HMB Review Feb, 2010
Pescadero fishermen refuse to go with the flow
Anglers ponder suing State Parks to spur action at marsh
By Greg Thomas [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Steve Simms is losing patience.
Each year of the past decade, as fall becomes winter, the Pescadero fisherman watches the silver bodies of steelhead trout wash up on the banks at Pescadero Marsh, hoping the government will heed his call for intervention and respond with action. It’s not happening fast enough.
“We’re working on a letter of intent for State Parks right now. If they don’t cooperate this year, we’re going to file suit,” said Simms, Native Sons of the Golden West, Pebble Beach Parlor president and a lifelong Pescadero fisherman.
Fly fishermen try their luck on Pescadero Creek in December, shortly after the sandbar broke. The regular event led to another fish kill on the South Coast.
“We have to,” he added. “We have to stop this now.”
Simms is one in a cohort of fishermen and scientists growing impatient with what they call corrosive inaction on the part of regulators overseeing the marsh. The bulk of their frustrations takes aim at State Parks, the agency that owns the marshland and, they say, is the main culprit vetoing proposed restoration attempts.
People have been fiddling with the marsh for more than half a century. In the 1940s, bulldozing the sandbar separating the marsh from the ocean was an annual practice for anglers. A bridge built above the sandbar in the 1990s — a segment of Highway 1 — further altered ecology and hydrology in the marsh, some say. Shortly thereafter, fish started turning up dead, sometimes in droves, at a critical point in their seasonal lifecycle.
To get a handle on the situation, the Native Sons commissioned retired Fish and Game biologist Jim Steel to study the marsh. That was 2002. Steel, who spent 30 years with the agency studying the state’s watersheds, produced findings both he and the Native Sons believe shed clear light on the marsh’s warped ecology and suffice as a platform for designing restoration initiatives.
Steel produced a four-step action proposal in December calling for adding and replacing culverts for better flow and distribution of sediment between key segments of the marsh. The general idea is to make the marsh a “continuous landform,” he says.
Steel sent the proposal to his old department, the permitting authority for such projects, under the notion that pairing a well-conceived plan with proper permits would nullify any arguments from naysayers.
“State Parks (officials) would lose their ability to say no if they had a project on the table and a permitting agency (on board) and Native Sons paying for the project,” Steel said.
Joanne Kerbavaz is a senior resource ecologist for State Parks. She is part of a group of government agencies that was studying the problems at Pescadero Marsh until a freeze on state bonds last year put the group on pause.
State Parks’ responsibility to protect 400 acres of wetlands encompassing the marsh and the 10 threatened and endangered species residing there outweighs its duty to protect steelhead alone, Kerbavaz says.
“There are so many moving parts that it’s incumbent upon us to understand how changing one part affects so many other parts,” she said. Kerbavaz continued, saying that at the last working group meeting a year ago, “it was clear that there wasn’t a consensus on what the problems were, much less on what solutions might be, and I just don’t think we’re there.”
Fishermen say their understanding of the marsh system is solid enough to merit action now. Plus, they say, stymied cash flow puts the working group on indefinite hiatus. Meanwhile, the fish continue dying.
Kerbavaz points to a hydrological survey she says will happen this summer as evidence of her department’s commitment to the marsh. The survey is “one of the critical pieces” needed to design a simple model of flow in the marsh that would provide the group with a foundation from which to build future projects, she said.
Steel is moving sooner. He plans to present his action agenda this month before an ad hoc committee of government bodies overseeing the marsh.
“My view on it is State Parks should be given a letter of intent which clearly describes the problems everyone has with the way State Parks is doing things, and (the department) should be given a chance to respond,” Steel said. “Once that’s on the table, it’s up to Parks. But if they continue to block everyone’s concerns without explaining the rationale for doing so, I have a feeling (the Native Sons) will file suit.”