Archive » April 7, 2011
ON THE RANCH
By Nancy Crawford-Hall, Publisher
The endSince 1901, my family – the fourth generation of John Vickers and the fourth generation of Walter C. Vail – has either owned or had an interest in Santa Rosa Island located 30-some miles off the coast of Santa Barbara. It was a partnership that started in Arizona where Walter and John were neighboring cattle ranchers that has lasted until 2011, when the National Park Service (NPS) with the help of local eco groups will finally force us and everything we brought off the island.
For those of you who weren’t around in the 1980s when this odyssey started to remove us and put management and ownership of the island in the hands of NPS, it began with notification to the third generation of owners that the government was interested in buying the island. When they were refused, as we were quite happy owning the island and producing many thousands of beef cattle for sale, a quiet threat came down that if we would not sell, it would be condemned and taken. It was one if not the largest family-owned cattle business, an island business with its attendant issues.
Given that my father had spent nine grueling years in federal court in Los Angeles fighting to save the ownership of San Lucas Ranch here in the Valley, the partners felt it would not be fair to anyone to go through that effort again. While the feds continued to lowball the money they offered, and made a myriad of requirements if Vail and Vickers was to be able to remain on the island for a number of specified years, the partners decided to accept a figure that most, in retrospect, realized was a lot less than the actual value.
There was meeting after meeting until conditions were agreed upon. The document that was signed by all stated that Vail and Vickers was allowed to continue their business as usual until the year 2011. There were many conditions to be followed, but we thought we could live with them even though many of them seemed nonsensical. It was odd to us that people who knew virtually nothing about the island or its environment would have the arrogance to suggest that after almost 100 years of documented stewardship, we knew less than they did.
Not too long afterward, when the dust had all but settled and we had begun the difficult task of operating under the watchful eye of NPS employees, the National Parks Conservation Association along with our local Environmental Defense Center sued the NPS, claiming that the cattle were destroying the island that was now owned by the public, and NPS was not doing enough to protect the island for the public to enjoy. There were also claims that the annual hunts of elk and deer was detracting from the public’s right to be on the island. This was taken seriously, despite the fact that travel to the island was often restricted due to the dangerous weather in the channel during winter months.
That, of course, had nothing to do with what was happening on the island but that appeared irrelevant. We had argued frequently that crossing the channel was often a difficult thing to do, but no one paid much attention. Furthermore, the purpose of the hunts was to maintain a sustainable population of deer and elk that would not overgraze the island. That didn’t seem to be very important, either.
So, public hearings, nine-hour meetings with NPS and V&V attorneys and biologists ensued. A lot of time was wasted, in my opinion, trying to convince NPS with photographic evidence among other things that the animals were not damaging the island. They weren’t interested in listening and after months of discussions, agreements and relinquishment of already established rights, the court ruled that we had to remove the cattle. So that put us pretty much out of business, at least out of the cattle business in spite of the original Congressional agreement under which we had sold the island.
Nobody seemed to care but us. It was a sad and shameful end to a family business that had thrived for four generations; it was sad for us and shameful for Congress and those eco-freaks who destroyed the public’s side of the agreement. We had been lied to, again.
The NPS set about “improving” the infrastructure on the island to suit their requirements. They installed huge water tanks on top of the hills, destroying the view. They upgraded the electrical system, even though what was in place was more than adequate for the residents of the island for many years. They built new roads in order, they said, to put them in less erodible locations therefore disturbing even more land than there was before. How was this good for the environment they were supposed to be “saving?”
They insisted on lots of fencing that we had to pay for that they claimed would allow for better utilization of forage. Since none of them had ever had practical experience in island ranching, it was clear to us that they would just have to learn the hard way. They insisted on fencing the cattle, when they were still there, off of the beaches because their biologists insisted that they were stepping on the nests of the snowy plovers who had been listed as being in some sort of danger. After months of fences, the morbidity rate of plover eggs was higher than before the fencing. What they learned, tragically, was that the presence of the cattle helped to keep away the island foxes that apparently had a taste for fresh plover eggs. Why didn’t the biologists know that?
I guess it’s not such an issue anymore, as I hear that the foxes are now all in cages. What a shame, as we used to enjoy watching them scamper around at dusk through the hayfield. Is this what is meant by government employees knowing better how to care for the land, and all that is there than people who have taken care of it for 100 years ?
The final chapter is being written as we speak. We are in negotiations regarding just how we are to leave the island this year. There are still deer, elk and some horses on the island. Like the slaughter of sheep on Santa Cruz Island because of some Pre-Columbian mandate NPS claims to have, all of the deer and elk must be slaughtered as well before we leave. How do you feel about that? They have been there for almost 100 years, so surely they are now part of the ecosystem. Where is PETA when it really matters?
