, an interpretive trail versus a recreational trail?

Alternatives Analysis Questions

Allowed Uses;

“Hiking, Bike Riding, Horseback Riding, and Dog Walking: These uses result in similar effects in regard to trail erosion, in that trail design and maintenance have a greater effect on erosion than the type of use.” (Initial Study, p. 16)

  • How has the Lead Agency determined that these trail uses have comparable effects on trail erosion potential?
    • What scientific evidence supports such a claim?

“These four uses also have been found to have similar impacts on wildlife.”

  • How has the Lead Agency determined that these trail uses have comparable effects on wildlife disturbance potential?
    • What scientific evidence supports such a claim?
    • How can the public understand the proposed project impacts when there is also a contradictory statement quoted in the Study from the Santa Cruz Puma Group “dog walking is understood to deter use of the area by medium and large mammals for sensitive life stage activities such as breeding and denning.”

Education Questions

“EDUCATION 2.1 Encourage research projects that will inform management of public access, such as studies that monitor environmental impacts of visitors on the reserves.” (Plan, p. 3-5)

  • Why do the project proponents limit the research to that which informs management of public access?

Biological Impacts Questions

“D. BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES; Would the project: 4. Interfere substantially with the movement of any native resident or migratory fish or wildlife species or migratory wildlife corridors, or impede the use of native wildlife nursery sites? (Initial Study, p. 59)

The Plan (p.) notes that dog walking would have a substantive adverse effect on cougar nursery sites. The Initial Study appears to rely on Plan components as mitigations without listing them as such, including:

  • property will be closed at night providing wildlife an opportunity to move through public access areas”
  • the adaptive management strategies of the proposed San Vicente Redwoods Public Access Plan

“Construction Protocol BR-1.8. Where wetlands or streams cannot be avoided, appropriate approvals from the USACE (for impacts to regulated wetlands or areas below the ordinary high water mark of regulated streams) and/or the RWQCB and the CDFW (for impacts to regulated wetlands, riparian vegetation, or areas below the top of bank of regulated streams) shall be secured prior to initiating work in these areas. The measures included in any such authorizations shall be incorporated into the design.” (Initial Study, p. 56)

  • Are wetlands considered ESHA by the Coastal Commission?
  • What kind of consultation and permitting is possible or will be required to develop recreational trails in wetlands according to Coastal Commission policy?
  • How many linear feet and acres of trail or other access infrastructure, including the proposed parking lot, will pass through Coastal Commission (“1 parameter”) ESHA wetland?

Public Services Questions

  1. PUBLIC SERVICES

“Would the project: Would the project result in substantial adverse physical impacts associated with the provision of new or physically altered governmental facilities, need for new or physically altered governmental facilities, the construction of which could cause significant environmental impacts, in order to maintain acceptable service ratios, response times, or other performance objectives for any of the public services?”  (Initial Study, p. 88).

“Policy Access 2.3. Work with partners to ensure adequate provision of emergency services.”

  • What data does the Lead Agency rely on to establish no potential significant impacts under this section?
    • How has the Lead Agency been informed of the baseline requirements of local agencies in police or fire agency responses to emergencies associated with recreational trail use?
  • Does the Lead Agency rely on the policies listed in this section as mitigations?
  • What is the baseline government facility capacity in the service area?
    • How has the Lead Agency determined that the additional recreational use will not require additional government facilities?

 

Recreation Impacts Questions 

  1. Recreation

“Would the project increase the use of existing neighborhood and regional parks or other recreational facilities such that substantial physical deterioration of the facility would occur or be accelerated?” (Initial Study, p. 89)

The Initial Study fails to mention of the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve and the Cotoni Coast Dairies properties in this analysis.

  • What is the baseline state of trail use including physical deterioration of trails at the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve?
  • How has the Lead Agency determined that additional use of the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve would not substantively deteriorate the trails on this sensitive and highly erosive area?
    • What are the specific thresholds of significance applied in this case?
  • How have the project proponents assured that their negotiations and plans are not ‘pre-dispositional’ to federal decision making processes for the Cotoni Coast Dairies property?
  • How do the project proponents envision allowing adjacent natural areas managers to control the level of use on their lands with the trails at the Laguna tract and Skyline-to-Sea?
    • How will the project proponents cooperatively manage for the recreational, social, and biological carrying capacities of these adjacent lands?
    • How might the project proponents attempt to influence future managers who might consider closing the through trails on their lands, therefore affecting the use of the proposed project?
  • What would be the baseline state of adjacent trail use without the Skyline-to-Sea proposed plan component on the Cotoni Coast Dairies property?
  • How has the Lead Agency determined that additional use of the Skyline-to-Sea proposed plan component on the Cotoni Coast Dairies property would not substantively deteriorate the trails on that area?
    • What are the specific thresholds of significance applied in this case?

