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Gaviota backers regroup

13 March 2004

MORGAN GREEN

South Coast preservationists gathered Friday to say they might be down, but don't count them out of the fight to save the Gaviota coast.

A handful of environmental leaders and a representative of Rep. Lois Capps said they're not giving up despite a final Interior Department decision earlier this month to drop any official efforts to preserve the long stretch of undeveloped shoreline. The federal announcement - "There is no new federal action envisioned or recommended and no action is required by Congress" - ended any hopes the scenic coast might be protected as a national seashore or park.

Mike Lunsford, spokesman for the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, said the movement will refocus on local efforts.

One possibility "being floated," he said, is to form an "open space district "with powers of taxation to invest in preservation. Another is to seek grants that would seed a self-perpetuating fund. The fund could buy land, cover most of it with conservation easements, then sell it and repeat the process elsewhere on the coast, he said.

"The Sierra Club will not give up this fight," said Ed Easton, spokesman for the club's Santa Barbara chapter. "But it's all up to the county and the residents of the South Coast "

He warned that without local involvement, the rolling coast west of Goleta "could become estate country with walls and armed guards barring access." But, he said, hope lies in the support demonstrated by South Coast residents. "The fact is our community is overwhelmingly in favor of long-term protection of this coast. Just last month Sierra Club members sent over 400 letters to the Bush administration asking for their support"

It's a vanishing way of life. The U.S. Forest Service ended cattle' leasing some years ago, and there's no longer private grazing in the forest.

But the administration put the ball back in the local court.

In a March 5 letter to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Craig Manson, assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior, wrote that local efforts to protect the Gaviota coast have "set a fine example for other parts of the country" and should be allowed to continue "without further National Park Service involvement."

Jeremy Tittle, spokesman for Mrs. Capps, D-Santa Barbara, said at a news conference at Haskell's Beach that his boss "will do whatever she can to assist, "such as looking for opportunities to get federal funds.

In a prepared statement, Mrs. Capps said, "I must say that I really didn't expect much more from an administration with such a dismal record on protecting this country's natural resources. Clearly for as long as this administration is around, it is going to be up to the local citizens and elected officials to protect Gaviota."

Still, she said, the absence of help from the federal government "is a shame."

e-mail: mgreen@newspress.com