Santa Barbara farmers fight conversion to national park

By JUDITH GERBER For the Capital Press


SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Santa Barbara coastal farmers and National Park Service officials don’t want to put the county’s coast into a national park, but the service is looking at ways to protect the land.

Since 1999, farmers here have fought efforts by local conservationists and the park service to study putting the coast into the national park system.

Farmers and Santa Barbara landowners oppose federal regulations regarding land use and conservation, including creation of a national park. They insist that local and state policies are enough to protect the coast’s natural resources, private landowners and agricultural land.

Agricultural organizations have supported the landowners with letters, phone calls, and comments at public meetings.

Despite their two years of efforts, the National Park Service moved forward with the study in November 2000. The service found support for a national park from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and the Gaviota Coast Conservancy.


On April 8, the park service released a draft feasibility study. It found that the area’s natural and cultural resources are nationally significant and the area is suitable for inclusion in the park system.

But the service said the area should not become part of the national park system. It cited opposition from landowners and high costs associated with buying land and operating a new park. It said those costs go beyond what the service can undertake.

Instead, the study recommends protecting Gaviota’s natural resources locally through one of two alternatives:

• Continuation of current programs and policies; or

• Enhanced local and state management.

The park service will select one of these based on public comments it receives on the draft feasibility report during a public comment period that runs through July 18.

Park service recognition of landowner opposition to a park encouraged coastal farmers.


The Gaviota coast has a long agricultural history. Its Mediterranean climate and even coastal temperatures provide a long growing season that can produce multiple harvests each year. Its orchards account for 28 percent of the county’s tree crop production, and the area is known for crops such as macadamia nuts and cherimoyas.

“Most of the land is agricultural,” said Nancy Crawford-Hall, past president of the Santa Barbara Cattlemen’s Association. “We oppose the need for a national park for a couple of reasons. First of all, we have some of the strictest county and state regulations already to try and keep it the way it is, that have served us very well for generations.

“We also know what happened to the Channel Islands,” she said. “The agriculture sector was basically moved out when the park service took over. Knowing this park service history, it and agriculture are basically incompatible.”


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