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The Stornetta Public Lands Need Some Serious Protecting

Stornetta Public Lands

Point Arena coastal locals, who at first welcomed the Bureau of Land Management’s takeover of the Stornetta Public Lands, are becoming increasingly alarmed as they witness the destruction caused by clueless humans flocking to Point Arena’s unique ecosystem along Lighthouse Road.

The environmental damage caused within the mapped zones of this Marine Protected Sanctuary is thus far environmentally tragic. Compared to the grazing herds of Stornetta cows over the last 100 years, current human foot traffic and off-road vehicles are tearing apart the ocean cliff tops along Point Arena’s Lighthouse Road worse than the cows ever did.

Locals ask why?

The 1132-acre Stornetta Public Lands have been open to the public for about eight years now. Recently, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat ran a series of articles about the endangered species and beauty of the area. These articles are fueling fire locally for their major contradiction. Why, with all the endangered species already identified in and around this “protected” area, would any public agency — even one such as the BLM, so leaning toward privatization and leasing of the land, want to inflict an uneducated public on the land to trample caves and cliffs and to ruin such environmental treasures they claim to be protecting? I wonder what their plans are for the future of these lands and waters when the public has ravaged it. Oil derricks? Did environmentalists visualize this outcome?

Environmental problems existed over the years with silting in of the Garcia River due to the dairy cow pastures adjacent and bordering the Garcia on the East side of Highway One. I happen to know the Stornettas were constantly trespassed upon by the former Mayor Dahlhoff 20 years or so ago, regarding their dairy cow farm erosion around the river watersheds leading to and through the Garcia River. Now, Dahlhoff touts this visiting tourism trampling as being beneficial to the same estuary: a mindset she never previously adopted, maintaining a thankless and insular no-growth stranglehold within the Point Arena city limits over her 12 years in office. Now, as the environmentalist she insists she is, she wants to open the floodgates of tourism in this most destructive way? What a way to treat an antiquity!

Friends of the Garcia River worked with the Stornettas over the years to achieve soundness in grazing around the Garcia River Estuary: installation of a few bridges for the cows to use in crossing the arteries feeding into the Garcia River just before it empties into the ocean. (Thus avoiding erosion and silting in the huge and much diminished fish habitat in the Garcia River). The Stornetta Family cooperated with these environmental improvements over the years, and many advances were made in an effort to save the Garcia River steelhead and salmon. The Stornetta Dairy Ranch is an award winning ranch. The Stornetta Family has always given to this coastal community around Point Arena and Manchester. As well as innumerable Stornetta-related historical experiences over the last 100 years since the first Swiss-Italian Stornettas settled where their wagon broke down, the Stornettas have lived on the coastal cliffs, dunes and farmland near the Point Arena Lighthouse and the one road leading to it.

A full two-mile coastline on the Garcia River Estuary, the Stornetta Public Lands are a hiking treat around Point Arena’s Lighthouse Road. The Bureau of Land Management website encourages tourists to the area to climb on Sea Lion Island accessible only at low tide, while in contradiction, describing sensitive and extensive protected habitat at the area. Note that habitat didn’t get there by permitting the public to dismantle this great creation piece by piece as is currently being allowed to happen on Point Arena’s Lighthouse Road.

Now with irresponsible publicity, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat is encouraging hordes of people to believe that their erosive tramplings are neutral if not beneficial to the Stornetta Public Lands. Sunday’s obtuse editorial in the Press Democrat recommends kayaking off Point Arena’s Lighthouse Road. Stay tuned for mortality stats on that one.

The unsuspecting public should know that even experienced fishermen rarely drop anchor off Lighthouse Road, and surfers do not go there either. Locals screw up their faces when trying to remember when they last saw a kayak smashed against those rocks around Sea Lion Island. Will the Marine Protected Sanctuary even allow for such boating/kayaking in that area? I don’t think so. The interpretation from Point Arenans? One less tourist to trample the land if they want to try kayaking out there off Lighthouse Road.

Point Arena residents have been aware of the increasing erosion of the walkable Stornetta “Headlands” over the last few years. I, for one, see extensive erosion on the plateau nearest Lighthouse Road curve, erosion sped by human foot traffic and digging dogs off leash. Prior to Bureau of Land Management, there stood grassland over topsoil. No longer does it mirror the grassland of the inaccessible un-eroded island plateau sitting adjacent to and behind it. Since the takeover by BLM, extensive erosion now reveals a barren clay-colored cliff top.

I hate to rain on the BLM’s parade-of-a-public-propaganda-campaign advertising their purchase of this irreplaceable stretch of Coastline extensively untouched by the public for — almost ever. But, all the same, from Point Arena, the locals are asking, “WTF!?” Locals were never allowed to run amok like this public onslaught which has caused new roads because of no parking and underground caverns to be picked apart to collapse.

