Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, May 10 @ 3:42 p.m.
Local Duck Hunters Balk at Proposed Federal Protection for Sand Dune Phacelia, Say Federal Wildlife Officials Failed to Notify Property Owners
Two local duck hunters took issue with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to list the sand dune phacelia as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Jeff Reed and Sherman Jackson, representatives of the Del Norte Waterfowlers, a new organization, said they felt the proposed federal listing is “another way to shut down hunting.” They asked county supervisors on Tuesday to request an extension on the public comment period for the proposed listing and include their concerns in a letter to federal wildlife officials.
“No one to my knowledge, who owns private property that will be affected was notified of this in an individual manner,” Reed said. “I’ve talked to three property owners. None of them were very happy to not have been informed about this.”
Del Norte County supervisors unanimously approved sending a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, agreeing to request an extension to the public comment period for the proposed listing beyond the May 23 deadline.
County staff also outlined their concerns about how the proposed listing would affect its seasonal practice of breaching lakes Earl and Tolowa to alleviate flooding in the Pacific Shores area as well as its ability to maintain county roads, Community Development Director Heidi Kunstal said.
There’s also concern that listing the silver phacelia as threatened would restrict public access in the area, she said.
“All of our activities are highly monitored in that area already,” Kunstal said, adding that under the county’s local coastal program, approved by the California Coastal Commission, Pacific Shores is an area of deferred certification. “Obviously adding one more layer to it, we want to make sure we protect what limited rights we have now.”
Also known as the silvery phacelia, the sand dune phacelia is a flowering perennial found in 25 naturally occurring populations between Crescent City and Bandon, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Its most significant threat comes from invasive plants, primarily European beach grass and gorse.
The proposed listing stems from a 2020 lawsuit brought against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Center. Both organizations were joined by other conservation groups in submitting a petition to federal wildlife officials to protect the sand dune phacelia in 2014.
In Del Norte County, the proposed listing would designate four areas as critical habitat for the sand dune phacelia. This includes 93.2 acres in Pacific Shores, 69.9 acres in the Tolowa Dunes, 1.1 acres at Point St. George and 1.7 acres along Pebble Beach Drive.
According to the county, 54.4 acres of the proposed 93.2 acre critical habitat area within Pacific Shores is private land. The remaining 37.9 acres are owned by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife as well as the county.
According to the county’s letter, about 30 percent of the Pacific Shores subdivision contains the silvery phacelia.
On Tuesday, District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard said that the proposed critical habitat areas for the sand dune phacelia overlap with critical habitat of the western snowy plover, which was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1993. However, the critical habitat designation for the snowy plover is a “fairly seasonal impact to us,” Howard said.
“Potentially this would not be so seasonal,” he asked Kunstal, referring to the sand dune phacelia.
Kunstal acknowledged Howard’s assessment, but said breaching the lagoon is seasonal. Under its emergency permits to breach the lake from the California Coastal Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the county is required to observe the sites to ensure staff avoid plover nests. Kunstal said she expects a similar condition related to the sand dune phacelia to be included in future permits to breach the lake.
“Likely we would have to mobilize at a different location,” she said. “But we’re adaptable. We can do that. It’s workable.”
Jackson, who says his family has been hunting near Lake Earl since the 1930s, said he views the proposed federal listing for the silvery phacelia as another way to curtail hunting. According to him, duck hunting was restricted near Lake Tolowa last year with hunters finding out via signs posted on stumps in the area.
“We’re really kind of sick and tired of being locked out of the opportunity to duck hunt locally,” he said. “We can show at least 1,500 acres that have been removed from hunting — probably more than that.”
Jackson asked supervisors to advocate for an extension to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s public comment period for the proposed phacelia listing.
Reed argued that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s proposal to list the sand dune phacelia as threatened lacked “sufficient information of this plant ever existing in great quantity out there.”
He said the maps included with the proposed listing aren’t overlaid on existing public maps and don’t show exactly where the proposed critical habitat areas are. There’s also no clarity as to where the state boundaries are, Reed said.
“I am pleased (with) the letter the county drafted in response to this, but it doesn’t truly express the poor job Fish and Wildlife Service has done, and it’s a disservice to the county, what they’re doing,” Reed said. “That is the frustration you hear from all of us. We can’t stop this, but it’s just the beginning of a loss of access and recreation out there. We all know it. We’ve all lived here and seen it.”