On their travels, many Daily Nexus readers have encountered the bumper sticker “Extinction is Forever!” Most of us don’t want our fellow living creatures to perish. UCSB has many brilliant scientists and large numbers of dedicated staff and students who regularly volunteer with groups trying to protect nature. For some, property is more important than life itself.
Thank you for Rebecca Turek’s thoughtful article (Foundation Files Lawsuit Over Plover Habitat, Daily Nexus, May 24) about how the Pacific Legal Foundation strives to protect the rights of wealthy coastal landowners from the Endangered Species Act. Certainly wealthy coastal landowners should not have to be inconvenienced by the extinction of living creatures if it means complying with laws they don’t like. Even if now-endangered wildlife has lived on land for generations before the current owners bought it, can’t they just cooperate, and move somewhere else to go extinct?
But there is a brighter side. Reporter Turek failed to note that the Snowy Plover Project at Coal Oil Point does not involve private lands, and that UCSB doesn’t object to sustaining the plovers which winter or live there. The partnership among Dr. Cristina Sandoval of the Coal Oil Point Reserve, Dr. William Murdoch of the UC Ecological Reserve System, Kendy Radasky and Jennifer Stroh from the Santa Barbara Audubon Society and 11 different campus and community groups, is yielding a much more positive result than the one Pacific Legal Foundation complains about.
While habitat restoration continues, the beach has stayed open for UCSB students, Isla Vista and western Goleta residents. Over 40 docents are teaching beach walkers how they can coexist with the snowy plover, first by actually showing them the plovers through spotting scopes so these tiny, so-cute birds are visible. Strong community support for the Coal Oil Point project has led to growing voluntary dog-leashing near the Coal Oil Point dunes where the plovers live. This has helped reduce the disturbance rate to plover nests by 90 percent. Until this year, plovers had not successfully hatched eggs and fledged their young at UCSB for over 30 years. Now, amazingly, multiple hatchings are again happening at Coal Oil Point.
Unlike the situation at Lompoc’s Surf Beach, there have been no beach closures, confrontations with law enforcement, arrests or armed military patrols. Neither lawyers nor supercilious federal officials are involved at Coal Oil Point. Scientists, docents, ecologists, dozens of volunteers and a supportive community have made the difference. No private property rights have been trampled.
No law is perfect, and the Endangered Species Act can be improved in various ways. But the ESA can work when people of good will band together to save threatened wildlife. Rather than focusing on the Pacific Legal Foundation’s ongoing war against most things federal, governmental and protective, why doesn’t the Daily Nexus do a series of stories about the exciting coalition which is making the Endangered Species Act really work? What Cristina Sandoval, Kevin Lafferty, Jennifer Stroh and dozens of others are doing should be celebrated in the Nexus, rather than obliquely called into question by articles about anti-nature lawyers operating elsewhere in western states.
The Pacific Legal Foundation serves a useful purpose, defending private property rights. But everywhere in the world, our human species is competing for land, space, food and water with almost all other life forms, and, in most areas, those other life forms are losing. Extinction is not new to our era. But the rate of extinction seems to be increasing to near-record levels. Dr. Jared Diamond told an overflowing Corwin Pavillion audience a couple of years ago that if we don’t establish a “dynamic balance” between human needs, and the rest of nature within the next 25 years, it may be too late.
Thank goodness that at Coal Oil Point, legions of volunteers, students, surfers, joggers and responsible dog-walkers are helping Dr. Sandoval to protect one tiny, threatened bird, not only with good science, but with good will. Perhaps, some day, reporter Rebecca Turek may write another article for the Nexus about the small miracle occurring there.
Lee Moldaver is the vice-chair of Audubon California