Sierra Club Campaigns
October 2009 -- Sierra Club comments on notice of preparation for La Grande Tract purchase EIR
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(Comments to the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the selection of creeks
San Luis Obispo County for designation as Critical Habitat for the tidewater
goby. The Santa Lucia Chapter is a member of the SLO Coast Alliance.)
Jan. 23, 2007
Lois Grunwald, Field Supervisor
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
2493 Portola Road
Ventura, CA, 93003
Dear Ms. Grunwald,
The SLO Coast Alliance is a coalition of 43 environmental
organizations in the Central Coast of California, collectively
representing over 22,000 members. We are asking you to add the Arroyo
Grande Creek and the Arroyo Grande Creek Lagoon and Oceano Lagoon
Complex to the critical habitat for the tidewater goby.
In commenting on the current proposal, we are encouraged to address
the reasons a particular habitat should or should not be determined
critical, the amount and distribution of tidewater goby habitat, and
current or planned activities.
The main reason the Arroyo Grande Creek and the Arroyo Grande Creek
Lagoon and Oceano Lagoon Complex considered critical is that all the
four primary constituent elements are present: persistent still to
slow-moving, brackish water; substrates suitable for burrowing and
reproduction; submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation; and the regular
presence of a sandbar.
An additional reason this area is suitable is that the entirety of
Arroyo Grande Creek area of the lagoon system is in state hands.
On the distribution question, tidewater gobies have been found in
the surveys of the Arroyo Grande Creek Lagoon conducted for California
State Parks by Douglas Rischbeiter on March 2nd, 2005, August 22nd,
2005, June 6th, 2006, and September 19th, 2006, attesting to their
Relating to current or planned activities, the continual use of the
creek mouth (and occasional trespass into the lagoon area) by vehicles
constitutes an extraordinary threat to this benthic species.
For these reasons, the SLO Coast Alliance asks that the U. S. Fish
and Wildlife Service recognize that Arroyo Grande Creek and the Arroyo
Grande Creek Lagoon and Oceano Lagoon Complex are critical habitat
occupied by the tidewater goby, and clearly needing the protection
mandated by the Endangered Species Act.
Eric Greening, President
SLO Coast Alliance
7365 Valle Ave.
Ataascadero, California 93422
The Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club and the California Department of Parks and Recreation finalized a consent decree on Friday for the Protection of the Western snowy plover at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
"This is really an issue of whether to treat our beaches like a sandpit or like the natural treasures they are," said Chapter Chair Tarren Collins. "Thanks to this agreement, future generations of beachgoers can experience the beauty and wildlife of our ocean dunes."
The final agreement came three years and ten days after the Chapter sued the Department of Parks for violating the Endangered Species Act and putting the Pacific snowy plover, least tern and steelhead trout at risk in its management of Oceano Dunes. Under the terms of the settlement, an additional half-mile of beach will be closed to off-road vehicles as an exclosure area during the plover’s March to October breeding season.
Further, State Parks will:
- step up its existing protection measures for threatened species
- examine alternatives to vehicle crossings of Arroyo Grande Creek. (Currently, vehicles entering the park must cross the narrow creek near the point where it meets the ocean)
- provide for a number of environmental projects outside the park in support of plover recovery efforts statewide
- establish a working group to monitor funding for plover recovery.
In all, the settlement will secure nearly half a million dollars for research, education, public outreach, and volunteer programs. The Morro Coast Audubon Society will receive $50,000 a year for five years to expand its successful plover volunteer program and information clearing house.
"We were particularly pleased to secure funding for a study that will evaluate existing management measures," said Babak Naficy, the environmental lawyer who represented the Chapter throughout the litigation. "It should help settle a lot of public debate and will establish for the first time an understanding of the reasons why plovers nest on some beaches and not on others."
