The Gaviota Coast
A unique ecosystem, a common battle
Santa Barbara County's Gaviota Coast stretches from Coal Oil Point in Goleta to Point Sal near Lompoc. In California, it is the geographical region where northern and southern ecosystems meet and overlap. Due to a complex geologic history, the Gaviota's environment boasts a rich variety of habitats. From gentle ocean bluffs to the steep rocky outcrops of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the landscape includes plains, foothills, grassland, shrubland, woodland, chaparral and forest.
Rising 4000 feet above sea-level, the Santa Ynez Mountains act as a migration corridor for wildlife from California's large interior region. The area boasts a population of mountain lions, black bears, badgers, golden eagles and California newts and is home to the endangered California condor.
Freshwater streams rush down the steep slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains toward the ocean, creating a number of estuaries with salt marsh habitats. The creeks of this region were once the spawning grounds for both King salmon and southern steelhead, now only about 300 southern steelhead remain. A rich giant kelp forest is home to the threatened southern sea otter. The endangered Brown pelican feeds in the near-shore environment and nests on the coastal bluffs and cliffs. Along the coastal dunes and beaches of the Gaviota coast, the California least tern and the Western snowy plover nest and winter on the sandy shores of Coal Oil Point or at the mouth of the Santa Ynez River. Just offshore, the Channel Islands provide a major feeding ground for blue whales.
Riparian forests line the region's creeks, supporting the highest diversity of plant and animal species in North America. The foothills are covered with coastal sage scrub, including the endangered Gaviota tarplant. Rare native grasses grow on the foothills of the Gaviota Coast, home to the threatened Grasshopper Sparrow.
Overall, the Gaviota coast contains 24 federal or state listed threatened and endangered species and 29 species of vascular plants that are considered rare, endangered or of special concern.
The area is home to a number of families who have farmed wide tracts of land for generations. Encroaching development has put pressure on these families and the other residents of the Gaviota Coast to make hard decisions about the future use and preservation of the area.
In March of 2004, the National Park Service rejected a proposal to designate the Gaviota Coast a national seashore. Citing resistance from local property owners, the Park Service said the plan for protection was unfeasible, but reaffirmed the area's significance as a national treasure.
The decision came upon the completion of a four-year study that concluded that this last undeveloped stretch of Southern California coast should be included in the national park system. However the study was the subject of an ongoing battle between conservationists and property rights advocates. The debate continues today.