Who are the experts responsible for abating environmental damage while simultaneously abetting environmental destruction? Is there anyone in the BLM charged with protecting this treasure full of antiquity? What about the Pomo? Artifacts? Simply and rudely overlooked, perhaps?

Aren’t the Stornetta Public Lands in a marine sanctuary? Are these environmentally sensitive lands meant to be preserved or used up to destruction? Is the point to “allow” destruction at first; then requiring mitigation to disallow (perhaps horse and bicycle traffic later when the Feds have pillaged the coffers for at least bike and horse paths, not to mention fence funding)? Historically, hasn’t the motivation of BLM been opening land for mining, roads, logging, oil derricks, and otherwise uses bad for the environment? Why would that be any different here ultimately?

The Stornettas would have been required by the Coastal Commission to get fencing to protect all that is endangered had they themselves wanted to privatize the land into a public park. Bet on it. So what’s up with the BLM and the Press Demo’s articles where the writers seem to be wearing both blinders and rose colored glasses, ignoring the gaping hole in BLM’s sanctuary practices? Future privatization of the kind we don’t want here after all the endangered species, such as, I, the infamous Point Arena Mountain Beaver, have been destroyed and deposed?

Duke Stornetta used to drive his old blue truck along Point Arena’s Lighthouse Road checking fence, feeding cattle and making sure everyone from lovers to poachers stayed off the cliffs and on the road between the fences. Duke commanded his world from the driver’s seat always. He’d arrive at his destinations and honk for anyone to go greet him to retrieve from the back of his truck a gift of fresh farm peas or berries, always staying seated in the truck.

Jim Riley, former caretaker for years at the adjacent Loran (Radio) Station, once commented good naturedly after jumping up to respond to Duke’s honks, “I’ll be right back. That truck is glued to Duke’s derrière,” as Jim attended to the spontaneous board meeting over Duke’s driver's side door. Duke without ever getting out of the truck, had the locals trained. And so did the entire Stornetta family: “Stay off the cliffs and on the road, out of the old dump, don’t take any abalone, and no fishing!” Remaining still are a few beaten and ripped fiberglass signs which have yet to be destroyed by off-road vehicular traffic, which say, “Do not enter — Marine Sanctuary,” basically ignored.

(“Dairy Air,” by the way, is also a term coined by Point Arena locals about the Stornetta Ranch at fertilizer time. Former Point Arena general practitioner, Dr. Diane Harris, often identified “Stornetta Stomach” for the seasonal agricultural-induced vomiting, headache, sinus and stomach flu symptoms when the Stornettas spewed liquid fertilizer by irrigation sprayers onto their grazing lands. The associated volume of “dairy air” which smells of derrière and floats downwind into the City of Point Arena, hangs over the City for days like the (smelling of a) methane gas cloud it is, creating this airborne malady in local humans. True, the wind here blows most regularly with the ocean current: south from the Stornetta Ranch to Point Arena. We are our nature here. Wind is us.)

If you can find a satellite image of the area unobscured by chem-trails cross-hatching the North Coast skies on global satellite imaging, (and/or imaging on the BLM webcam), you will see images corroborating local observations comparing changes in surface erosion over these last few years after the Stornetta Lands became Public. Returning to Lighthouse Road after a few months absence, I noticed the land bridge over the nearest cave, balder than I’ve ever seen it and nearly eroded through to the cave opening. I was shocked as well, with the cliff tops along Lighthouse Road. This is erosion from the top down, not merely caused by battering from the waves or storms below.

The Stornettas’ cows were without question, much kinder to the same Coastal cliff-side land than any environmental plan for the land currently in place, and touted by former Mayor Dahlhoff of Point Arena. Or at least as described in the BLM websites representing Stornetta Public Lands presently.

Duke Stornetta’s old barbed wire fence bites into rock in the wind on one hundred-year-old redwood pickets. The public’s rights are trampling the rights of endangered species. No new fencing in sight along Lighthouse Road to spare the cliffs from human erosion and vehicular traffic. The rusted two-strand barbed wire fence on Point Arena’s Lighthouse Road barely survives Public Coastal Land-ers trying to apply what they know (or in this case, don’t know) to environmentally steward this land effectively, objectively and sensibly some 20 years later. Have humans learned nothing?

This natural process unabated by no fencing to keep automobiles from driving off road along Lighthouse Road, which until recently remained in place in a two-strand sort of poetic silhouette still appreciated and left undisturbed by locals — all destroyed now by heedlessness, unaware of how most locals steward the fragile balance of nature in which we remain, long after the tourists have gone home.

The current visible state of erosion to the Stornetta Public Lands makes me want to tunnel over to old Duke to see if he needs help rolling over in his grave.