In 2001, the Sierra Club convinced the California Coastal Commission to close a mile and a half of beach to off-road vehicles and campers and require the formation of an independent scientific review team to advise State Parks on management of habitat for the federally listed Western snowy plover and California least tern. For the last three years, the review team has been prodding State Parks to expand the exclosure area and do more to protect the plovers. With the approval of the consent decree, these recommendations will now be implemented.
There are only 1,600 breeding pairs of western snowy plover on
the Pacific coast. The Pacific population of the plover is threatened
throughout its range by loss of habitat and nesting sites, with
the California coast as the site of the highest concentration of
plovers and the highest level of loss of plover habitat.
The following was submitted by the Chapter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service in response to the latest effort by the property rights and off-road vehicle lobbies to remove the Pacific snowy plover from the Endangered Species List, which would open its fragile coastal habitat to development and destructive use.
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May 7, 2004
Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
2800 Cottage Way
Sacramento, CA 95825-1846
Comments of the Sierra Club-Santa Lucia Chapter and Sierra Club-Ventana Chapter on Notice of 90-Day Filing on a Petition to Delist the Pacific Coast Population of the Western Snowy Plover and initiation of a 5-Year Review
Petitioner’s claim that the Pacific coast population is not a distinct vertebrate population segment (DPS) is without merit
The petition to remove the Pacific coast population of the western snowy plover from the Endangered Species List is based solely on the master’s thesis of an Oregon college student which found no significant genetic difference between the Pacific coast and inland populations of the western snowy plover.
The stark contrast in evidentiary basis between a single paper by a college student and the more than 20 studies and surveys conducted over a span of 24 years on which the Service based its listing of the Pacific coast population as a distinct population segment -- as cited in the 22 March 2004 Federal Register notice of 90-day petition finding -- speaks for itself. It is the overwhelming scientific consensus that the Pacific coast population is an isolated, separate population and instances of interbreeding between coastal and inland birds are statistically insignificant. Even when the two populations mix at Pacific coast and Gulf of California wintering locations, they separate again to nest.
Moreover, any finding of lack of significant genetic difference between coastal and inland populations is irrelevant to the Pacific coast population’s status as a DPS. Genetic differentiation between isolated populations occurs over millions of years and is relevant only to the differentiation of species and sub-species, not recently isolated populations of the same species. Recent findings that the genetic sequencing of the DNA of chimpanzees and Homo sapiens may differ by less than 2% could also be stated as a lack of significant difference. This insubstantial variation in genetic makeup, requiring eons of separation, has not resulted in any scientific claim that man and chimpanzee are therefore so indistinctly differentiated as to be identical. Still less should a single finding of no significant genetic difference between the Pacific coast and inland populations of western snowy plover be considered dispositive of anything but the fact that the two distinct populations have not been isolated long enough for mutations and genetic differences to occur.
A finding of no significant genetic difference between Pacific coast and inland birds should have no bearing on the finding of the Service that the Pacific coast population is a distinct population segment, nor does it constitute grounds for any change in the WSP’s listed status.
Petitioner’s claim that the Pacific coast population is not threatened is without merit
There are only 1,600 breeding pairs of western snowy plover on the Pacific coast. The plover is threatened throughout its range by loss of habitat and nesting sites, with the California coast as the site of the highest level of loss of plover habitat (USFWS 1993). The State of Oregon, Fish and Wildlife Commission listed the plover population in Oregon as threatened in 1975 due to low population estimates, increasing human activities, coastal development, and sand stabilization by exotic plant species. The Commission adopted this listing after review by an interagency Endangered Species Task Force. The listing was reaffirmed under the Oregon Endangered Species Act in 1989, and further reaffirmed in two subsequent 5-year reviews.1
Human developments and disturbance continue to increase, along with predation on nests (ODFW 1994, TNC 2000), all combining to contribute to the decline of the distinct Pacific coast population segment (ODFW 1994).2
Threats to the species and its habitat
The US Environmental Protection Agency has held that “Habitat degradation caused by human disturbance, urban development, introduced beachgrass (Ammophila spp.), and expanding predator populations have resulted in a decline in active nesting areas and in the size of the breeding and wintering populations.”3 The California Coastal Commission notes that “degradation and displacement of nesting habitat by human use is one of the primary causes for declines in the Pacific coast snowy plover populations.” Human disturbance has been determined to have caused the loss of at least 14% of the nests at one nesting site (Warriner et al. 1986). Westminster College, UT, botanist Ty Harrison states “Recreation has also been responsible for a significant decline in the size of breeding populations.” It therefore may be said that the greatest threat to the plovers and their habitat are the petitioners and their legal representatives, moving at the behest of the off-road vehicle lobby in submitting a pretext for delisting. Under economic pressure, four of the Pacific coast population’s designated critical habitat areas were eliminated in 2003, after having been so designated in 1999. It is safe to say that the WSP populations in those now unprotected habitat areas did not recover in the span of five years, nor did the court-ordered removal of protection for nearly 20% of remaining major nesting areas for the Pacific coast population do anything but deepen its decline.
Adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms
The 2,000 members of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club and 7,000 members of the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club are immediately concerned with the management of Oceano Dunes State Park, which continues to permit unlimited numbers of off-road vehicles in western snowy plover habitat. California State Parks has failed for twenty years to study or even consider limiting the number of people or off-road vehicles at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area as a way to protect the western snowy plovers that nest there.
Vehicle limits at Oceano Dunes have not changed since 1975, with peak weekends seeing tens of thousands of vehicles crowding an ESHA which the National Park Service has deemed more environmentally significant than Yosemite Valley.
State Parks’ resistance to implementing meaningful resource management measures at Oceano has resulted in deaths and harassment of plovers and loss of nesting habitat. State Parks rejected the recent recommendation of a scientific panel to establish year-round fencing to protect the birds and enhance habitat value. Subsequently, in the first quarter of 2004, an off-road vehicle ran over and killed a plover in an area that had been recommended for fencing. The plovers at Oceano have been able to manage any recovery only in the last three years, since the establishment of the scientific panel at the behest of the California Coastal Commission, including annual reviews in which the Commission has invariably had to prod State Parks to comply with its permit and with the panel’s recommendations. State Parks declined to follow a Coastal Commission recommendation that “Expansion of the enclosure area, in conjunction with strong predator management, is the best way to maximize protection of plovers and their habitat at Oceano.” State Parks continues to refuse to comply with the conditions of its permit mandating a balance between vehicular uses of the park and resource protection.
State Parks’ management of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is responsible for the take of endangered and threatened species in violation of both State and Federal Endangered Species Acts, the California Coastal Act, and California Fish and Game Code Section 3511. Alternative management measures to mitigate intense recreational use at the park are available but have not been implemented.
Existing regulatory mechanisms are clearly inadequate to the protection of the Pacific population of the western snowy plover.
We urge the Service to concur with US EPA that the only way to de-list the Pacific coast WSP is “by achieving well-distributed increases in numbers and productivity of breeding adult birds, and providing for long-term protection of breeding and wintering plovers and their habitat,” and that “specific actions needed to achieve this objective include protection of breeding and wintering habitat; monitoring and managing breeding habitat; monitoring and managing wintering and migration areas; undertaking scientific research that facilitates recovery efforts; [and] public participation, outreach and education.”4
A declaration of lack of genetic difference from the mainland population is not among these criteria.
Tarren Collins, Chair, Santa Lucia Chapter, Sierra Club
Rita Dalessio, Chair, Ventana Chapter, Sierra Club
1 Status of Western Snowy Plover Management in Oregon, Staff report, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, May 9, 2003, Portland
2 Decision and Finding of No Significant Impact, Predator Damage Management to Protect the Federally Threatened Pacific Coast Population of the Western Snowy Plover in Oregon, Environmental Assessment (EA), January 18, 2002.
3,4 Notice of Availability of a Draft Recovery Plan for the Pacific Coast Population of the Western Snowy Plover for Review and Comment, [Federal Register: August 14, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 157), [Page 42676-42677]