San Francisco — Conservation groups are protesting a proposed transfer of interest in approximately 1200 acres of the Tolowa Dunes State Park by the California Department of Parks and Recreation to the California Department of Fish and Game. The deal, which will open up the lands to hunting, is moving forward without any public notice or environmental review.
“The Governor apparently intends to save State Parks by disposing of them,” said Karen Schambach, California Director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “While State Parks can’t be sold, Fish and Game lands don’t enjoy that same protection. Is this the first step towards selling our parklands off to private interests?”
Tolowa Dunes State Park is located in Del Norte County in the northwest corner of California. The Park includes approximately 1200 acres near Lake Earl, the largest coastal lagoon in California. For the first time this year, the long-standing ban on hunting in State Parks is being enforced. This apparently has provided the impetus for the proposed land transfer, which will reportedly be completed in mid-November to accommodate the duck hunting season.
In a letter sent last week to State Parks Director Ruth Coleman protesting the proposed transfer, Friends of Del Norte, the Environmental Protection Information Center, and the Center for Biological Diversity accused the Departments of Parks and Recreation and Fish and Game not only with proceeding with the transfer in secrecy, but with deliberately ignoring environmental laws.
“These unique wetlands should be protected by State Parks; not traded away as a political favor,” said Lisa Belenky, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “If State Parks wants to change the status of the public lands entrusted to its care, it must do so through an open public process.”
“The contemplated giveaway of these dune swale ponds is particularly outrageous because they are unique in the California state parks system, and have a tribal heritage that goes back thousands of years,” said Scott Greacen, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “We were shocked to hear about this transfer because State Parks in this region is otherwise doing a good job of protecting tribal cultural resources.”
Tolowa Dunes State Park and the adjoining 5,500-acre Lake Earl wetland complex provide habitat for at least 43 rare and federally and state listed species, including peregrine falcon, brown pelican, western snowy plover, marbled murrelet, sand dune phacelia, Oregon silverspot butterfly, seaside hoary elfin butterfly, greenish blue butterfly, steelhead, and coastal cutthroat trout. In addition, over 300 different bird species use Lake Earl with as many as 100,000 birds found there during seasonal migrations.