Coastal Voices: Whose access denied?

By Susan Calla September 26, 2011 04:07 pm

I found the Sept. 15 front-page article, “Access Denied: Parkland, not farmland,” by Anthony Skeens to be extremely disturbing and filled with incomplete information.

Dairy farmer Blake Alexandre is represented as a victim of the state parks by supposedly having his access rights taken away. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Until state parks terminated his grazing lease this month, Mr. Alexandre was a leasee and business partner with the state agency for the sole purpose of aiding the recovery of the Aleutian cackling goose. He was contracted by the state to manage Tolowa Dunes State Park lands adjoining his property in order to create more forage for the geese while at the same time removing pressure from the birds feeding on his pastures.

 

Mr. Alexandre entered a unique and unprecedented business arrangement with California State Parks managing hundreds of acres of public parkland under the Aleutian Goose Recovery Plan. He has subsequently had the privilege of grazing his cows and cattle for at least 10 years on these same lands. During this entire decade, these “public” lands were fenced off to contain his cows and access to the general public was denied. Neither I nor anyone else could go through his fences and walk in the fields among his stock.

As a former organizer of the Aleutian Goose Festival, I am very familiar with the economic challenges that our local dairy farmers and ranchers once faced when the entire goose population of over 40,000 descended on Del Norte County and foraged on their green pastures. This once federally endangered little goose has since made a complete and full recovery and is, in fact, now a game bird that can be hunted on private land, including Mr. Alexandre’s.

Not reported in the article is the fact that 90 percent of the current population of over 100,000 geese no longer even visit our county. We’re lucky if we see 8,000–10,000 during their spring migration. The rest have relocated to Arcata and Eureka.

Isn’t it ironic that Mr. Alexandre — whose lease helped with this recovery — was also allowed to use aggressive hazing methods  to chase the geese off his fields and drive them onto the parklands? I would conjecture that this successful hazing campaign done by him and his neighbors contributed to the birds’ relocation to Humboldt County.

Thanks in some small part to Mr. Alexandre, and in larger part to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and California State Parks, the little goose — once thought extinct — is now wonderfully recovered.

I will admit that it saddens me that they no longer visit us in the great numbers they once did, when we could watch them rise off Castle Island at dawn or congregate in Del Norte’s pastures.

Mr. Alexandre needs to recognize that his work is finally done and it’s the time for him to graciously return the land back to the public where it belongs so that it can now be restored as habitat for other wild species. And it’s also the time that the rest of us — not just he and his family — can visit and have access to it.

Although Crescent City no longer has a festival to celebrate Aleutian geese, some of us still rejoice that a once endangered species did actually make it back from the brink of extinction … a rare occurrence in today’s world.

Susan Calla is a Crescent City resident.