Years ago, I was doing some research on some of the “usual suspects” in our region having to do with their antipathies for agriculture, housing and industry. It was then that I stumbled across “The Wildlands Project.” The Wildlands Project was the brain child of Dave Foreman, who started Earth First, one of the most radical environmental organizations in the world, and another guy named David Johns, who is a professor in the school of government at Portland State University (more on him later).
The goal of the Wildlands Project was to create a map of “conservation areas” that stretched from Alaska to Central America. Using the Endangered Species Act and other mechanisms, the plan was to eliminate, as much as possible, the human footprint within these areas, thereby leaving them “wild.” What that means in practical terms is that the project proponents sought to prohibit housing, farming, ranching, recreation, mining, logging and any other uses they could think of.
The project area stretched from Alaska to Central America and was divided into zones. Our Central Coast area zone was dubbed “The Conception Coast Project.” When former Congresswoman Lois Capps proposed a national seashore stretching from Isla Vista to Point Sal, the map of the project was furnished by the Conception Coast Project. The designation of a national seashore would have created a federal overlay of the area, including the Gaviota coast, Vandenberg AFB, and numerous farms and ranches. Had it been established, it would have been a giant leap forward toward the goal of setting this land off limits to many different types of development and uses.
Just recently, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors has taken their own giant leap forward toward the goal of creating wildlands by way of adopting what they call the Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor Overlay Zone, which, in one fell swoop, laid hold of 163,000 acres of land, severely limiting the security, usage, fire protection and value of private properties throughout the region.
Years ago, COLAB defeated an early version of a wildlands-type ordinance here in Santa Barbara County called the Resource Protection Ordinance. Unfortunately, we are hearing rumors that the proponents of “rewilding” are attempting to make a comeback. They have been working surreptitiously on a mapping project here that is known as the Conservation Blueprint. The Conservation Blueprint is a project of the Conservation Biology Institute, whose chairman of the board just happens to be David Johns, the previously mentioned co-founder of the Wildlands Project.
Speaking forthrightly, these environmental zealots are greedy. Fifty percent of our region is already conserved in the form of Los Padres Forest. Much of the rest of the land is conserved voluntarily by our farmers and ranchers via the provision of the Williamson Act. That is, our region is primarily undeveloped as it is; however, the efforts to eliminate human uses will have human, economic and ecological consequences. The truth is, these radical conservation measures serve to limit housing and economic development, and such overwrought “protection” of the habitat creates unlimited fuel for wildland fires.
We must actively manage the wildlands, instead of the hands-off approach that has served to expose humans and the environment to continuous cycles of devastating conflagrations. For there is no getting around the point that wildlands facilitate wildfires, endangering the lives of firefighters, residents and the wild kingdom. Moreover, the hands-off approach isn’t good for nature in the long run, as overgrown habitat weakens trees and diminishes foraging areas. And, these fires, which are as much policy-driven as they are wind-driven… well, they burn so hot it sterilizes the ground, meaning nothing can grow there for years to come.