 

Other Questions 

  1. MANDATORY FINDINGS OF SIGNIFICANCE

“2. Does the project have impacts that are individually limited, but cumulatively considerable? (“cumulatively considerable” means that the incremental effects of a project are considerable when viewed in connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects, and the effects of probable future projects)?”  (Initial Study, p. 102).

The Initial Study fails to list any connection of increased recreational use with other current and emerging future projects with which some of the project proponents are involved, such as Cotoni Coast Dairies, Cement Plant Reuse, the Rail Trail, Wilder Ranch, County Beaches, etc. In order to effectively establish cumulative impacts analysis, one must first establish a baseline and then analyze expected increases during the timeframe of the project.

Questions:

  • Why does the traffic impact analysis only examine effects of Empire Grade, when significant increased use is anticipated by the ‘Skyline-to-Sea’ aspect of the proposal, hence affecting Highway 1 traffic?
    • What are the cumulative impacts of the proposed project which will coincide with increased Highway 1 traffic
  • State Parks has calculated use of its North Coast parks, why were these data not presented to the public to establish a recreational use baseline?
  • What is the current recreational use (# users) baseline for Wilder Ranch State Park?
  • What is the current recreational use (# users) baseline for County beaches in the vicinity of the proposed project alternatives?
  • What is the current recreational use (# users) baseline for Davenport Beach, where users share a parking lot that will also serve the Skyline-to-Sea proposed trail?
  • What is the current recreational use baseline (# users) for bicyclists using the Highway 1 corridor adjacent to the proposed project alternatives, including major bicycling events?
  • What % increase is projected over what is currently experienced in the vicinity of the proposed project alternatives?
  • What are thresholds of significance for cumulative effects for additional recreational users presented by this project, including on:
    • Parking in areas in the vicinity of the Skyline-to-Sea trailhead on Swanton Road
  • What are the cumulative effects of this proposed project on wildlife, especially migratory and nursery behaviors, when taken into consideration with:
    • Forestry activities on the property
    • Stewardship activities on the property
    • Non-public use of the property

 

 

 

Killing Santa Cruz’ Greenbelt

Fellow citizens of Santa Cruz, we have done so much good for the environment. We are transforming our city into a bicycling mecca, and our entire region will soon be powered by mostly renewable energy. Hundreds of volunteers work hard to keep our many beautiful beaches accessible and clean. We recycle and conserve water at unprecedented rates. Our culture strongly supports organic agriculture, and we purchase local and organic foods at a plethora of organic grocers and farmers markets every day of the week. And, we have supported leaders who found the funding and partners to protect thousands of acres of parks and open space across our lovely hills.

So why is our community welcoming the destruction of the City of Santa Cruz’ greenbelt?

The City’s Greenbelt has been a great environmental accomplishment. For a while, our City was circled by open space, and we nearly connected the pieces – from Natural Bridges State Beach to Antonelli Pond up to the Moore Creek Preserve and onto UCSC’s meadows, across Pogonip, down into Henry Cowell and Sycamore Grove, up onto De La Veaga Park, and down the creek to Arana Gulch and the Harbor. We worked well together to make that happen. Different people had different goals for supporting our Greenbelt: improving property values, protecting water quality, preserving nice views, protecting wildlife, creating recreational opportunities, limiting urban sprawl, and giving our children natural places to learn and grow.

Setting the land aside has been the easiest part of reaching our greenbelt goals. But, the greenbelt is relatively new – it is in its infancy – and Santa Cruzans are proving poor stewards.

Neighbors complain that greenbelt areas are messy homeless encampments, harboring unsavory elements and even criminals. Trail erosion, pavement, fires, and trash in greenbelts pollute our streams. The pleasant views of the greenbelt are being transformed though crowds of users, buildings, recreational infrastructure- fences, roads, signs, and parking lots- all of which is destroying wildlife habitat and scaring away what critters are left. For those who would enjoy the parks, planners with little capacity are trying to provide for all types of recreation, assuring degradation of the quality of all recreational experiences. The greatest number of those who would use the greenbelt for generations to come are those seeking peaceful, passive, family recreation. That potential is rapidly disappearing – our children’s children will have to travel further from home to enjoy quiet nature experiences, healthy wildlife, or clear-running streams.

