Friday, February 8, 2008

Chrisman Misses the Point

This is the 2nd letter to Chrisman, responding to his previous one.

January 22, 2008

Mike Chrisman
California Department of Resources

1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1311
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Secretary Chrisman;

Thank you for your January 16 response to my letter concerning the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA).

While I appreciate that you support all the goals of the MLPA, your letter leads to the conclusion that goal #1 protection of “the natural diversity and abundance of marine life…” will be sacrificed in favor of public access. To avoid this adverse impact, your leadership is needed.

By siting MPAs only adjacent to areas that have been protected nearshore for decades, the current siting proposals ratify the status quo. They put a new label on existing protected nearshore areas while leaving unaffected all the areas that have been unprotected. Please look at the overlap of public access and MPAs. The proposed nearshore MPA sites do not improve upon existing protections.

The Act itself makes no mention of public access. Section 2853(b) goal #3 states that recreational, educational, and study opportunities be managed “in a manner consistent with
protecting biodiversity.” Public access has been written into the MLPA Master Plan by MLPA staff at the request of stakeholders.

What’s at Stake

Over this last weekend there was a particularly low tide (-1.4 feet). Jeanne Adams and I and a photographer took the opportunity to make an informal comparison of biodiversity off Sail Rock Ranch with Moat Creek, a public access point just north of us. The differences were striking. We hope to provide you with the opportunity to see these pictures for yourself in the near future. As a taste, in a two-hour period in front of Sail Rock Ranch (SRR) we found:

§ Abalone growing so thickly they were difficult to avoid walking on. At Moat Creek during a two-hour period the following day (same tide) we found only one.

§ 6 types of starfish too numerous to count, including a bright orange brittle star. At Moat Creek, we found 2 types of starfish and very few.

§ Two nudibranchs. At Moat Creek, we found none.

§ Large green and orange anemones open and feeding. At Moat Creek, we found no anemones in tide pools…only small ones on top of rocks.

§ Clouds of small rockfish fry swimming in formation. At Moat Creek, we found a few isolated fry.

These are a few examples of what is at stake. The nearshore habitats off SRR and Richardson Ranch have been de facto preserves for decades. The important thing I hope you realize is that these differences are not an accident of oceanography. Nor will they magically become more productive hatcheries for the rest of the coast just because they are designated MPAs. What’s important is that other areas—areas that currently have public access—must receive protection equal to the level already afforded SRR and Richardson Ranches if goal #1 is to be achieved. Exclusively targeting areas that have been protected for decades by land stewards will not achieve MLPA's goals.

Your Leadership Is Needed

We are particularly concerned that objectives such as “Protects complex and highly productive rocky reef and kelp habitat including one of the largest stands of bull kelp in the north central coast, and associated species” (proposal 4) are being represented to you as measurable. Because this area is currently at or close to climax, a baseline taken offshore of SRR will not show progress in 5, 10 or 20 years. These objectives lack targets by which progress can be measured (MLPA goal #5). In consequence, your Agency lacks the mechanism to objectively alter the area, spacing or level of protection or to “sunset” an MPA.

There is a clear alternative. By including areas in which progress will be obvious after a short time—for example Moat Creek—the MLPA can demonstrate success. If degraded areas are not included, progress will need to be manufactured.

Why haven’t the very capable participants in the MLPA initiative realized this and self-corrected? There are three reasons public access has taken priority in MLPA deliberations, all of which can be remedied by appropriate leadership: 1) the evaluation criteria do not provide adequate siting guidance, leaving public access as the default siting criteria, 2) objectives are not required to be S.M.A.R.T.[1] and 3) the focus is on the short term activity of setting boundaries, not long-term outcomes.

Implementation Must Be a Criteria for Siting

Exclusively targeting nearshore areas off private lands is problematic for other important reasons which have received little attention in public deliberations:

§ What are the monitoring logistics? Private landowners will be expected to open their fence lines to state contractors. Legal mechanisms and additional state insurance costs have not been made public.

§ What are the enforcement logistics? Tree-lined cliffs and deep coves are difficult for any number of wardens to patrol even on public lands. It is truly incomprehensible that wardens will be tasked with looking across fence lines and transiting private land to check the MPAs beyond.

Obviously public process is constrained by administrative interpretation of the Act. In my observation, MLPA Initiative staff are competent and focused professionals truly committed to siting MPAs. However, the Initiative process is missing the big picture. It’s off the track and needs to be put right. We at Sail Rock Ranch support real progress. We do not support being disproportionately targeted by valuing public access—a goal that is not in the enabling legislation—at the expense of the primary authorized goal of the Act.

We appreciate your personal attention to these important issues.

Best regards,

Walter W. Ratcliff
Manager, Sail Rock Highlands LLC

31500 State Highway 1
Gualala, CA 95445

cc Senator Patricia Wiggins
Assemblyman Patty Berg
John Carlson, Executive Director, California Fish and Game Commission
John McCamman, Acting Director, California Department of Fish and Game
Richard B. Rogers, President, California Fish and Game Commission
Michael Mantell, Resources Law Group
Ken Wiseman, Executive Director, Marine Life Protection Act Initiative
Archer Richardson, Richardson Ranches
Dr. Marcos Underwood, President, Haven’s Neck Preserve LLC

Members of Sail Rock Highlands LLC

[1] The commonly accepted criteria for objectives is: S(pecific) M(easurable) (A)chievable (R)ealistic T(ime bound). MPA objectives, as written, do not meet these criteria.

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