National Monument on Capitol Hill

Cotoni-Coast Dairies gets first Senate subcommittee hearing Thursday

By Eric Johnson
OCT. 7, 2015—U.S. Senate subcommittee agendas rarely make for thrilling reading. But the docket for tomorrow afternoon's meeting of the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining might make any conservationist’s heart race a little.

The committee will be considering Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s long-awaited California Desert Protection Bill, which would designate almost 1.5 million acres as National Monument or wilderness. Also on tap is Sen. Ron Wyden's bill creating the 104,000-acre Frank Moore Wild Steelhead sanctuary in Oregon.

Among eight other bills being considered, there's one that will be of particular interest to folks in Santa Cruz and the Bay Area—Sen. Barbara Boxer's proposal to expand the boundaries of the California Coastal National Monument by adding three parcels, including the Coast Dairies property north of Santa Cruz.

Steve Reed, who heads the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument campaign, recognizes that the Boxer bill has little chance of passage in a Congress controlled by hostile Republicans. But he sees it as a step toward winning a declaration from President Obama, who could seal the deal with a stroke of his pen under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

“It’s a bit of stagecraft,” Reed says. “While the content of the bill is significant, meaningful and real, even if it passes the Senate I can’t imagine the circumstances under which the House will take it up.

“The idea is basically to hand this over to the White House with a head of steam.”

Follow this link to watch the Senate subcommittee hearing live at 11:30am Thursday, Oct. 8.

The campaign, which kicked off in February, already has a lot of momentum. A poll released last month shows that 84 percent of those queried in Santa Cruz County support the monument. The campaign has collected 14,500 signatures on a petition to send to the president, as well as the support of a long list of national, state and local elected officials. Every city in Santa Cruz County has endorsed the idea, as have dozens of local organizations and companies (including, for the record, Hilltromper).

The campaign originally intended to make the 5,800-acre Coast Dairies property a stand-alone national monument (originally called Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument). But BLM, congressional staffers and others decided to include it in the monument that protects 20,000 small islands and rocks along the entire California coast. Precedent for that plan was set last year, when another former dairy, the Stornetta property in Mendocino County, was included.

“The California Coastal National Monument, to the BLM's way of thinking, is underserved and underused,” Reed says. “You can't go picnic on it; you can't go for a hike. People don't know where it is or what it is.”

These on-shore additions will allow BLM to establish viewing sites and interpretive centers celebrating the 1,100-mile monument.

“It gives the coastal monument some visibility, recognition and appreciation,” Reed says, pointing out that it is “not just a bunch of rocks, but a very intricate habitat—an endangered coastal zone where a lot of interesting stuff happens.”

Boxer Bill Addresses North Coast Concerns
The bill the subcommittee will be considering contains quite a bit of language that will be familiar to people who have followed this issue closely, particularly relating to concerns raised by residents of Davenport and Bonny Doon.

Many of those concerns were voiced at an April 21 meeting of the Santa Cruz County Supervisors. Before unanimously passing a resolution of support, the supes incorporated virtually all of the residents’ concerns as a set of conditions.

Many of those conditions are reflected in Boxer’s bill. In fact they are specifically referenced in language requiring the Secretary of Interior “to create management plans, including local governments and the public … after taking into consideration the recommendations of the local county board of supervisors.”

Another paragraph mandates that the management plan “include components regarding stewardship, visitor services, facilities management and maintenance, public access, traffic, public safety, emergency services, and law enforcement.” That list corresponds precisely with the concerns put forward by Rural Bonny Doon Association and the Friends of the North Coast.

And there is an assertion that the monument can be expanded to adjacent lands “only through exchange, donation, or purchase from a willing seller,” apparently to quell fears that the feds might use eminent domain to take neighbors’ property.

Sup. Ryan Coonerty, who represents the area and was responsible for the incorporation of the conditions, says he’s satisfied with the Boxer bill.

“When this issue was raised I made clear to everyone that the decision would be made on the federal level,” Coonerty says, “and it was my job was to amplify their voices, take their concerns and turn them into tangible conditions in legislation.”

Coonerty says he worked with Boxer’s staff, as well as the Conservation Lands Foundation, an organization that deals with National Monuments, Wild and Scenic Rivers and other protected BLM properties.

“All of the conditions are in this bill, as well as the accompanying House bill,” which was submitted by Rep. Anna Eshoo.

Does Monument Mean Money?
Sam Goldman of the Conservation Lands Foundation has been down this road before. “A hearing is just a hearing,” he says. “We still have a long way to go. “

Goldman’s cautious tone is understandable. Over the past couple of years, ever since the notorious “sequestration” episode of 2013, the BLM and other federal land agencies have had their budgets slashed. It is now the job of organizations like Goldman’s to fill the huge gaps.

He is much more optimistic, however, about the question of whether monument designation would result in more money for Coast Dairies.

Lands in the BLM’s National Conservation Lands system, formed by then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in a radical overhaul of the agency, consistently receive more funding than non-NCL lands.

While the total dollars allocated to each in recent years has been slim, Goldman points out that we have to hope this situation isn’t permanent.

“When we once again see a Congress that cares about conservation, places like Coast Dairies are going to receive adequate funding. What we’re doing is planning for the future.”

Meanwhile, in addition to government funding, conservation lands find their own money. They build constituencies of hikers and other trail users, develop “friends” groups and are able to attract grants from the private sector.

For example, last Saturday a group of volunteers organized by Conservation Lands spent the day at Fort Ord National Monument, cleaning and doing trail maintenance.

At the same time a partnership between Conservation Lands, the California Conservation Corps, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks and BLM kicked off a trailbuilding and habitat restoration project at Coast Dairies.

Along with volunteers at that event was a California Conservation Corps crew made up of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars participating in a program called From Military Service to Green Service. Both of those projects coincided with a grant from PG&E.

Goldman, Reed and all monument supporters predict that Monument designation would guarantee more of this kind of stuff at Cotoni-Coast Dairies.

Mike Kahn of Sempervirens Fund, one of a coalition of conservation organizations spearheading the monument campaign, says it fits in with that 100-plus-year-old organization’s overall mission.

“Having all of these groups bringing their resources together is the best way to ensure the strongest protection of the property,” Kahn says. “And it’s a big piece of our ongoing effort to protect lands throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains.”