RANCHO MATILIJA RESIDENTS UNITE TO PROTECT WILDLIFE
By Sally Rice
At noon on Saturday, June 25, a small group of environmental activists and residents of Rancho Matilija gathered for brunch at the home of Alanna Tachington to celebrate a two year program implemented by locals in collaboration with the homeowners association to help turn their neighborhood green.
The primary focus of many concerned residents has been to reduce the use of pesticides for weed abatement, and to modify the timing and methods of clearing brush from open, undeveloped lots in the neighborhood and surrounding landscapes, with the purpose of reducing risk and mortality to wildlife in the area.
Present at the brunch was a cornucopia of individuals whose collective efforts to improve our environment and protect wildlife were nothing short of monumental. Wayne Pacelle, CEO and president of the United States Humane Society, made attending the brunch his priority, while in route from San Francisco to Ojai to attend a book-signing event for his new release “The Bond,” scheduled at the Primavera Gallery later that afternoon.
“My greatest passion is working to protect animals; I wanted to come and see what these great folks were doing here. I heard about their work in anti-poisoning and I wanted to get a bit more insight,” Pacelle stated.
Tachington, who is a dedicated environmentalist and volunteer, collaborated with her neighbor, screenwriter and fellow activist Melanie Wizan, to organize the brunch, which culminated in a short “field trip” to the residence of Jim and Dotty Combs, to view the owl boxes they, (together with other neighbors) placed in trees surrounding their property on MacDonald Drive, to encourage the nocturnal creatures to nest, and hunt in order to “naturally” inhibit the growing rodent population, in lieu of traps and poison.
Lindy Goetz, vice president of the Rancho Matillija Property Owners Association (R.M.P.O.A.) and husband of environmentalist Cristin Goetz, (who was unable to attend due to illness) shared his enthusiasm and support of the efforts the community has made to help reduce risk to wildlife in the community while taking care of necessary ordinances required to clear the landscape of brush to reduce fire risks, and comply with t fire department regulations.
“We have empty lots that need to be cleared each year,” Goetz explained. In the past, we used to disc the land, which disrupted and destroyed the nests of the Red Wing Blackbirds, and other animals, but now we mow instead.” Disc clearing involves a form of rototilling, upsetting the habitat of ground squirrels, gophers, and birds that nest in the brush, to name a few of the creatures affected by the practice. Concerned citizens, including Berkeley Meigs, who states she has “worked for the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network forever,” described how extending the brush clearance date to the very end of May in order to wait for the Red Wing Blackbirds to migrate, saved the lives of the birds and their offspring, that previously, following the procedure of disc clearing, would have destroyed the nests of the indigenous wildlife.
Among the guests of environmentalists attending the brunch, was 17-year-old Alec Loorz, of Oak View, founder of Teens Against Global Warming, (a non-profit supported by Al Gore) who, despite his young age, has made the protection of wildlife and nature his primary mission and career focus.
“Ultimately, (methods like these) are less expensive, and a better choice,” Pacelle said. “The real costs are bored by all the creatures that die a miserable, long protracted death. We’re better than this as a species. We don’t’ need to treat animals like they’re so expendable. We need to respect all life forms,” Pacelle stated. “Ultimately, when people are presented a choice, they’ll usually opt for the best one, and this community action is proof of that.”
Dotty Combs, who has been an active member and volunteer at the Ojai Raptor Center, a local wildlife rehabilitation facility, is encouraged by the success of the program. According to Monique Dedinas, who is on the architectural and landscape committee for Rancho Matilija, Red Tail Hawks are on the increase, and the Blue Herons are eating the rodents like crazy.”
“A program like this one, when it’s successful, can become a blueprint for other communities to follow,” added Pacelle. “It’s the best form of civic activism, when communities ban together to show a better way, and that’s what they’ve done. They’ve restored the predators to be nature’s rodenticides – rather than poisoning the rodents and having the poison cycle through the food chain. This is the way nature knows how to maintain a balance.”