RV Park’s Duneland Could Get Federal Protection

January 5, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

About 50 acres of coastal dunes at the Lawson’s Landing campground at Dillon Beach along the California coast could become protected wetlands as the result of a $1 million federal grant.

The National Coastal Wetlands Protection Grant is part of an overall effort by federal and state agencies and local environmental organizations to turn about 400 acres of the Dillon Beach property into a conservation area – while allowing the popular campground to continue operations, according to the Marin Independent-Journal.

“We have over 900 acres, and we’ve taken 400 of the most unique and sensitive acres in the south ranch and made it available for conservation easements,” said co-owner Michael Lawson. “We’re still a public recreational area. We want to be a mechanism for change and improvement in the natural environment out here.”

The federal grant would allow the California Coastal Conservancy, a state agency, and the nonprofit Trust for Public Land to purchase a conservation easement from the campground. Supporters say that preserve would protect the habitat of more than 14 rare, threatened and endangered species, including the California red-legged frog, from development – a move they say is vital even though the coastal lands would be impossible to develop.

“Buying a conservation easement includes some legal protections, such as a guarantee of public access and habitat management,” said Joel Gerwein, a project manager for the Coastal Conservancy. “Even if the owner was forced to sell, the buyer couldn’t put up mansions in the uplands, close off public access or let the habitat degrade. And getting that protection in place is the first step toward enhancing and restoring the habitat that’s out there. No one is going to put resources toward a restoration project until the property is protected in perpetuity.”

Yet the federal grant money will remain in limbo until the state provides $500,000 in matching funds.

“Unfortunately, our source of funding for that has been frozen for over a year now,” said Coastal Conservancy spokesman Dick Wayman. “In the meantime, we have a lot of work to do on the easement.”

That work includes setting the boundaries of the easement and settling other details, such as how to provide public access to the preserve and whether livestock grazing would be allowed inside the conservation area.

Supporters of the project hope that the federal grant area would become part of a much larger preserve that will include a 203-acre conservation easement provided by Caltrans as part of a road-widening project.

A West Marin fixture for more than 90 years, the 960-acre Lawson’s Landing campground won the support of county supervisors for a 2008 plan to cut its 1,233 campsites by half while protecting many of its most sensitive coastal areas. But several local environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, cried foul at a provision that would allow camping in “buffer” areas near wetlands for five years.

The Environmental Action Committee has raised its objections with the state Coastal Commission, which is expected to make a final decision about the Lawson’s plan this spring.

“We were only asking for Lawson’s to comply with state law, and we hope the Coastal Commission will uphold that,” said Executive Director Fred Smith. “I think in some ways what the (proposed conservation) easement does is make it easier for them to comply with many of our concerns. It provides a great means of helping the Lawsons protect a lot of really key habitat as part of their master planning process.”

Both the campground’s owners and the environmental groups working to create the preserve say they’re committed to removing invasive European beach grass, planted decades ago to keep the area’s sand dunes in one place. Doing so, however, is likely to prove a test of the ability of the campground and the nature preserve to exist side by side.

“The beach grass was originally put there to stabilize the sand dunes – and certain people aren’t going to enjoy camping there if there’s sand blowing over them all of the time,” Gerwein said. “But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a part of the site where sand was allowed to move freely, maybe somewhat further away from the camping area.

“I think this shows it’s possible for coastal access to be compatible with resource protection,” Gerwein said.


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