Conservation Committee Update – Spring 2018

The SBAS Conservation Committee…In Context

By Aaron Kreisberg and Ken Pearlman

“Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men.”
(Franklin D. Roosevelt; inscription on FDR Memorial at the National Mall, Washington, DC)

The earliest residents of our region, from the indigenous Chumash to the later-arriving Europeans, implicitly recognized the simple truth embodied centuries later in FDR’s words. As described nearly a quarter of a millennium later in the newly incorporated City of Goleta’s General Plan, it was “the rich soils, verdant vegetation, and harmonious climate of the narrow coastal plain between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean” that had inspired the area’s description as “The Good Land” by the 1769 Portola expedition diarist. This “special environmental setting” was further institutionalized in the General Plan’s vision of Goleta as a community:

  • that treasures open spaces and ecological resources;
  • where the amount and character of growth respects the carrying capacity of the natural environment;
  • that maintains scenic vistas by protecting open spaces and ensuring that its built environment is designed to be sensitive to its setting; and
  • that promotes a sense of place based on a heritage of respect for the natural environment, small town values, and neighborhood cohesiveness.

Recognizing, and seeking to build upon, the remarkable consonance between these key elements of Goleta’s vision and the SBAS mission—to help conserve and restore our area’s natural ecosystems and improve its biological diversity—our Conservation Committee co-chairs, Jessie Altstatt and Aaron Kreisberg, met for 90 minutes on February 14 with Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte to share ideas for how SBAS can continue to partner with the City in ongoing efforts to protect and sustain the natural resources of the Goodland. The lively and productive conversation touched on such contextual/historical elements as the Goleta Coast’s classification as an “Important Bird Area” (IBA) by the National Audubon Society; and SBAS’s ongoing utilization of Lake Los Carneros as the site of its annual “Winter Birdcount 4 Kids,” a highly popular educational outreach program that connects local youth to nature and which the City of Goleta has generously supported through its community grant program. In addition, Jessie and Aaron suggested three specific areas of potentially fruitful SBAS-City partnership:

  • input on management of the City’s green spaces and parks (such as Lake Los Carneros and Ellwood Mesa) and riparian buffers along the City’s creeks (such as San Jose and Atascadero);
  • awareness-raising with the City departments and staff on human impacts to natural resources and the conservation of sensitive plants and bird habitat; and
  • ideas for promoting more effective leash law enforcement within City parks and open spaces, particularly at Ellwood Mesa.

Mayor Perotte welcomed these ideas and encouraged our continued dialogue and activities with the City that would further promote this shared “vision of Goleta.”

On the practical side of things, the Conservation Committee has, over the current (2017-18) year, continued to serve as the “front line” of advancing the Chapter’s interests in local/community environmental advocacy, bird conservation, and land use and restoration leadership. Drawing on its members’ wide-ranging conservation-related expertise—in botany and native plants, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), planning, engineering, and ecology/ornithology—the Committee has been very active on a number of fronts, both City- and County-wide. Some examples include:

  • Ongoing monitoring, including the submission of public comments and letters, of the City of Goleta’s plans for eucalyptus tree removal in Ellwood Mesa. Our comment letter regarding the latest of such plans made use of data from Committee members Mark Holmgren and Adrian O’Loghlen’s Santa Barbara County Breeding Bird Study that cited recent White-tailed Kite nesting in an area targeted for tree removal.
  • Continued monitoring of a proposed City of Goleta project at Lake Los Carneros Park that would, among other things, create an additional parking lot that would result in the destruction of the adjacent, bird-rich eucalyptus grove. (This grove also happens to be classified as Environmentally Sensitive Habitat, and hosts an active Cooper’s Hawk nest as of April 2018.) The Committee has written detailed letters, interacted with City Council and Planning Commission members, and is staying actively engaged with the City of Goleta, with a goal of effecting major modifications to this project.
  • Monitoring City of Santa Barbara projects to:
    • ensure that a consultant-developed restoration plan for the Andree Clark Bird Refuge benefits birds and habitat (the Refuge’s primary purpose);
    • ensure that the City’s Local Coastal Plan update (mandated by the California Coastal Commission) is done with awareness of the habitat value of its coastal zone, particularly regarding Snowy Plover wintering habitat on East Beach; and
    • continue to raise concerns about the impact on natural resources of the (recently approved) Santa Barbara Airport Master Plan, as well as its failure to plan for climate-change-induced sea level rise.
  • Continued efforts (letters and personal meetings) with Santa Barbara County officials to modify the design of the proposed San Marcos Foothills Park, which currently includes plans for two off-leash dog areas on land that is adjacent to the 200-acre San Marcos Foothills Preserve, a highly sensitive and bird-rich natural area. The Committee believes these plans violate provisions of the original land donation stipulating that the component parcels be used for “passive recreation” only, and will continue to work toward the removal of this project element.
  • Support for UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration’s North Campus Open Space (NCOS) project. Thanks to Committee member Darlene Chirman, an ambitious $50,000 fundraising goal, which will support an “Audubon Overlook” at NCOS, was met in record time!

The SBAS Conservation Committee meets on the first Wednesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. To get involved or ask a question, email email hidden; JavaScript is required. New members are always welcome, and the work of the Committee is both rewarding and a great way to learn about local environmental advocacy and bird-related ecology—and how to “work hand in hand” and in balance with “the resources of nature,” as FDR so wisely counseled.