“Disappointed but not surprised” was the general sentiment voiced by the several speakers in a press conference last Friday at Haskell’s beach. The speakers had gathered to express their dissatisfaction with the Department of the Interior’s decision not to grant the Gaviota Coast federal protection.
“The fact that the Bush administration has ignored us is not surprising,” said Edward Easton, conservation chair of the Santa Barbara Group of the Sierra Club. “It’s perfectly consistent with their assault on the environment.”
“I must say that I really didn’t expect much more from an administration with such a dismal record on protecting this country’s natural resources,” said Congresswoman Lois Capps in a statement read by a spokesman. “The Bush Administration has been underfunding our national parks, attempting to open our own Los Padres National Forest to new oil and gas drilling, and weakening a host of landmark enviromental protection laws.”
The Gaviota Coast, a 76-mile strip of coastline that stretches from Coal Oil Point in Isla Vista all the way to Point Sal on Vandenberg Air Force Base’s northern edge, is one of the last undeveloped segments of the California coast, and is home to many endangered species.
Capps, senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and local conservation groups such as the Sierra Club and the Gaviota Coast Conservancy have encouraged the government to build upon existing protections and enhance local programs as part of a “comprehensive strategy” to preserve the area.
A three-year, $150,000 feasibility study by the National Park Service (NPS) determined that coast was of “national significance” and merited permanent protections that would prevent development and urban sprawl.
Despite this recognition of the natural and cultural value of the region by the NPS, the Gaviota Coast will remain without federal protection.
Citing “strong opposition from study area landowners,” and that “NPS is not able to undertake new acquisition or management responsibilities of this cost and magnitude,” the administration recommended “no new Federal action.”
The study went further, citing “competing priorities in existing units and the need to concentrate on addressing the backlog of deferred maintenance.”
In other words, the proposed seashore faced overwhelming competition from existing parks, and the NPS had to catch up on repairs before taking on additional responsibilities.
“What the Bush Administration has done is enable this victory of private interest over public interest,” said Mike Lunsford of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy. Ariana Katovich of the Sierra Club asked, “(If) we have enough money to give corporations welfare, why don’t we have enough money to protect the environment?”
The Gaviota Coast already faces the possibility of high-density development at Naples and Tajiguas Ranch, with proposals of luxury-mansion subdivisions, and the pollution that comes from increased population.
However, according to its final report, the Department of the Interior did find that “the citizens and local governments of Santa Barbara County are already engaged in a wide array of local land protection efforts that have set a fine example for other parts of the country.
“These efforts have produced an outstanding record of locally based environmental protection by private individuals, organizations, and local public agencies.”
Thus, the NPS felt that the most effective way to conserve the resources of the Gaviota Coast would be to allow the local systems of protection to grow “without further NPS involvement.”
Despite their disappointment, the conservationists and supporters of an undeveloped Gaviota Coast did remain somewhat optimistic, and perhaps even more determined to preserve the area.
“The Gaviota Coast must now be protected by the people and the elected officials of Santa Barbara County,” said Easton.Read more