Former Mayor Dahlhoff has been historically adamant about the erosion caused by the Stornettas grazing cow herds and how it relates to the Garcia River within this same watershed. Mr. and Mrs. Dahlhoff were caught by the Stornettas illegally trespassing onto the Stornetta Ranchlands inland of Highway One in previous efforts to eliminate erosion to the Garcia River by grazing and watering cow herds.

The shoe is on the other foot now; without proper establishment of satisfactory parking and no fencing, Dahlhoff and the BLM fully encourage yet more flocks of tourists and their vehicles onto this precious stretch of Coastline: Folks who are most uneducated about the effects of erosion, or worse, too many visitors unappreciative of any environment at all. There is no satisfactory fencing in place to deny access to the banks and plateaus which are already irreversibly damaged by human traffic. It makes one wonder what BLM has in store for the Point Arena Lighthouse when, as a result of this cliff erosion, there no longer exists (and very soon), …a road to it.

I encourage you to peruse the BLM website to inspect hiking options for Stornetta Public Lands. Check out parking in particular. Then, visit Lighthouse Road on a busy weekend and see how many tourists also have their vehicles welded to their derrières like old Duke Stornetta, as they refuse to park and walk for lack of decent parking, instead driving off road to the very cliff edge amid sink holes terminally pocked by gopher mounds. Ask the locals if they park way down by Highway One on Miners Hole;  according to the BLM website for Stornetta Public Lands, that’s all that’s offered for existing parking besides an occasional turnout.

With the Stornetta Public Land Plan there is essentially no parking, unless you want to off-road it over Duke’s remaining old rusty wire hanging from a toothpick of a redwood picket and drive right out to the very edge of the West Coast in your SUV, thus creating your own turn-out back-dropped by the waves beating the shoreline in the sunset.

On two different BLM web pages regarding Stornetta Public Lands and parking, or rather lack of it, it is recommended on one website (and not, on the other) to park at the end of Miner Hole, a scary dead end road. Locals advise it would be easier to park in Fresno and hike from there.

How close to the ocean does a car need to be permitted to drive, in an area the same environmentalists want to call preserved marine sanctuary? Are we to mimic the current Jeep commercial which shows the Jeep driving out to the very edge of the world in California, victorious over nature? Tourists arrive at the Stornetta Public Lands without a thought to how many people visit that same section of Coastline day after day, doing the same thing — or similar — or worse — driving their vans, trucks and SUVs “off road” the few remaining ten or twenty feet to the cliff’s very edge. This erosion comes from encroachment above the water’s edge well beyond safety and environmental zones. Land deteriorates soon enough with beatings from the encroaching Pacific storms smashing into Point Arena. Point Arena is so far west that we sit on the western tectonic plate-side of the San Andreas Fault line, not the eastern tectonic plate as with the rest of the Continental United States. Locals joke about becoming an island after the next Big One rather than falling off into the Pacific.

Point Arena serves as the clean air standard for the United States because it sits the most westerly on our North American continent. Life in Point Arena depends largely on first inspecting the daily weather. Locals monitor and steward the land and water here because they know they live in a fragile Coastal environment. Some have named ravens, whales, sea otters and friendly Al the Albatross returns year after year like the seasonal local  bad drinker that he is. Point Arenans tend to attempt lives as one with and in nature, even though many of them are not of it, having arrived long ago from Coastal pockets elsewhere to find small town life here in the paradise of Point Arena’s odd nature.

Many locals, in fact, find themselves having to rein back behaviors taught them by their ancestors long before fishing and hunting laws here changed. It must be embarrassing considering all their restoration efforts for the Stornetta Family to experience the recent disappointment when one of their favored sons was caught with a freezer full of 17 fertile female steelhead/salmonids from the same Garcia River fishing hole fished by Stornetta Family members for about a hundred years.

The priceless landscape of the Stornetta Public Lands, already veined with natural ravines, faults, caverns, caves, tunnels and gophers, all of which tourists want to explore and dig into to find a relic to take home with them… can’t take such abuse in the long run. Pictured on BLM’s webcam, already locals complain that the beautiful waterfall between the Loran Station and Lighthouse Road has been smashed by humans and now creates instead seeping puddles above the ocean.

Please, if you contact your public officials, ask for funding to sponsor appropriate fencing and some designated and maintained parking before opening such spots to irreversible erosion damage by the onset of public human encroachment, irresponsibly allowed thus far on the Stornetta Public Lands by the Bureau of Land Management. The environmentally sensitive mode of operation is sorely lacking out there on Lighthouse Road.

Herds of nursing beef cows with calves still roam the pastures along these cliffs. Every day I see another visitor like the Jeep commercial too close to the cliff edge. Turning dogs off leash to run yards ahead and out of ear shot is another bad idea. As we all know here on the gale-torn Coast, you cannot bark into the Coastal wind and expect to be heard when trying to call back your dog which you’ve carelessly let run far ahead, off leash.

