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Conservation Groups Will Seek Increased Protection for Tolowa Dunes State Park

Dune Ponds in TDSP, looking S. to Lake Earl, 2003

California Department of Parks and Recreation Director Ruth Coleman has abandoned her controversial plan to reclassify a portion of Tolowa Dunes State Park as a State Recreation Area. The unprecedented reclassification scheme was an attempt to allow waterfowl hunting in the State Park despite a legislative prohibition of such use. Coleman has now proposed to use a General Plan process as the means of pursuing hunting in the park.

The conservation groups who successfully fought both the reclassification proposal, and an earlier attempt to transfer 1200 acres of this Park to the Department of Fish and Game, say State Parks leadership continues to focus on perpetuating illegal uses, rather than protecting the irreplaceable resources of Tolowa Dunes. The groups vow to seek increased protection for Tolowa Dunes State Park under the General Plan process.

Joe Gillespie of Friends of Del Norte expressed a mixture of relief and puzzlement at the news. “Conservationists have been requesting a General Plan be prepared for Tolowa Dunes for years. Up to now, we’ve always been told there’s no money for a General Plan to ensure protection of the natural and cultural resources of Tolowa Dunes. Now suddenly, with the parks system in crisis, and when the Director wants to remove part of the Park, there’s money for a General Plan.”

Scott Greacen of EPIC said, “A General Plan for Tolowa Dunes is long overdue, but even as Director Coleman announced the new process, she emphasized that ‘she wants to make the resumption of hunting one of the considerations.’ Earth to Ruth Coleman: hunting is not a legal use of State Parks, period, end of story.”

The unprecedented proposal to reclassify a 600 acre portion of Tolowa Dunes State Park had created a stir among conservationists, Native Americans, the Coastal Commission and State Park employees, not only because of the reclassification, but because the Department appeared intent on making the change administratively and without the required public process. The area proposed for hunting adjoins the site of the 1853 massacre in which 450 members of the Tolowa tribe were slaughtered, and the cemetery where Tolowa graves were looted in 2010.

Karen Schambach of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility noted, “State Parks leadership tried to pressure local staff into agreeing to an illegal ‘arrangement’ for the benefit of a few hunters even after their own lawyers told them they could not legally do so. With the threats to Tolowa Dunes and to the entire State Parks system from a lack of staffing and resources, it’s appalling that Director Coleman continues to focus not on her department’s mission, but on opening up a really important State Park to a small group of well-connected hunters.”

The groups vowed to continue to fight for full protection of the State Park, its sensitive wildlife and the cultural heritage of the Tolowa people. “It’s clear from State Park’s own materials that significant portions of Tolowa Dunes State Park merit, indeed require, protection as both a natural and cultural preserve,” said EPIC’s Greacen. “State Parks has failed so far to protect these resources from trespassing off-road vehicles and other inappropriate uses.”


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