Canyon Beat:

The cruelest month?  Torpedo the dams, full speed ahead

APRIL 2017

Something perhaps short of a civil war, but the sense of betrayal felt by some canyon activists after the skirmish over U.S. Fish and Wildlife's destruction of historic dams on Silverado Creek is this month’s troubling through-line, experienced in collective affronts to both the physical and spiritual sense of place here in our quasi-boonies environs. 

Exploited Mexico was once famously described as “far from God, and too close to the U.S.”  No doubt, petitioners and nonviolent local defenders of a couple of long-enduring bucolic community swimming holes, not to mention opponents of Saddle Crest (see below) are substituting feds, county and Supervisor Todd Spitzer for Estados Unidos, and wishing they’d gotten divine intervention from the Faraway One.  Your humble scribe could review well-reported events, culminating with blowing up of mortar and river rock dams over two days in late March, ostensibly after modest USFWS short-term accommodation of dissent, but the titles of posted video and photographic documentation tell the story via “Community Opposition #1,” (#2 and #3), “Explosives Truck,” and, finally, “Broken promise one of swimming hole dams.” 

Together these homespun digital artifacts, assembled by activist, resident and “Naturalist for You” Joel Robinson, offer a study (and case study) in the challenges of civic engagement, despite one side lacking sheriffs, trucks, dynamite and other accoutrements of state power.  A less dramatic perspective argues long-term, if perhaps hard to believe, plans for rehabilitation of the waterway and habitat, albeit with the immediate reintroduction of temporarily removed newts, turtles, tree frogs, threatened (and breeding) arroyo toads and, presumably, someday, steelhead trout.  Though preservationists admire a “holistic restoration” plan, they objected to the end-run around endangered species mitigation protocol, and questioned the urgency of the springtime (critters’ season of love) and no real timeline or budget.

The whole dam(n) episode had been interrupted after an alleged truce (read: promised strategic next-day verbal postponement) over removal of two of the singularly rustic manmade constructions which had, for years, provided swimming holes for human specimens, alleges Robinson, and whose destruction caused more short-term threat to amphibians and fish than did the pools wherein frolicked generations of bathers.  After the dust had settled (in the water, as it turns out), Robinson documented presumed degradation of water quality, and promised future action to resist more of the same in Holy Jim, Trabuco and San Juan Canyons.  

Back in the Saddle (Crest) 
Perhaps the only affirming moment surrounding review of developments (you should forgive the phrase), following a three-member appeals court decision to reverse the 2013 Superior Court decision supporting the Foothill Trabuco Specific Plan over approval of Saddle Crest --- reading news accounts and watching TV --- was seeing the face and hearing the voice of Steve Duff, our late canyons’ friend and champion.  Duff and others, including the Saddleback Canyons Conservancy, had fought, successfully (or so they imagined), both the size and, indeed, entire raison d’être of the project.   

Yet despite previous rulings and nearly unanimous community opposition, the awful legacy of former Supervisor Bill Campbell and, say many, lack of effort by current Supervisor Todd Spitzer, resulted in final dispensation of the parcel, lately graded, dozed and de-oakified, massive cactus stands uprooted (ouch!), cactus wren flustered, violating (say opponents) every which kind of environmental statute, and ensuring traffic aplenty.  See the press release from Gloria Sefton, legal counsel and SCC co-founder, who unshyly assigns responsibility:  “What we see happening now is the unleashing of what the board of supervisors put in place. They repealed important protections of oak trees, and removed grading limits in the canyons. It shows the significant political discretion they exercise. It’s important we elect people who will protect site-specific plans.” She and others claim the “supes” cherry-picked goals and objectives. “Losing the specificity of a specific plan,” she notes, ironically, “means developers choose which elements to address, and which to ignore.”

A history of opposition from canyon activists, calls for site-specific integrity from Silverado Modjeska Recreation and Parks District and Inter-Canyon League, and lobbying by California Native Plant Society, Audubon Society, Rural Canyons Conservation Fund and others, seem to have failed, but a March 28 letter from individuals representing 10 (!) local groups to Spitzer asks him to reverse the controversial amendments to the longstanding General Plan and Foothill Trabuco Specific Plan. 

“The poetry of earth is never dead”
Notwithstanding struggles over land use, Keats and nature lovers stream to the hills to celebrate a bumper crop of poppies (Eschscholzia californica) spectacularly encouraged by rain and abundant in recent burn areas.  Meanwhile, the 12th Annual Chili Cook-Off is Saturday, May 6 at the Community Center, to benefit the Children’s Center.  Artists:  Secure a booth now to show work at Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary’s Summerfest, June 3 & 4.  Nature, art, food, wine and music.