GUEST OPINION: Are we preparing for or inviting disaster?

The counties approach to surveying the public regarding disaster preparedness is important. Visit http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HumboldtCohazmit.

Even while we enjoy our homes, backyards and beaches we should be running through our checklist of what might happen if a “big one “ hits.

Certainly being prepared to help our neighbors is a must do. Securing food and water supplies and developing tsunami evacuation plans are all good.

On the East Coast they are taking preparedness quite seriously especially after super storm Sandy. From Maine to Florida the coastal communities are coming out in droves to plant and replant ammophila. That’s right, ammophila. The beach grass we have spent millions trying to eradicate from our coastline.

There are two types of beach grass we started planting along our coast a hundred years ago. American beach grass and European beach grass. The two are very difficult to tell apart. American beach grass is less effective and more invasive than European beach grass. That is according to a recent Oregon State University study. East Coasters would be quite jealous of what we have here. They are only planting the American variety which produces a shorter, less effective dune.

It is still not clear why we would want or need to change management of our coastal dunes so radically. If “restoring” them means going back to what we think they might have been we are ignoring why we used state, federal and county resources to stabilize them in the first place. How exactly are we replacing those protections?

In some areas on the eastern seaboard they actually construct fences around the planted ammophila to protect it while it grows. Here we removed it with bulldozers at Clam Beach and put fences up to keep humans out of the denuded areas. There they recognize the benefits the grass provides for the coastal wetlands and nature and agriculture areas. Here we set the sand free to smother ours. Some folks on Cape Cod actually got fined $200 for removing a small section of the ammophila and were made to replant it. They say the ammophila beach grass even helps their local and threatened piping plover.

There is a simple and effective way to rebuild dunes developed on Cape Cod. Placing lath or cedar shims in a random 8 to 10 inch pattern in a blown out area of the dune gathers the wind blown sand. Periodic raising the stakes allows more sand to collect. It is called biomimicry. It is what the beach grass would be doing if it was not removed. Check the link below for more information.

I found one disturbing part of the County’s survey however. We are asked if we would support moving people off of threatened areas and presumably have some federal agency own the land as open space. Federal lands have begun the ugly habit of producing very little while costing us top dollar.

Unfortunately this has already been happening to some of our local ranches.

Much of our very fertile agriculture land is being turned into choking thatch, swamps or sand covered pasture. Some of these rich pastures put more weight on cattle per day than a feedlot. That is how fertile they are. Turning grass, sunshine and rain into protein is rarely so easy.

Some of these areas may make sense to turn back into wetlands but to discredit and reverse the extensive and concerted efforts it took to make many of these lands so fertile is counter productive. Remember  – eating is an agricultural act.

If we are deciding to prevent (as much as we can) and prepare for natural disasters we are foolish to be inviting disaster by removing a very effective and natural protection that our beach grass provides. Nor should we be putting prime agriculture soils under water, cement or a sheet of sand.

If a disaster really does hit we are still going to want to eat and have our roads and homes intact.

Please visit OpenBeaches.org.