Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Statement by Walter Ratcliff to BRTF

Monday November 19. San Rafael.

Madame Chair, members of the Blue Ribbon Task Force. My name is Walter Ratcliff. I’m manager of Sail Rock Highlands LLC north of Anchor Bay. I’m representing the 15 members of the LLC today.

Sail Rock Ranch is a 1000 acre preserve. It was purchased 80 years ago by my grandfather, who was an early conservationist. Sail Rock encompasses 3 watersheds from the ocean to the ridge and a mile of coast.

As the coast has become more populous, we have thriving populations of mollusks, red and black abalone, crab, sea slugs, starfish, rockfish, various pinnipeds, octopi, and exotic creatures which are rare elsewhere.

It would be a mistake to presume that good luck, geology and state regulations were the dominant factors in these results. It’s because we rigorously enforce existing no trespassing laws and carefully steward this property. On minus tides, members of the family are out before dawn on the highway and on the rocks.

At the risk of stating the obvious, public access is no friend of species diversity. This is the gorilla in the closet.
  • Access is a very old battle on the North Coast that some seem to want to continue to wage in this new forum. This is why not having landowner stewards at the table really concerns us.
  • I’ve heard it said that it is a no-brainer to site reserves adjacent to private land. This may make some people feel good. After all, they’ve been denied access for decades. And it looks great on paper. But it does nothing to extend protection of marine life. That’s because these areas are already preserves.
  • So why does “no go” and no extraction concern us so much? First, “no go” prevents us from being stewards without breaking the law ourselves. Second, labeling these areas “reserves” does nothing to increase marine life protection, but it does paint a bull’s-eye on areas of great biodiversity, touts unenforceable goals, and undermines ongoing stewardship. And here’s why…
  • We hear compliance with MLPA on central coast is 93%. This is about what we experience now on our property. It’s the 7% we’ve always been concerned about. It’s the hundreds of abalone shells we find on the property, left behind by poachers; it’s the CalTrans crew we busted diving when they left their empty truck on Highway 1; it’s the damage done by sheer numbers of people, each one doing what they think they are permitted to do under the law, but collectively doing damage.
  • Fish & Game can’t stop this. It is wishful thinking to believe they can WITHOUT partnership with land stewards.
  • So what is our advice to the Blue Ribbon Task Force? First, let us continue to be stewards of these large plots of California coast. Don’t tie our hands. We have a generations-old relationship with this land and an ownership stake. Second, don’t make our efforts more dangerous and difficult by designating the areas where the highest biodiversity is located. Third, this is an historic opportunity to REALLY add to the protected areas, not just on paper but with areas that have been damaged already.

Thank you for this opportunity to share our concerns.

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