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Feature Stories

Wetlands Restoration to Continue

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 1
1/11/2013


By Kirt Ramirez

As one of the last marshes left in Long Beach, the Los Cerritos Wetlands is slowly being restored through a community effort of eco-friendly people.

In the early 1900s, the Los Cerritos Wetlands covered 2400 acres of land in Long Beach and Seal Beach but now only 500 acres remain, according to www.lcwetlands.org.

Today oil rigs drill deep into the ground. Clusters of non-native palms stand in disarray. Power poles and wires garnish the area while a power plant serves as a backdrop to the brown, barren land just off of Pacific Coast Highway, near the Seal Beach border.

“However, the area is restorable,” said Pat Bliss, vice president of Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust. “Ideally, the oil operations would be clustered so that more tidal water could irrigate the wetlands. But a lot can be done with the wells and pipes in their current locations.”

The Land Trust (LCWLT) is the principal educational and advocacy organization for Los Cerritos Wetlands. The LCWT does not hold land; that job, along with administration, belongs to the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority (LCWA), which consists of representatives from the cities of Long Beach and Seal Beach and the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy (RMC) and California Coastal Conservancy, Bliss explained.

Currently about 200 of the 500 acres is in the hands of the public, she added.

Luz Torres, staff biologist for LCWA, said a high percentage of plant life currently on the property is “unfortunately” not native.
She said the land has been used as an oil site and a lot of rubble material was dumped in the wetlands after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, as well as other trash.

“It was far enough from people’s homes (back then) that people used it as a dumpsite,” Torres said.

Now people are working to make the site prettier and more natural.

Torres said over 70 bird species use the site.

“Currently, the federally endangered California Least Tern has been observed foraging on the LCWA’s wetland property and the federally endangered Pacific Green Sea Turtle has been observed foraging immediately outside the wetland, in the San Gabriel River,” she said. “Additionally, the state endangered Belding’s Savannah Sparrow nests on site within the salt marsh habitat.”

Meanwhile, a few dozen people showed up on a cold, frosty Saturday morning, Jan. 5, to take a hike. The walks are given the first Saturday of each month for the public to get behind the chain link fence and experience the wetlands. Various birds, animals and evidence of animals can be seen.

Raccoon and coyote paw prints mark dirt trails. Smaller prints from rabbits, squirrels or skunks also are visible in the sand.

“The coyote is the top predator out here; also hawks,” said naturalist Taylor Parker. “We have some fun stuff; all kinds of snakes, lizards, frogs, rare butterflies, endangered birds.”

Parker, along with partner Eric Zahn, lead hikes as well as manage the land for the LCWA. They both are principals and environmental educators with Tidal Influence.

Zahn said it doesn’t look like the oil operations will go away anytime soon, but the urban and economical aspects of the wetlands can coexist with the natural environment.

Parker pointed out an osprey – often known as a fish eagle – standing atop a utility pole to make the point.

Asked in an email what’s so special about having the wetlands restored, Zahn responded:

“Open space is at a premium in coastal southern California. And wetlands are the rarest of open space morphologies. Commercial property managers in the area cannot fill store fronts right now with businesses; in fact brick-and-mortar retail is rapidly being replaced by online shopping.

“Furthermore, our housing markets are watered down with the number of foreclosures that have occurred in the past 10 years.

“However, you cannot replace the value provided by outdoor wildlife reserves. The recreational and educational value of these places is beyond reproach. If the remaining portions of Los Cerritos Wetlands are restored it will be a crown jewel for the cities of Seal Beach and Long Beach and will attract thousands of visitors each week.

“It will become a place of respite for wildlife and humans alike. This sort of foot traffic might actually help fill those empty store fronts with outdoor focused retailers like REI and may increase the value and attractiveness of local residential properties.

“People living in the City crave an outdoor experience and if we allow greedy developers to remove that from our urban landscape then the quality of life for everyone will be diminished.”

Seal Beach resident Hilary Siebens has been on three different hikes so far. “I think there’s so much promise to this,” she said, adding that she saw sea turtles poking their heads in and out of the water. “When you connect with those animals, it inspires you to help clean up.”

For hikes and more information, people may visit www.lcwlandtrust.org or e-mail ejlambe@verizon.net.

kirt@longbeachcomber.com