So helicopters will be used to shoot the animals just like on Santa Cruz. I can’t even fathom how horrible that will be! I cannot believe that we are being forced to do this by people whose salary we pay. Something is terribly wrong here, and I can never look out over the channel on a clear day and not think of the wholesale slaughter of animals on those Channel Islands that we are being required to do before we can leave. I worry for the older horses that must be left behind, as they cannot make the trip to the mainland. I don’t think they will fare very well under those whose care they will have simply because they are completely ignorant about what to do.
This is what a four-generation family business has come to. I admire my business partners in their fortitude in dealing with this impossible situation. I know that all of our hearts have been broken along with the promises made to our families. I am glad that our parents are no longer here to see what has happened. The tragedy goes on in the name of environmentalism, and I mourn for the demise of Santa Rosa Island.
Follow the moneyPower, control, greed and corruption – it is oh-so alive and well in Santa Barbara County. As the unfolding of the inner workings of politics here continue to be revealed, I have been astonished to realize that underneath the temperate climate and beautiful scenery lies some of the ugliest examples of human nature. What has been discovered is a well-worn path of money that travels from one pocket to another to buy elections, officials and legislation.
The saying “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” could not be more real right here in our back yard. While we all had thought for so many years that we didn’t have the population here in the Valley to get a representative who actually represented us versus the population over the hill, it simply wasn’t true. Not only that, it wasn’t even the population over the hill that was the reason we couldn’t get real representation. No, there was another hidden force at work and it had been doing so for many years.
You may have been watching the on-going saga in Wisconsin between the governor and the public employees who have been fighting over the governor’s attempt to rein in the unfunded pension and benefit packages that had been given when our economy was in better shape. The unions who represent these folks took offense that anybody would try to take back their obligations, in spite of the clear signal that those payments would break the bank. Instead of sitting down and coming up with a plan that would work for everybody, the unions decided to play hardball with people’s lives and got people all riled-up, protesting that their lives were being ruined, which they weren’t, and generally being destructive to the tune of millions of dollars in damages to public buildings and ignoring the children they were being paid to teach, among other things.
It is almost like the unions have become the thugs they were supposed to protect the workers from. They have become so big and autocratic, that I think they’ve forgotten what their mission is. Bullying is not it, but that is what they are resorting to. By having employees forced to pay into the unions whether they want to or not and them not having anything to say about how the money is spent, it has become a very unhealthy system.
What we are beginning to see is unions like Service Employees International Union (SEIU) all over the country taking far too much interest in our elections. What we are finding is a substantial trail of money going to candidates in our local elections and those people all seem to be winning. For example, remember VERF, the Voter Education and Research Fund that was so prevalent in our 2008 election? Well, between April 2006 and August 2008, SEIU gave VERF $325,000 – and now VERF is now being investigated by the Secretary of State Voter Fraud Unit for Felony Violations of the California Elections Code. In addition, when their name came up in the courtroom, VERF seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. Wonder what their new name is?
During this same election cycle, SEIU gave $165,000 to Doreen Farr’s campaign, with another $160,000 coming from other union groups. We also find other locals with generous donations, including Das Williams for State Assembly 2010, League of Conservation voters, Joyce Dudley for District Attorney (2), and Re-elect Supervisor Janet Wolf 2010. There were also endorsements involved. So what do all of these candidates have in common, and why has SEIU chosen to give them thousands of dollars of working people’s money to get them elected? Stay tuned for the answer.
SpringOne of the joys of spring is the arrival of the flowers and the birth of foals. We have been very fortunate so far this year, with only one disaster where we lost both the foal and the recipient mare. It was a very sad time for us. Better days have followed with the successful birth of four colts and two fillies so far. We have had several Shady Lil Starlight (Bentley) foals that have a lot of white on their legs and faces. They also seem to have a lot of roan on them as well, like their sire.
We also have welcomed our first Nabisco Roan, “Triscuit” foal into the world out of Sheza Shinette. He’s a very cute roan, we think, with a coon tail and at least two white socks. His registered name will be Onesonofa triscuit and his barn name will be Ritz (another Nabisco product!).
We also have our very first Nic N Chic X Shady Lil Starlight foal, a colt with a very distinctive facial marking. We have named him Shady Nic Luvs Chics and his barn name is Bugati. He’s a very active and friendly little guy, and it is obvious that he won’t need much training as he already races around his outdoor pen, easily changing leads from one to the other at full speed. We look forward to him growing up and joining his older siblings in the show pen.
Our latest foal is one of the two fillies we’ve had so far; she is by Bentley and out of Instant Paloma AKA Sophia. I think she will be a buckskin like her dam, and she has a lovely white blaze on her face. She’s a little shy just yet, but I am sure that will pass as she ages. We have tentatively given her a barn name of Shelby but have not yet come up with a possible registered name. I am glad that we have another filly to keep the other one company.
The foaling season is only half over for us, as we are expecting another six to be born. I really look forward to this time of year with anticipation and trepidation, as I know that sometimes things don’t work out as we would wish. Here’s to a happy foaling season for all those horse people anxiously awaiting their foals!