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Dedicated to conservation and multiple use of public lands for recreation opportunities.
Edited by: John Stewart
The following is an Op/Ed written by California State Parks Deputy Director David L. Widell, Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division. It is written in response to the September 1 Santa Maria Times article, "Environmental group threatens State Parks with suit"
State Parks in Forefront in Management, Monitoring of Endangered and Threatened Species at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area
In response to the many inaccurate, and occasionally false statements made by representatives of the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) in the September 1 edition of the Santa Maria Times, the California Department of Parks and Recreation would like to set the record straight.
To date, recognized experts in western snowy plover and California least tern ecology have acknowledged that Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area has done more, and continues to do more, to protect these species than virtually any other land management agency along California's vast coastline.
It is for that reason that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has noted the proactive role of ODSVRA in protecting nesting birds through a host of scientifically established protocols. Biologists at California State University, Monterey Bay said the research, management and monitoring of plovers and terns that is taking place at Oceano Dunes "continues to exceed that found at all but a few California beaches."
It is irresponsible for the EDC to issue demands regarding loggerhead shrikes. Although all agree that shrike predation is a concern, none of the regulatory agencies which maintain oversight of threatened and endangered species have suggested that trapping shrikes--a species protected under both the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act--is a complete solution and have cautioned State Parks against rushing to implement such a plan. This does not mean the issue is not being seriously discussed. State Parks anticipates that the partnering agencies, together with members of the Technical Review Team, will make management recommendations on predator management later this year.
The EDC wrongly contends that vehicles crossing Arroyo Grande Creek are harming steelhead. The fact is the National Marine Fisheries Service disagrees, concluding in a 1998 Section 7 Endangered Species Act consultation that a vehicle crossing the creek "is not likely to adversely effect steelhead" and "the notion of an encounter between a motor vehicle and a steelhead is highly speculative."
It is interesting to note that the more State Parks has done, the more criticism it has received from EDC for being unresponsive. This unfortunate situation only highlights the real issue at hand for EDC, which has less to do with the protection of endangered species than it does with a victory associated with banning vehicles from the last five miles of California's 1,100 miles of coast where motorized access is still allowed.
EDC's suggestion that State Parks is somehow "hiding" information regarding bird mortalities is simply untrue. EDC has been provided with all such information and, in fact, has been proactively provided such information before the EDC was even aware of recent mortalities. Any delay associated with EDC's demand for immediate notification is simply a function of a methodical process that State Parks follows to fully investigate any bird mortality, which usually involves a necropsy of the bird to better understand the cause of death. This process is intended to provide the public with all the information, all at once, and avoid uninformed speculation. EDC did not reference the fact that State Parks is also required to report any such mortality to the California Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within 30 minutes of discovery, a protocol we have religiously adhered to and one that can be confirmed by those public agencies.
For those who have yet to piece together EDC's most recent strategy, it is readily apparent to those who are on the receiving end. As of this date, EDC has been unable to substantiate its case that vehicles should be banned from Oceano Dunes. Moreover, it has been unsuccessful in obtaining support by objective and credible scientists to further that misguided cause. The timely nature of EDC's most recent attack on State Parks was cleverly hatched in an effort to ingratiate itself with the Coastal Commission, and is clearly a desperate attempt to replace quality science with an adverse political action against Oceano Dunes. Although the Coastal Commission has certainly been stern in its most recent review of Oceano Dunes, the Commission was ultimately fair and took the high road to support a long-term process that would help provide the Commission with meaningful information, not rhetoric.
Toward that end, State Parks is committed to that process and is doing absolutely more than ever to ensure the long-term sustainability of both wildlife and recreation at Oceano Dunes.