Environmental Organizations Ask L.A. Residents To Save Wetlands
“I grew up near here, and I used to come bird watching here as a kid with my dad, so I’ve gotten involved to get this place back to how it looked when I was younger before it’s beyond repair,” Alex Silvester, a volunteer, said while pushing a wheelbarrow full of weeds to a dumpster.
As the drought and forthcoming climate changes begin to seriously threaten the habitat near Playa Vista, environmental organizations, like Friends of Ballona Wetlands, and local residents are working together to restore and preserve the last remaining wetlands in Los Angeles County by doing heavy-duty restoration of the land.
“Wetlands serve as the lungs and the kidneys of the land and the air, and without them, water that’s coming down off the mountains and into our storm drains doesn’t get cleansed all the way before it gets to the ocean,” Lisa Fimiani, Executive Director of Friends of Ballona Wetlands, said.
The drought has caused leaders to push for an acceleration of the restoration efforts to rehabilitate the wetlands before they can no longer maintain normal processes or support the endangered plant an animal species living there.
“Without rain, even our native plants that are accustomed to less moisture are suffering, and there hasn’t been a flushing of the Ballona Creek that would allow for the land to recharge. We are in a drought and this is not a good situation, but there are things we can do.” Fimiani said.
The members of Friends of Ballona Wetlands, who formerly worked to prevent urban development in Playa Vista that would destroy the habitat, are now working quicker than ever to gather volunteers and to restore Ballona to a thriving ecosystem by removing the non-native plant species that compete against native plants for the scarce amount of freshwater water making it down to the wetlands.
“We’ve been working with the Friends for awhile because we love the idea of a green space in LA, and we’re happy to put in the time to make sure Ballona stays beautiful for years to come,” Melissa Aczon, a volunteer, said.
By raising the awareness of residents and expanding restoration efforts, environmental organizations and their volunteers hope to help jump-start the long term plans of the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project, which is spearheaded by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation and will work to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels due to climate change.
The project hinges on the content of the Environmental Impact Report, a collection of all drafts of possible restoration plans, from minimal to most extreme, and a compilation of all scientific data collected by the Santa Monica Bay Foundation over the past few years about invasive species, water and soil quality, native plant and animal resiliency and more.
“We have to determine what would happen under different types of restoration situations or plans, so the biggest push right now is to compile all of this information and feed it to the Environmental Impact Report documents,” Karina Johnston, Director of Watershed Projects at the Santa Monica Bay Foundation, said.
Environmental organizations hope that experts and the public will agree on a final restoration plan that would increase a tidal zone that could accommodate higher sea levels.
“They will have to do a very delicate balancing act because if they bring in too much salt water it could flood the local roadways and people wouldn’t be too happy about that, but if they don’t bring enough tidal flow the wetlands as they exist today are very degraded and could cease to be a helpful ecosystem for water purification,” Fimiani said.
The next major step in the long-term restoration efforts is the release of the Environmental Impact Report to the public for commentary, revision, and hopefully a decision on which restoration plan to pursue.
“All the thousands of stakeholders in the area have an idea of their vision on how the project should progress, and the public has been a really integral part of this process from the beginning, so stakeholder input is of course very important,” Johnston said.
Ultimately, experts and volunteers say, the Ballona Wetlands are an opportunity for the public to become more invested in the land around them and to benefit from what it could offer if preserved.
“The fact that Ballona is 600 acres of natural habitat in the middle of Los Angeles and not that many people know about it, well that’s pretty cool and it’s an opportunity to teach people about it so they can help protect it and enjoy it,” Ian Bernstein, an Outdoor Educator for Friends of Ballona Wetlands said.
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