Source: Friends of the Ellwood Monarchs
At the second of two hearings to consider options for addressing the perceived emergency conditions that prompted numerous trail closures on Ellwood Mesa, Goleta’s City Council voted unanimously last night to pursue “Option 6” – an alternative to the five options identified by City Staff, developed by Friends of the Ellwood Monarchs (FOTEM).
Both hearings turned out numerous Goleta residents, environmental groups, and others alarmed by City Staff’s initial recommendation to remove approximately 1,400 dead and dying trees on Ellwood Mesa. The push to close trails through the grove in July and subsequently remove the trees was prompted by concerns the City’s insurer raised over the potential for dead trees to fall and cause injury to the public.
Options presented in the initial staff report ranged from immediate removal of up to approximately 1,400 eucalyptus trees throughout sensitive Monarch butterfly overwintering habitat without prior environmental review or a habitat restoration and management plan (HRMP) in place, to keeping most trails closures in place for 3-5 years until all necessary environmental review and permitting were secured to fell the trees.
By developing Option 6, FOTEM sought to more narrowly address the public safety and access concerns, while prioritizing completion of the HRMP before any large-scale tree removal. Option 6 calls for the identification of key trails that allow the public to access Ellwood Mesa and the beach without large-scale tree removal and before Monarch migration season begins in October this year.
At the September 5th hearing, the community rallied behind Option 6, and Council gave Staff clear direction to analyze and further refine Option 6 for the September 7th hearing. Despite the short turn around time, City Staff was able to identify a specific trail network that could be safely reopened, while drastically reducing the number of trees that would require removal down to only 29. After hearing enthusiastic support from FOTEM and nearly every public speaker, the Mayor and each member of Council voiced their support for Option 6.
Direction from Council included that the small number of hazardous trees near the Ellwood West and Ellwood Main aggregation sites be removed before Monarch season begins on October 1st.
“Had the City proceeded and started removing hundreds of trees from the Ellwood Complex without studying the potential effects on environmentally sensitive Monarch habitat, it would have placed the most important overwintering site for Monarchs in southern California in serious jeopardy”, explained Cynthia Brock of FOTEM. “It’s critical that the microclimate the Monarchs need to aggregate is retained, and the habitat restoration and management plan will address how best to do that.”
“Option 6 narrows the scope of any emergency work to only what is necessary to reopen adequate public access to Ellwood Mesa and the beach, while addressing the City insurer’s public safety concern” stated Ana Citrin, attorney for FOTEM. “The large-scale tree removal initially proposed would have arbitrarily removed all dead and dying trees regardless of whether they are near public trails or pose a safety risk, and without adequate protection or restoration of environmentally sensitive Monarch overwintering habitat. That approach would violate the City’s General Plan and the Coastal Act”, explained Citrin.
“The community rallied to save Ellwood from development, and now our challenge is making sure Ellwood is saved for the Monarchs” said Chris Lange of FOTEM. “The City has extended a request to FOTEM to work actively with them in the upcoming months, and we will be there.”
The City plans to hold regular updates on the status of the emergency work and the HRMP, starting next month.