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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Pebble Beach development imperils Monterey pines

Monterey PinesA massive development in the Del Monte Forest proposes cutting down more than 15,000 native Monterey pine trees to make way for a new 18-hole golf course, 160 new hotel rooms, 33 residential lots, a golf driving range, 60 employee housing units and new roads and trails. Proposed relocation of the equestrian facilities alone would require cutting down over 1,000 Gowen cypress, coast live oak, and Bishop pine trees.

The Pebble Beach Company released the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) in February. The site of the project, the Del Monte Forest, is the largest and most complex remaining stand of native Monterey pines in the world.

The Ventana Chapter has submitted comments about our grave concerns for the health of this rare ecosystem. Our biologists have determined that the Draft EIR does not sufficiently address the impacts of the proposed construction on the forest.

Reflected in a pond, these trees are part of the last remaining native Monterey pines which contain a priceless heritage of genetic biodiversity.Both the assessment of the existing biological resources and the damage that would be caused by the project are inaccurately portrayed. No distinction is made among the different habitats on the site and the genetic diversity of the plants. Incredibly, the complex forest habitat is treated as though it were one large homogeneous area-like a Christmas tree farm!

This DEIR was released amid growing public awareness of the fragility and rarity of the Monterey pine forest which once covered about 19,000 acres in Monterey. Today, native stands of this species occur in only five places in the world: Cedros (370 acres) and Guadalupe Islands (200 trees only) off the coast of Baja in Mexico; and Aņo Nuevo (1,000 to 1,500 acres), Cambria (3,000 acres) and the Monterey Region, including Del Monte Forest (8,000 acres) along the California Central Coast.

Arguably the Monterey pine forest is our most important native plant community. Developers like to dismiss the Monterey pine forest as too common to merit protection, but they fail to understand that the few thousand remaining acres of functional native forest contain a priceless heritage of genetic biodiversity that has enabled it to survive over thousands of years of climate change and other environmental stresses. This genetic library is likely to be essential in the future to enable the multi-billion dollar timber and nursery industries, where genetic variability has been bred out of the stock, to overcome unpredictable future catastrophes. For a current example, the heavy mortality early on from pine pitch canker has declined as more trees have been shown to be resistant and others have the ability to recover from the disease.

Although the exact number of remaining native Monterey pines varies depending on the criteria used, there is agreement that between 40-50% of the original forest has been lost. In just the last 10 years, over 1,000 acres of the pine forest on the Monterey Peninsula has been cut down to make way for development.

Monterey PineconesThis dwindling of the resource is evidence that the Monterey pine forest should be classified as Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA) and fully protected under the Coastal Act. In a 2004 report, the Natural Diversity Database program of the State Department of Fish and Game calls Monterey pine forest "very threatened."

The proposed Pebble Beach project would continue to fragment this fragile forest, degrading the remaining habitat. When habitat is divided, the remaining smaller areas have a larger edge which is subject to greater disturbance and is more vulnerable to degradation. The smaller areas which the project designates as "conserved" were not selected by biological criteria, but rather dictated by construction needs. It is not clear whether these remnant pieces can support target species in the long term.

The suggested mitigation for this project is woefully inadequate and relies on unproven techniques. For example, the translocation of federally listed species such as Yadon's piperia is highly risky. Little is known about the habitat needs and propagation of this endangered plant. The removal of thousands of trees and the bulldozing of their habitat cannot be mitigated by planting seedlings. The cumulative effects on ground water quality, raptors, and other wildlife from the large quantities of herbicides, insecticides and rodent poisons which would be used on the golf course and other landscaping is inadequately addressed.

Even without the impacts of Pebble Beach development, the Monterey pine forest is threatened by pitch canker which has caused significant mortality of pines and continues to kill trees.

This project has a long way to go through the public review process. We encourage you to follow and comment on this issue as it relates to protection for all critical natural resources both in our local community and statewide.

From an aesthetic and economic standpoint, the Monterey pine forest provides the dark green backdrop that contrasts with the granitic headlands and dramatic ocean vistas to make this area one of the most attractive places in the world to live and visit. Let's not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs!

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