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What about the Gaviota coast?

Public forum to discuss alternatives to national seashore

8/6/02
By MELINDA BURNS
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER

At the behest of the U.S. Department of the Interior, a public forum will be held this month in Buellton to air alternatives to a national seashore on the Gaviota coast.

Members of the Nature Conservancy, California Rangeland Trust, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Big Sur Land Trust, Sacramento Valley Ag Land Conservancy and the High Desert Cattlemen's Association are among the panelists invited to speak at the event, organizers said.

The forum will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Marriott Hotel in Buellton.

The National Park Service, the Interior Department agency that is trying to determine whether the Gaviota coast merits designation as a national seashore, will not participate in the panel discussions, though park officials are expected to attend.

The $30,000 bill for the event, which is free and open to the public, will come out of the Park Service budget.

In recent years, the Park Service has held five workshops and sent out several thousand questionnaires to elicit public comment on a study of management strategies for the Gaviota coast, from Coal Oil Point to Point Sal.

The public comment period closes on Sept. 1.

The Park Service study will be released in January, when the agency will make a recommendation on whether the scenic coast should be included in the park system as a national seashore, such as the one at Point Reyes; or a national preserve, such as the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Another option under study is to leave the entire preservation effort up to the state and county.

At the Aug. 19 forum, organizers said, the emphasis will be on how the Gaviota coast could be preserved through private-public partnerships.

"Given the economy and the current attitude about federalization and the loss of local control, I'm not confident that that scenario is going to play out," said Bud Laurent, chief economic officer of the Community Environmental Council, a nonprofit group that is co-hosting the event.

Don Stebbins, director of the Business Resource Center for the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, the chief sponsor of the forum, said the Interior Department contacted the chamber just two weeks ago to put together the event and suggest co-sponsors -- the California and Santa Barbara County farm bureaus and the Goleta and Buellton chambers of commerce.

The event will be held in Buellton, rather than on the coast, because hotel rooms are cheaper there, Mr. Stebbins said.

"This should have been done a long time ago," he said. "Local people have to make it clear what they want."

Dan Dagget, a Sierra Club activist from Arizona, will be the keynote speaker at the forum. Mr. Dagget has written a book, "Beyond the Rangeland Conflict," that explores how ranchers and environmentalists can find common ground to restore and preserve land.

Interior Department officials did not return News-Press calls about the forum. But Lynn Scarlett, a UCSB graduate and an assistant secretary of the Interior, is expected to attend and has been invited to speak, Mr. Stebbins said.

Ms. Scarlett, a Libertarian, is an advocate of incentive-based environmental policy. In the past, she has favored private land purchases and not federal intervention as a way of preserving wilderness.

Mark Rey, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and the environment, also has been invited to attend. Mr. Rey oversees the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The forum will include three panel discussions, each followed by a half-hour of public questions and comment.

In addition, the Sierra Club, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Coastal Stewardship Council, Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara Cattlemen's Association and Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau have been invited to make short presentations. A full transcript of the forum will be forwarded to the Park Service.

Mike Lunsford, president of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, said he would like to hear how other areas have been successful in stopping urban sprawl.

"So far, the ranchers have not put forward new ideas," Mr. Lunsford said. "They have said, 'Let things stay the way they are.'

"Local control doesn't give us the permanent protection we're seeking. For large-scale resource management, you can't do much better than the National Park Service."

The public may sign up at www.sbchamber.org/businessresourcecenter for the Gaviota Coastal Forum. The first 100 to sign up will receive lunch for a $5 fee.