Uri Driscoll: Climate Ready dune project is failing

In June 2015, a local nonprofit, Friends of the Dunes, was awarded a $249,000 grant by the Coastal Conservancy to study the changes taking place on our coastal dunes from Moonstone Beach to Centerville.

The project is meant to measure areas of different vegetation types and sediment deposits. This may help us to better understand how our coastal dunes may be adapting to climate changes such as anticipated sea level rise.

At the onset of the program, it was somehow decided to use a data-gathering system that does not interface well with the extensive work that Aldaron Laird completed a few years ago while mapping vulnerable areas around Humboldt Bay.

Secondly, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided to change the previously-approved method for removing vegetation at a site on Lanphere Dunes. Instead of hand removal, poison was used. Without notifying any of the collaborators in the project or the public, the Refuge Director Eric Nelson decided to spread approximately 55 gallons of herbicides on an acre of primary dunes. He used Climate Ready grant money, per his signed, although controversial, Categorical Exclusion.

The non-selective herbicide cocktail of Glyphosate/Imazapyr was applied twice, once in March and again in October just a month before planting fragile native plants. Imazapyr stays deadly for up to 12 months. The questions asked of Mr. Nelson relating to this use of poison and the conflicting messages he has provided the public have not been adequately addressed.

At a quarter-acre site on a Friends of the Dunes property in Manila, they planned to dig up one grass to replace it with another. It cost us $5,000. The total area ended up being about half the contracted square footage. Eighty-five percent of the new grass has died.

Statements recently made by the Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge staff indicate that they have somehow concluded that to prepare for climate change, we should have “rolling dunes.” They think we should purposely destabilized sand to migrate inland onto very rare dune hollow wetlands and dune shrub habitat, onto roads, homes and other important infrastructure.

There has yet to be any justifiable reasoning or documented support for such a concept, however.

Extensive Oregon University studies have reached a very different conclusion, and some areas in Oregon have begun replanting the very same grass that land managers here have been tearing out, bulldozing and poisoning. The coastal land managers along the east coast go to great lengths to protect their beachgrass to build and stabilize their dunes.

We were also promised quarterly reports to keep abreast of the project, but have waited over nine months since the last one. We were also promised public meetings every six months. The last one took place over nine months ago, and we have been told no additional meetings are scheduled.

The multitude of questions and concerns the public brought to the first (and so far, only) meeting have been completely ignored. The public outreach coordinator assigned to the project has quit.

Our hard-earned tax money is being used to collect data that is largely incompatible with important, expensive and hard-earned data we already have.

A 55-gallon drum of poison has been spread on the Lanphere Refuge, a place one would think could be spared such an assault. Baykeeper, Friends of the Dunes, the North Coast Environmental Center, EPIC and a host of other environmental organizations have spoken out against the use of herbicides for non-native plant eradication projects.

We spent $5,000 to dig up one-eighth of an acre of one type of grass and replace it with another type that is dying or dead. We ended up with a significant lack of promised project updates and public meetings. The public's only direct contact person with the project quit.

The public cannot get honest, transparent answers to understand how questionable and highly controversial decisions and conclusions are being made. Those whom we should be able to get real answers from have gone into hiding.

Are we getting what we paid for? Obviously, we are not. But chances are these same folks will have their hand out for another $250,000 next year. It would be encouraging if there were some indication that the Coastal Conservancy, who funds these projects, would show some transparent oversight. To date however, they have kept their head in the sand while keeping up the longstanding, cozy and very profitable relationship.

While the original goal of the project does seem worthy, once again, the implementation of the pork barrel extras have failed. The promises, transparency and contracts with the public have quickly been sacrificed now that the check has cleared the bank. We can do better. A lot better.

Uri Driscoll is an environmental activist.


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