The Independent recently sat down with the Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s new executive director, Doug Kern, to hear what plans he has for the region. Kern is a longtime conservator of natural areas around the state, having previously worked for both the San Francisco Presidio and Mendocino Land Trust. Kern’s central goal for the Gaviota Coast is clear: put more effort into saying “yes” to various conservation and restoration endeavors, beyond solely opposing encroaching developments.
Through the group’s upcoming Coastal Legacy 2019 fundraising event, Kern hopes to recruit plenty of people who want to learn about and invest in the land. There, philanthropists Jack and Laura Dangermond will also be honored for preserving in perpetuity a 25,000-acre piece of Gaviota Coast property ― formerly known as the Bixby Ranch ― with a $165 million donation to The Nature Conservancy in 2017.
You arrived here four months ago. What have you observed, and what have you been up to? What I’m noticing in Santa Barbara is each [nonprofit] group has a major focus. With the [Environmental Defense Center], for example, they’re all about oil, while The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County has a very key conservation role. We at the Gaviota Coast Conservancy have been out there, protecting in our own way.
But I think some of that is changing. There’s been a feeling that the GCC was just about saying “no” to development. I think you’ll see in the coming months and years that we’re going to be focused on positive activities that really bring a permanent conservation effort to the Gaviota Coast. We are engaging with landowners and attempting to find ways to preserve the very unique, rural character and environmental integrity that exists out there. There are still places where bears can come out of the mountains and be on the beach. Animals have a range, and it’s all about keeping the integrity of that range.
What are Gaviota’s endangered species? All the creeks along the Gaviota Coast are habitat to endangered and threatened steelhead salmon. Highway 101 and the train are in front of their migration path. So, there are a number of groups working on providing for fish passage. We want people to know that while we’re going to preserve our ability to move traffic, we can also set aside space and the means for trout to get upstream and spawn.
While I worked for the Mendocino Land Trust, one of the restoration projects repaired a waterfall that had been created by a road. Once we had that waterfall filled in and restored to the natural terrain, the next month there was a big salmon run and the salmon got over the obstacle. So, in my mind, these restoration activities can happen immediately and be instantly successful. It is definitely a “build it and they will come” situation.
What are the biggest threats to the area? If we don’t act in a concerted way and work together as a community to make sure that landowners feel heard and get their needs met, I worry the land could be purchased and developed, and we’d just be an extension of the L.A. basin. That’s the main concern. That’s what we want to protect against. And yet, at the same time, we can do restoration work. We can work with landowners to create sustainable agriculture where we’re recycling waste products and improving the soils.
What exactly is Coastal Legacy 2019? It’s the Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s first major public fundraiser. We want to draw attention to our mission and goals, which are conserving and protecting the ecological integrity and rural character that you see driving along the 101. We want to preserve that for future generations.
I think when you’re zooming along the freeway, you might look left and right and think, “Well that’s really pretty,” but then you’re on your way somewhere, and you may not necessarily realize this is a jewel of biodiversity.
We’re going to have sign-ups for walks, hikes, adventures, and paddling, so people can really get to know the coast. We’re planning a train trip, which goes along Vandenberg Air Force Base and through various ranches that people never get to see.
We’ll also be looking for people interested in volunteer opportunities. I think that we will create a very engaging volunteer program for young people to lead hikes and get connected with the Gaviota Coast. This is just the beginning of an effort to bring on new people, new energy, new advocates for preserving the coast. It’s such a valuable commodity that we’ve gotta be vigilant about protecting now and into the future.
4•1•1 | Coastal Legacy 2019 will take place Saturday, September 21, 2-5 p.m., at the Music Academy of the West (1070 Fairway Rd.), with silent and live auctions, hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and music. RSVP by September 14 at gaviotacoastconservancy.org.