Dahlhoff is the local spearhead for this huge project. Parking had been a vital concern of hers as Mayor of the City of Point Arena where all permit applications were given the fine tooth comb for parking. I wonder, where’s her fine tooth parking comb now? Why isn’t she concentrating on mitigation of environmental damage along Lighthouse Road before expanding further while the government is cooperating with buying up all the “retirement acres” along the Pacific Coastal Highway One in Northern California? (For whatever use in the future remains to be seen. The BLM, remember, is known to lease and privatize their land.)

I’ve taken some shocking reality footage of fools driving out to the edge of the wave-splashed cliffs to park right next to a sink hole over a multiplex of fresh gopher mounds. Darwin award winners, they drove by the few remaining Marine Sanctuary signs on that section of road. Not three feet from their front bumper are two sink holes, and the truck sits surrounded by fresh gopher mounds — everywhere on that finger of cliff. “Should I trust that?” never enters some peoples’ minds.

What are the plans for the new Lighthouse Road after a few years more erosion like this? Definitely not bicycle and horse paths after all this irreversible human erosion has been let to occur as such by BLM. The perpetrators of this environmental abuse on the Stornetta Public Lands are sorely wrong in not first providing new fencing to prevent four-wheeling and erosion of the Lighthouse cliffs in the process.

As BLM allows it to happen, locals witness the speed of natural oceanic erosion, augmented by humans causing far more erosion than Mountain Beaver to Stornetta Public Lands. No imminent domain necessary when a replacement road further in-land is eventually needed for the only access to the Point Arena Lighthouse as the adjacent land is public now, Lighthouse Road will continue to crumble and erode as it has over the centuries, additionally damaged by four-wheeling humans or not. Even so, what is the Federal government thinking when not providing sufficient preservation safeguards for the stewardship of this beautiful, irreplaceable historical and much-loved Coastline?

If you had an antiquity and a treasure, would you turn it over to the BLM to manage? This could be a marine sanctuary in name only.

Do I care if tourists sink-hole themselves into the ocean? No. However, after having lived on the North Coast of California since ’79, I’ve developed an appreciation for the undisturbed in nature. I am not alone in this feeling for this oceanside community where locals are so much a part of their nature. So when I see new tourists driving over those last two strands of barbed wire (probably installed by old Duke Stornetta himself on one of the rare occasions he actually got out of his truck), it offends my senses. I want the cliffs of the Stornetta Public Lands protected from human damage in some sensible way. The Stornettas had locals trained; while the new stewards, appear to need training wheels in preservation of the Stornetta Public Lands.


  1. Mike Jamieson April 3, 2013

    I’m looking at a picture I took of the map they had at city hall on Friday and it shows three large parcels south of the Stornetta Public Lands that will be added for the National Monument. I think Lauren Sinnott in a FB comment called it the Atwood property. There is a fair amount of foot traffic and encounters with bulls and cows through that property, the south/western edge and corner overlooking Arena Cove. And, so far the humans have been as kind as the cows in the over hundred years of their grazing there. The access to this area is very easy….a structured gate with signage right behind City Hall!
    The two areas that the AVA News Service addressed will clearly have to be matters for correction, or prevention, by the way they do planning and development on access infrastructure for Lighthouse Road and the area adjacent to the Garcia River along Miners Hole Road.
    The AVA News Service, apparently not friends with former Mayor Leslie Dahloff (LOL!), seems to touch on an impact perhaps not fully recognized and assimilated by people in that area. They will need to have some affordable lodging available. They have already great plans in place for a campground and rv parking on former federal land at Arena Cove. I wonder what’s going on with the Sea Shell Inn being rehabbed?
    I suppose soon things will have to get down to the nitty/gritty in planning how this site will be developed and used. Which should include a parallel planning agenda on related needed development to support what I think is going to be a mild to moderate increase in tourist traffic (for another 20 years anyway…..we have no good coast to 101 connector road….but, perhaps the one between northern Sonoma Lake and Stewarts Point can be much improved).

  2. Mike Jamieson April 12, 2013

    Here’s a link to a pic of the condition of the ground just beyond the BLM gate for the Stornetta Public Land, located just off Lighthouse Rd with Seal Lion Rocks Island nearby.

    (Lots of other pics taken yesterday at this area, at above general address, along with some taken from Miner Hole Rd. Plan later to walk much further beyond the barrier on that road to where the Garcia River joins the road…and beyond. That’s part of the northern area of the Stornetta Public Land managed by BLM. Also, plan walk from Point Arena end, where there is a BLM access gate behind City Hall, and go north on trail from there.)

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