How did the Greenbelt end up in this mess?

Organizational and individual leadership and capacity has been lacking to preserve and steward the Santa Cruz Greenbelt. The agency responsible for oversight of the greenbelt is the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department; its mission is ‘to provide the best facilities, recreational cultural and parks programs.’ The agency is understaffed and mostly focused on safety, aesthetics, and maximizing recreational development. Greenbelt conservation then falls to nonprofit advocates- friends groups and larger environmental organizations. Pogonip Watch and Friends of Arana Gulch are important. Volunteers with the California Native Plant Society work hard to raise funds, educate our community, pull invasive species, and are focused on a few mostly long-term conservation issues. But, they can’t do enough. The local chapter of the Sierra Club has had difficulty addressing much local nature conservation as well, and greenbelt issues have divided the group.

Meanwhile, well-funded and organized special interest groups are succeeding in transforming the greenbelt to benefit a small fraction of our community. A passionate bicycle transportation community along with lucrative mountain bicycle businesses are succeeding in carving up the greenbelt, criss-crossing it with high-speed recreation and transportation corridors. Organizations hoping to make some small improvements with homelessness issues are converting 9 acres of Pogonip’s wildlife habitats to agriculture; they hope also to have a permanent homeless encampment there, as well. Sports enthusiasts are working to transform still more of Pogonip to ballfields.

These special interests join the City of Santa Cruz and most other regional leaders who seem to believe that more is better when it comes to extractive use of natural areas, including the Greenbelt. Here are three bars of their collective public relations tune:

  • The greenbelt works best when it serves the maximum number of people and types of uses.
  • Legitimate use of the greenbelt drives away unsavory use.
  • If we don’t maximize use of the greenbelt, people will stop caring about preserving nature.

These three statements are false.

We need to support organizations and leaders that will expose these falsehoods and work to preserve the greenbelt for future generations.

To solidify our commitment to a greenbelt that supports wildlife, clean water, and passive recreational enjoyment, our greenbelt areas need to be protected by conservation easements enforced by third party organizations. Only then can our greenbelt be protected from the special interest groups which will inevitably garner political support until nothing is left.

 

Saving the Coastal Prairie on the Santa Cruz North Coast, Thanks to California State Parks Ecologists

On Tuesday, December 27th I hiked onto the Gray Whale section of Wilder Ranch to see the prairies where the smoke was coming from back in October. I first visited these meadows in the late 1980’s while the property was privately owned; cattle were grazing the meadows, and there were abundant native grasses and wildflowers. Santa Cruz preservationists fought hard to protect the property from a proposed housing development, it went to State Parks, which removed the cows and took many years to start managing the prairies, which were starting to disappear to weeds, shrubs, and trees. Luckily, things were to change…

dsc_0156

Postburn strikingly green meadows.

This past October, I knew that big plume of smoke I saw while driving on Highway 1 meant that State Parks was continuing their work at maintaining the meadows that I love so much. Fellow ecologist Jacob Pollock and I hiked from Twin Gates on Empire Grade down the Long Meadow ‘trail’ and into the strikingly bright green resprouting native grasses and wildflowers growing from the charcoal blackened ground. We found many types of native grass and a few wildflowers in the burned areas. Purple needlegrass, California’s State Grass, dominated the burned area, its dark green, rough leaves now 6” long and ubiquitous- a plant every square foot! These bunchgrasses promise a beautiful spring of silvery-purple flowers swaying 2’ high in the breeze. Patches of California oatgrass were less plentiful in the burn area than in the adjoining unburned area. This is the wet meadow loving indicator species of coastal prairie, and, in the many years after grazing and before the fires, it’s bunches grew taller to get to the sun- these tall bunches are susceptible to fire, but some survive.

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Fire recovery of California oatgrass

Patches of the leaves of wildflowers dotted the meadow and promise much more in the months ahead. Most abundant were sun cups, purple sanicle, and soap plant all long-lived perennials with nice flowers. Sun cups will be the earliest to bloom, maybe as early as late February, with simple, 4-petaled yellow flowers. Purple sanicle will be next to bloom in earl April with it’s small, purple spherical clusters of flowers. Soap plant blooms in late spring with evening blooming, white flowers that attract a variety of bumblebees.

