Our Busy Conservation Committee

by Cherie Topper

[Editor’s note: This is the full article referred to on page 1 of El Tecolote April/May 2016.]

Have you ever wondered what our Conservation Committee is up to? You may be surprised to discover both the volume and the variety of our activities in the community on SBAS’s behalf. We are fortunate to have experts on this committee who are familiar with all aspects of conservation – botany and native plants, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Planning, Engineering, and, of course, Ornithology! In fact, you may be motivated to join this dynamic group of smart and dedicated volunteers who are making an impact on our community.

What We Do
The Conservation Committee provides the focus for the Chapter’s commitment to advancing Audubon’s environmental mission in the community. The Committee, facilitated by co-chairs Virginia Gardiner and Darlene Chirman, oversees the development and implementation of goals, objectives, and strategies for all conservation issues and projects that advance the SBAS mission of helping to conserve and restore the earth’s natural ecosystems, enhance its biological diversity, and connect people with birds and nature. We function in a number of different but overlapping arenas, including political/community advocacy, bird conservation, land use, and leadership in restoration.


Conservation Committee Near-Term Goals (from the Strategic Plan):

  • Continue conservation efforts in the face of local development
  • Strengthen connection to Coal Oil Point Reserve, the Wildlife Care Network, and the birding community
  • Seek grant funding and organize volunteers to do conservation work
  • Educate the public and agencies about climate change
  • Recruit for committee members considering the skill sets and resources we have and those we need, as well as promoting diversity

2015-16 Accomplishments So Far
Political/Community Advocacy:
We hosted Jim Farr, Goleta City Councilman, at a committee meeting to present his ideas and respond to questions and concerns on local issues. This served to highlight his expected position on the Shelby Ranch project (discussed in the Land Use section) and alerted us to the proposed Chumash “cultural center” at Lake Los Carneros.
Conservation Co-Chair Darlene Chirman participated in the final review and comments by the Sustainable University Now (SUN) group on the UCSB amendment submittal to the Coastal Commission for certification of consistency with UCSB’s adopted Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). Conservation also contributed $1000 to SUN’s legal representation. The input was generally considered successfully incorporated into UCSB’s plans.

Committee member Cheryl Young attended a meeting of the City of Goleta Public Tree Advisory Commission in March to present comments on the Commission’s development of an urban forest management plan. On behalf of SBAS she recommended that training in information, such as that in our new Nesting Bird Brochure, be included in the Plan, and emphasized the protections in place for nesting birds through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other laws and regulations.

Bird Conservation:

Conservation member and SBAS Executive Director Cherie Topper made presentations to civic groups on National Audubon’s study of climate change-related threats to birds. She also prepared and submitted comments in support of California Climate Change legislation.

Committee member Steve Ferry submitted a comment letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service objecting to a proposal to de-list the Coastal California Gnatcatcher.

The committee (in concert with the Science Committee) completed Nesting Bird Brochures, designed and revised with endless patience by Richard Figueroa. You will find one of these brochures included in your ET this month! Or download it from our website.

Monitoring of Birding Hot-Spots is led by Conservation members Adrian O’Loghlen and Mark Holmgren, who also worked with City of Goleta Planning and Public Works staff to protect the Coronado Drain site, which, unfortunately and erroneously, suffered a setback when it was subsequently “maintained” by city work crews.

Land Use:
The committee tracked many projects of concern, and prepared and submitted well-researched comment letters particularly on Environmental Impact Reports, study reports, and agency plans. For many of the projects we teamed with other organizations to coordinate our comments and discussions with local government officials and others. Some of those with the most long-lasting implications include:

  • The Refugio Beach Oil Spill – tracked by several committee members including Steve Ferry, Cherie Topper, and Scott Cooper. Virginia Gardner provided background on the overall process of the spill response, incident command system, criminal and civil investigations, and eventual Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) process.
  • Village at Los Carneros and Shelby Ranch residential developments in Goleta.
  • Chaparral protections: Eastern Goleta Valley Community Plan, Mountain Communities Defense Zone Project.
  • Proposed Chumash Museum Construction at Lake Los Carneros.
  • Santa Barbara Airport Master Plan.
  • Goleta Slough Area Sea Level Rise and Management Plan, Goleta Slough Mouth Inlet Study
  • Goleta Beach Bridge Replacement project.
  • Oil development projects in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties.
  • Work with the More Mesa Preservation Coalition monitoring More Mesa.

The committee, under Steve Ferry and Scott Cooper’s able leadership, is currently working in coalition with other environmental organizations in Santa Barbara County to curtail development of the 14-acre Shelby property currently zoned for agriculture. Read Steve Ferry’s excellent op-ed detailing why this foothill property should be preserved, rather than paved over with 60 plus closely spaced luxury homes. Steve writes, “If you agree that farmland should not be re-zoned for expensive housing on the Shelby property, please email the Goleta City Council. It will only take you a couple of minutes. A sample letter and Council email address are included in the op-ed.

Restoration Leadership:

Aaron Kreisberg and Darlene Chirman led the effort to secure funding from the SoCal Wetlands Recovery Project and UCSB Coastal Fund for post-fire restoration at the Coal Oil Point Reserve (COPR) Dune swale pond that is underway this year. Other projects include continued Lake Los Carneros restoration with funding from Citrix to remove myoporum and plant willows.

The committee sent letters of support for the UCSB North Campus (Ocean Meadows) Open Space Plan restoration by the Cheadle Center for Biological Diversity and Ecosystem Restoration, and the incorporation of the Coal Oil Point Reserve Management Plan restoration activities into the UCSB LRDP.

Resource Needs

For advocacy on many environmental issues, the Committee needs further funding to support legal advice and representation.
The Committee needs more volunteers to tackle the numerous environmental issues facing our community, as well as a volunteer to represent SBAS on the Naples Coalition Board.