National Monument status more harmful than helpful?

Ted Benhari, RBDA Chairman

OP ED IN SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL, August 2, 2015

California’s coast between Santa Cruz and San Francisco is one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. Thanks to community activists and support from conservation organizations and public and private donations, much of it has been preserved from development, including the 5,800-acre Coast Dairies property stretching from Laguna Creek Canyon up into Bonny Doon and north to Swanton.

The land was transferred to the federal Bureau of Land Management in 2014 with strict deed restrictions and a Coastal Development Permit requiring maximized coastal resource protection and limiting use of Coast Dairies to open space, agriculture, and public recreation. Banned are motorized recreational off-road vehicles, commercial logging, and mining and resource extraction, including fracking. Those protections are irrevocable and in perpetuity. Nonetheless, several SF Bay Area based conservation groups are pushing to make it a National Monument, claiming increased protection and better funding will result.

This isn’t really true. No additional protections come with monument status, and additional funding is iffy, at best. The area will soon open to public use whether or not it is a National Monument. Funding for infrastructure and management is not guaranteed for National Monuments, other than an extra $3 per acre, or about $18,000 a year. While private donations may increase with monument status, they may not be forthcoming, or may be sporadic. In fact such donations have been on the decline in recent years. BLM, like State Parks, is seriously underfunded. The federal Interior Dept. has a $13 to $19 billion backlog in its maintenance budget; the equivalent figure for State Parks, which is struggling to manage its properties, is $1.3 billion. The Republican Congressional majority’s recent statements and actions, and the failure of measures to increase funding for state parks, makes it highly unlikely that additional or even adequate funds will be available to properly steward our magnificent natural treasures.

One thing is clear. When a property becomes a national monument it sets into motion national, even worldwide promotion by media, tourism agencies, and commercial interests that inevitably add to the number of people wanting to visit. The best estimates are that monument status could add 150,000 bikers and hikers annually. The resulting overuse could seriously harm Coast Dairies’ unique and fragile eco-system, BLM’s resources, and overwhelm public services and the surrounding communities, including the tiny town of Davenport. Additional visitors will further clog Mission Street and Highways 1, 92 and 17.

The only study of Coast Dairies’ fauna and flora was done in 2001. It was far from complete. Pumas, gray foxes and badgers live there, but the locations of their dens are unknown. Endangered red-legged frogs struggle to survive and breed, as do salmonid species in some of the six creeks. Studies prove these species won’t remain in areas with high human use. Special status plants could be seriously harmed, as could areas containing rare, ancient, fragile soils. The remains of a Native American settlement, evidence of which has recently come to light, could be damaged.

Therefore we call on Rep. Anna Eshoo and Sen. Barbara Boxer to withdraw the bills they introduced in Congress to make Coast Dairies a National Monument, and instead support a regional approach to manage the many preserved properties in northern Santa Cruz and southern San Mateo, which must include the various public agencies and private organizations that own and manage them, as well as the surrounding communities; and perform a detailed environmental study conforming to National Environmental Protection Act specifications to determine the level and locations of public access that can be accommodated at Coast Dairies while minimizing impacts to the environment and neighboring communities.

It is critically important to comprehensively predict all the ways National Monument designation could impact Coast Dairies and our communities. Existing protections allow us the luxury to do that before plunging ahead with monument designation.

We ask that people who are concerned about the increased impacts from monument designation sign our petition at ipetitions.com/petition/coast-dairies-national-monument-not-so-fast. To learn more about this issue join the Facebook group, Friends of the North Coast. https://www.facebook.com/search/str/Friends+of+the+North+Coast/keywords_top.

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