Besides the obvious revitalization of the meadow plants, we marveled at other aspects of the handiwork of State Parks’ expert ecologist land stewards. Unlike many of our area’s meadows, there wasn’t a single French broom plant, a super-invasive non-native shrub that obliterates meadows, overruns trails, and is a major fire hazard. A many year program with State Parks partnering with volunteer groups has controlled that and other weed species at the park. We also saw dead coyote brush both in and out of the burn area- this native shrub can completely overrun meadows, closing bush-to-bush canopy in 15 to 35 years, depending on the soil. State Parks killed the coyote bush to maintain the prairie, and then burned the skeletons of the bushes so that there are now wide opened expanses of meadows, which are attractive to hawks, owls, coyotes, bobcats, and prairie-loving songbirds like meadowlarks. The ecologists also sent the fire into the adjoining and invading forests, maintaining the sinuous coast live oak ecotone that so beautifully frames the meadows.

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Fire maintains prairie ecotone

Today, I’m celebrating environmental heroes- 2-3 State Park Ecologists who manage over 18,000 acres in Santa Cruz County. They are motivated and hardworking. They need more support, more staff, more funding- please tell your State Assemblyperson/Senator! Without their dedication, our prairies would disappear. Thank you!

June 2017 Addendum: Portia Halbert sent me this photo (from State Parks Ecologist Tim Reilly), taken recently. The unburned portion of the coastal prairie in Long Meadow turns out this year to be dominated by Italian thistle, an invasive plant, whereas the fire from last fall seems to have more-or-less obliterated the species in the adjoining meadow. Thistles are especially bad this year in many meadows that haven’t been well stewarded. This discovery, that fire might help with thistle invasion, is a complete surprise to me- it deserves some careful scientific investigation! Long meadow italian thistle

Unbalancing Act: park planners threatening wildlife by appeasing the masses

Here on Santa Cruz County’s North Coast, parks managers aren’t using the normal tools to help them balance recreation and wildlife conservation.  There are numerous proposals for new wild land park access points, trails, campgrounds, parking lots and the like.  Meanwhile, miles of unplanned, ‘illegal,’ uninvited trails from dozens of ad hoc trail heads proliferate, unheeded.

To manage parks correctly, parks managers would normally go through a planning process that includes understanding the current situation, planning for specific goals, and monitoring to see if they got it right.  Park planners start with studying both the wildlife (types, distribution) and likely recreational visitors (expectations).  The results of these studies inform a ‘carrying capacity analysis’ – how many of what kind of human recreational use can occur in a particular area of conservation land without too deleteriously affecting a given set of natural resource goals.  The analysis details thresholds of acceptable change, which sets in motion a monitoring program so that managers can adjust visitor use accordingly.

Limiting wild land visitor use to protect wildlife is a lot like hunting and fishing regulations that have been succeeding well in restoring game species.  Fishing and hunting regulations require good information on how many fish or game can be caught while maintaining or increasing a population.   Regulatory agencies set the regulatory limits of “take” and monitor both the amount of animals reported to have been killed as well as the populations of the animals still alive, adapting regulations on a regular basis to maintain healthy populations.  Hunting and fishing regulations can change yearly. Sometimes, there are moratoriums on “take” of a certain species.

Despite the parallels in theory and efficacy, in actual practice there is divergence between hunting/fishing and management of park visitors, especially here in Santa Cruz County.  Whereas hunting and fishing regulations are widespread and accepted in U.S. culture, Santa Cruz County’s wild land recreation culture hasn’t experienced controls of visitor use, with a couple of exceptions.  The endangered snowy plover and elephant seal both have seasonal closure, prohibiting recreational visitation to the beaches that are critical to their survival:  two of umpteen species protected on a miniscule percentage of our park land.  This is not for want of policies that mandate better park management.

There are many policy mechanisms obligating wild land parks managers towards more effective recreational visitation management.  For instance, California State Parks is required by law to perform a carrying capacity analysis (Pub. Resources Code 5019.5) for all of their parks.  And yet, such analyses have yet to be implemented using modern biological or sociological principles.  Instead, State Parks’ plans contain arbitrary zones grading from high to low recreational use radiating out from the most convenient park entrance.  Likewise, BLM is required to balance recreational and environmental goals and to monitor and adjust visitor use as necessary.   Santa Cruz County Parks and all other parks managers must protect sensitive park locations by limiting use to interpretative activities under the California Coastal Act.  Despite these regulations, between the disinterested public and “slippage” in agency interpretation/implementation, we see little evidence of professional management of recreational use in Santa Cruz County’s precious parks.

