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October/November 2012

Stornetta Public Lands: a Pacific Coast Jewel


Stornetta Waterfall

The Stornetta Public Lands, consisting of 1,132 acres located along Mendocino County’s south coast, adjacent to Manchester State Beach and the Point Arena Lighthouse, includes more than two miles of Pacific coastline with natural bridges, tide pools, waterfalls, sinkholes and blowholes, as well as two miles of the Garcia River, the Garcia estuary, a quarter-mile of beach adjacent to Manchester State Park, and a five-acre island called Sea Island Rocks. The area is recognized not only for breathtaking scenic values, but also for outstanding natural resources that encompass riparian corridors, extensive coastal wetlands, wind-sculptured stands of cypress, wildflower-strewn meadows, and shifting sand dunes, a varied ecosystem which taken as a whole provides significant wildlife habitat. Otters and seals gambol in the surf, brown pelicans sail by in characteristic single file, and countless gulls and shorebirds call the area home.

Stornetta was acquired by the federal government in 2004, on terms including a grazing lease that will expire in 2014, and has been managed since then by the Ukiah Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Aside from the usual considerations applicable to any coastal area, management responsibilities have been greatly complicated because Stornetta is considered an abalone "hotspot," with intense seasonal use by recreational abalone divers, and thus requires substantial oversight by BLM staff and Department of Fish and Game wardens. Especially before the implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act two years ago, rangers and BLM supervisory staff had to patrol every minus tide weekend– watching for poachers, keeping daredevils from rapelling down the cliffs, and stopping people from breaking down fences and driving all over the ranch. Subsequently a working Gateway partnership with the community of Point Arena and much local citizen involvement has helped a great deal, but the BLM’s scarce financial and personnel resources are still overstrained by the special demands of this special place.

Fortunately help may be on the way. Congressman Mike Thompson, who has represented the area since 1998, has introduced legislation (H.R. 4969) adding this land to the California Coastal National Monument, comprised of more than 20,000 small islands, rocks, exposed reefs and pinnacles along 1,100 miles of coast between Mexico and Oregon. National Monument status carries a higher standard of care for public land than that provided by federal ownership alone, and designation would also automatically add Stornetta to the National Landscape Conservation System, thus making it eligible for additional funding.

By permanently protecting this important segment of the California Coast, and potentially offering the additional resources needed for more effective management, H.R. 4969 provides significant conservation benefits, with no negative consequences.

Redwood Forest Courtesy of National Park Service

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