Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Criticism of invasive beach grass removal projects is affecting a dune ecology partnership’s effort to gain the Board of Supervisors’ support for a grant proposal.
The debate over the effectiveness of removing invasive beach grass again emerged at the March 10 board meeting. Supervisors considered a letter of support for a $500,000 state grant application for studying dune processes from Trinidad to Centerville over a five-year period.
The application’s sponsor is the Friends of the Dunes group, which is working with the Humboldt Bay Wildlife Refuge and a variety of state and federal agencies.
The proposed study’s scope would include analysis of dune restoration efforts that have been controversial.
In the Clam Beach County Park area, equestrians have objected to loss of public access; they question whether replacing invasive beach grass with native species stabilizes dunes.
During a public comment session, equestrian Uri Driscoll said dune restoration advocates have not been responsive to requests for information
“We’ve been asking for peer-reviewed studies on the process that has been going on with these projects for years and we can’t seem to get them,” he told supervisors. “The dune [cooperative] has been extremely resistant to sharing any kind of information.”
Driscoll suggested that supervisors only give “conditional support” for the grant proposal.
Also during public comment, equestrian Karen Brooks described the grant proposal as a “public land manager welfare project” and said restoration efforts at Clam Beach have been “devastating that environment.”
Equestrian Dennis Mayo spoke as a representative of the California Beach Fishermen’s Association and described the dune restorers as being financially motivated.
“We oppose this group’s request and the continuation of public waste, permit abuses, and loss of public access and participation,” he said. “This group that has been charged with important environmental and public trusts in the past has failed us.”
In response, Andrea Pickart, an ecologist for the Humboldt Bay Wildlife Refuge, said there have been annual public meetings on dune projects and restoration efforts have been unfairly blamed for naturally-occurring dune drift.
Most supervisors had doubts about the proposal’s goals. Board Chair Estelle Fennell said she questions whether the study will be “open-minded enough” to address the equestrians’ concerns. Supervisor Virginia Bass said the belief that the study will promote “foregone conclusions” makes it difficult to lend complete support.
“Many of the issues that were brought up today have nothing to do with the proposal you have in front of you, which really is just to study,” she said. “All of the scientists involved with this project have scientific integrity – they’re professionals who are at the top of their field, internationally, and I don’t think they’re going to go into this with their minds already made up.”
Supervisor Mark Lovelace said he was “baffled” by the reluctance to approve the support letter, as the proposed study would “create a systematic way of gathering data” that would ultimately gauge the effectiveness of restoration efforts.
The grant application was due to the state’s Coastal Conservancy on March 13 but Pickart said the conservancy’s board will not make a decision on it until June.
Given the timeline, supervisors decided to hold off on approving the letter.
They unanimously voted to have Fennell and Lovelace work on rewording the support letter to acknowledge the concerns heard during public comment.