What you can do

Each and every time a new access proposal comes forward, ask the organization responsible what they will be monitoring to assure that recreation isn’t causing too much wildlife disturbance.  For instance, miles of proposed trails on the San Vicente Redwoods property- proposal due soon.

Wildlife conservation and wild land recreation are conflicting goals

We called her Bella, member of a North Coast coyote pack.

Wild land recreation conflicts with healthy wildlife populations, endangering future generations’ ability to enjoy the nature we currently experience and the services that ecosystems provide.  Wild land recreation here refers to passive recreation – mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, etc.  The severity of impacts from these activities on wildlife vary depending on the numbers of people and the species of wildlife.  Here, I focus on vertebrates, though we should be concerned with invertebrates, as well – some of what follows applies to the many species of endangered insects in our wild lands.

Santa Cruz County’s wild lands support diverse vertebrate wildlife – many have been declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation.  Wild land parks are important to the survival of especially wide ranging carnivores such as  American badger, ring tailed cat, gray fox, bobcat, long tailed weasel, and puma.

These predators are essential to supporting wild land ecosystems and the services those ecosystems provide including the water we so rely upon.  If future generations are to enjoy the beauty of redwood and oak forests maritime chaparral and coastal scrub, and coastal prairies and wetlands, all depends on these predators.  Widespread and poorly planned wild land recreation is posing increased threats to these predators in Santa Cruz County.

The impacts of wild land recreation on wildlife have been well and extensively scientifically documented, including in our region.  The diversity and abundance of wildlife decline in parks with recreation as opposed to parks without recreation.  With more recreation, these impacts increase.  Deer flee 200 yards when approached by recreational mountain bikers in parks.  Bobcats and badgers decline in recreational parks and especially den only far from recreation.  While some species of birds become accustomed to recreation, others do not and will not forage or nest close to recreational visitors in parks.  A frog very like our California red-legged frog has been shown to decline in proximity to recreational use of parks.  In sum, because of the wealth of evidence, wild land recreation has recently been recognized as one of the greatest and growing threats to wildlife across the entire world.

WHAT TO DO

If you care for future generations’ ability to enjoy what we have today, speak up against the widespread proliferation of recreational access to wild land parks.  There are many such proposals in Santa Cruz County, right now.  If you consider giving to private, not-for-profit land trusts, consider giving only when they have proven that they are setting aside lands for wildlife, primarily.  If you or your friends recreate in wild lands, stay on marked, planned trails- not the miles of unmarked, ad hoc trails created mostly by mountain bikers in our State Parks.

Public ignoring biodiversity in parks – Business & politicians taking advantage

crowded beach

‘crowded beach’ © Mark Notari

Wildlife conservation is a public priority, but Santa Cruz citizens sleep while politicians and business leaders threaten to deprive future generations of opportunities for the wildlife experiences we have today.

National poll data indicate that 70% of Americans self identify as ‘conservationists.’  Although there is no local data, you would expect an even higher percentage for our progressive community.  In the past 35 years, the public has supported a cadre of local conservationists in just the first steps of conserving wildlife of our county – progressive land use restrictions and large scale protection of open space.  Unfortunately, the public have checked out, abandoning the crucial next step in protecting wildlife – protecting our parks from being loved to death.

The beaches and parks our community has protected are now threatened because they are global tourist destinations.  Politicians and business leaders are maximizing short term profit by packing in as many recreational visitors as possible, threatening wildlife.  Any of the public still paying attention is being duped into believing that any amount of recreation in our open spaces is harmless.  Every organization owning/protecting open space is increasingly opening their lands to a flood of people; their websites, news releases, tours, and talk swell with pride of new “access.”

Flooding parks with throngs of visitors will drive wildlife from lands that were originally protected for conservation.  This is unfair to future generations, who will experience the trees, but not the diverse and alive, critter filled forests we are so lucky to have today.

WHAT TO DO?

As you hear about proposals to increase numbers of recreational visitors, numbers of trails, ‘access points,’ parking lots, etc., I hope you will ask “what do biologists say about impacts to wildlife?”  If you, like me, feel like we probably have enough and it is time for better planning for the wildlife, speak out where you can.  For instance, against a National Monument designation for our North Coast.  And, please, vote for politicians that seek biologist counsel as much as they listen to business leaders.