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Treebeard's Stumper Answer
5 May 2000

Endangered Species

I can hardly open a local newspaper lately without reading about some local endangered species of plant or animal. Santa Barbara County seems to have more than its share of protected plants and animals. It's making a difference in what we can do on our beaches and rivers and fields. Ocean Beach near Lompoc is now closed to protect nesting snowy plovers. Why is California, and the Santa Barbara region in particular, so rich in threatened and endangered species? What local plants and animals are protected, and where do they live? I guess the real question is: should we care?

Unfriendly signs at Ocean Park (aka Surf Beach) at the mouth of the Santa Ynez River west of Lompoc, California. We spoke with an Air Force security officer who was patrolling the beach beyond the sign. She explained that entry is an $80 dollar fine, with no warnings given. I pointed out that the sign is only in English, though many Latinos and Vietnamese used to regularly fish here. There is a small section of beach nearby that is still open. This situation is not popular with local residents.
This remote windblown beach and estuary are surrounded by Vandenberg Air Force Base. This is an amazing natural area, rich with endemic plants, especially on Burton Mesa in the distance. Endangered Western Snowy Plovers are nesting along the beach and Southern Steelhead Trout are hopefully running up the river to spawn. This area is relatively well protected, though large areas of the coastal strand are overrun with introduced ice plant and beach grass. The bright yellow flowers are Giant Coreopsis, coreopsis gigantea, uncommon this far north, but doing ok here. The distant yellow flowers in the estuary are invading wild mustard.


The Santa Barbara region is rich in endangered species because this is an area of many different habitats, ranging from ocean and island, to river valleys, to high mountains, and on to the near-desert interior. We're all learning about Southern steelhead trout, Western snowy plovers, California tiger salamanders, and the rest of the 45 local species now listed as endangered or threatened. Whether we should care is a discussion question, not a stumper with an answer. For me, these are indicator species of where I want to live, like the canary in the coal mine.

Notes:

I'm really busy with school right now, so consider this a working copy. I don't have time to make it shorter! These issues have been on my mind for some time, and any comments are appreciated.

Graybear says it well, all the way from Virginia:

I would have to say that, due to the unique geological diversity there, species requiring a particular combination of habitats are unable to meet their needs elsewhere. You have mentioned some of these environments in earlier stumpers - the southern-facing mountains, the ocean, the fire mosaic, islands, etc. Species of plants and animals interact with the diversity of environments for their various needs - food, shelter, water, pollination/procreation, etc. As the human population expands, these species have nowhere to go.

Short and to the point. The Santa Barbara region sits at a crossroads in time and place and climate:

All these natural factors promote biodiversity.

I'm sure another big factor in our endangered species count is that Santa Barbara is a University town with an active environmental movement, and people with knowledge, and the money and time, to support it. Species won't be listed as threatened or endangered unless someone notices their presence, and cares, and can afford to pursue it.

Extinction has always been part of the natural world. Human activity speeds it up. Santa Barbara also sits at a crossroads in history and land use policy:

The political reality is that threatened species will become a tool to control development in the way that water availability used to. It's an interesting conflict with many sides. Even as a naturalist, I don't like the simple answers. I'm worried about the future.

A few more thoughts:

Whew! The biological issues are tough enough. When peoples' livelihoods are on the line, it gets even more politicized. I have strong feelings that don't quite fit into a position statement yet. I stand by my statement that these local endangered plants and animals are indicator species of where I want to live, like the canary in the coal mine. If they go, so will I. But where?

More to come..., but here are a few links in the meantime:

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