Uplands up the ante at Ballona – and beyond

October 31, 2010 § 33 Comments

An exciting find of the first California gnatcatcher recorded since 1880 in Ballona Wetlands (Daily Breeze) underscores the significance of the upland habitats that have colonized on this disturbed site. I hope in the coming days we’ll find out more about what part of the wetlands complex is appealing to these birds – generally they like sage scrub environments. A beautiful bluff restoration project is growing in, but there are also coastal sage scrub patches within the Ballona wetlands itself that the birds may be drawn to.

Ballona Wetlands habitat map demonstrates colonization of habitats resulting from 20th Century levees and fill.

And for enthusiasts of the Ballona Wetlands, we find ourselves with a Catch-22: a finite site naturally suited by topography, soil and hydrology to be a wetland that would support some endangered species, is in its altered form providing valuable upland habitat that supports some endangered species, so what do we restore and at what cost or potential loss? This is a fundamental question behind the wetland restoration alternatives, some of which pose modest alterations to preserve the now-present uplands, while others re-vision the site as more of a naturally-functioning wetland.The area managed today by the state is only about one-third of its 1900 extent.  The two-thirds that are lost to wildlife include Venice and Marina del Rey (although we can argue over the wetland and habitat value of the canals and marina). On the remaining reduced site, fill and levees (with tidegates) restrict natural wetland processes; the inflow of fresh water and sediment (also altered due to urbanization/concreting of practically all streams) mixing seasonally with tidal influences is greatly diminished. I’ve probably said it before: the extent to which it functions as a wetland today is not determined by natural forces but by agencies mediating the competing interests of local jurisdictions and the public. And so the wetlands as we know them are shaped by human management, and our management decisions end up being acts of selection as to which species will colonize and thrive there.

It is worth recognizing that the multi-year biological monitoring programs currently underway – and the publicity of these finds – at the wetlands is increasing our understanding of the implications of management and restoration decisions.

And for me, it brings another take-home point. The state only has jurisdiction over +/-640 acres here. So what about the other 5,623,680 acres of the Ballona watershed, of which probably less than 15% is undeveloped, degraded and disconnected native habitat? Or the developed acres of the neighboring coastal strand communities? We’re going to end up in another stinky enviro-on-enviro fight, this time over how much habitat and wildlife we can cram into .01% of the Ballona Watershed. Whither habitat in the other 99.99%? Meanwhile in other venues I hear that the mandating -or even just advocating for – native landscaping is the equivalent of plant racism, nazism, or fascism – indeed only a short leap to human racism. Nazis for Gnatcatchers?

Former uplands in grave danger of native plant nazi attack.

And here I thought I was staring the consequences of human-driven biotic colonialism/imperialism in the face. If people really want to go there, the habitat loss caused by development + “garden-variety” horticulture compares much more closely with biotic genocide.  When our Home Depot landscape supports endangered and threatened species I’ll give this perspective another look, but for now this strikes me as Tea Party logic applied to our landscape, distracting us from real issues of ecology and habitat loss, in the name of beauty.  A standard of beauty that is not based on our unique Mediterranean locale.

And at Ballona, anyone willing to go the mat over habitat distribution there would be well-served to take on this issue.  More uplands = more flexibility in our options. I find the silence around the fate of grey foxes in West Athens* relative to the howling at the idea of flooding wetlands (they do flood, naturally) to be an interesting reflection on our short-sightedness here. We could be channeling at least some of our passion for upland species to protect and restore upland habitats in actual topographic uplands.

How willing are we to change our land use patterns and mature our aesthetics to respect the actual natural conditions of the land we live on so that these once abundant birds – and so many other species – aren’t all managed in the one public parcel we could muster the political will to buy from a developer?

*true, a story about poisoning. But how has upland habitat loss confined these little guys to the margins of golf-courses where their primary food comes laced in strychnine?


Tagged: , , , ,

§ 33 Responses to Uplands up the ante at Ballona – and beyond

  • Jessica Hall says:

    And to be fair, some people who are concerned about uplands on Ballona have taken action to protect and restore uplands elsewhere. But redirecting some of the intense focus on Ballona could do us a lot of good to get broader habitat protection and expansion locally – ultimately allowing a wetland to be a wetland.

  • Jessica ~

    1. the proposals your friends want to implement would not bring about a “naturally-functioning wetland.”

    2. The 600 acre Ballona state lands already include many, many acres of wetlands – just not the type of wetlands that your friends envision….these people want to make them all into tidal wetlands, which support far fewer species than presently in the Ballona Ecological Reserve.

    3. Ballona is not just a wetland – it is a WETLAND ECOSYSTEM. The pollinators and other species which use the uplands and transition areas are crucial for a better functioning wetland. Ballona is a RARE opportunity to have a more naturally functioning wetland ecosystem.

    4. There is far more tidally-influenced wetland in the Ballona Valley than EVER was there in any recent historical times (including 100 years ago.) You are correct ~ we don’t need to argue about the habitat value in the Marina or the tidally influenced city-owned lagoons – they are filled with marine life. Just take a look.

    5. For the life of me, I can not comprehend what you are trying to say re: Nazis and Gnatcatchers. Try a re-write for ease of reader comprehension.

    6. The problem with your logic re: wetland vs. uplands is that wetlands at least do have *some* legal protections – albeit always colored by politics, as in the case of Malibu Lagoon’s recently authorized destruction. However, uplands have few such legal protections, so the little land we have left in a sea of concrete & asphalt like LA is often unbuildable wetlands.

    7. Yes, your prediction is correct. If you & your friends continue to push through politically potent, but ecologically depauperate plans like the ones getting ready for an EIR debut, there will be many, many hundreds, if not thousands of people protesting and working diligently against plans to use public moneys for an engineered, industrial habitat alteration plan – these are people who worked VERY hard to preserve Ballona FOR THE WILDLIFE, not for a vision of what a bunch of well-meaning water-quality proponents think it SHOULD be.

    8. Ecological literacy was extremely deficient in the “science” meetings where the plans were drawn up and justified. The plans for Ballona will be less enthusiastically received than those at Malibu ~ and Malibu Lagoon lovers are still reeling from the bizarre Alice in Wonderland-like approval by the Coastal Commission of destruction of habitat for ENDANGERED SPECIES (as well as outright killing of endangered Tidewater Goby.) I guess that’s why you can argue for endangered California Gnatcatcher losing its habitat?

    • Jessica Hall says:

      Natural processes (rain, runoff, sediment transport & deposition, biochemical processes) build and maintain wetlands. Levees obstruct the spreading of water and sediment. And as we see at the “Centinela Delta” there is still sediment in the system to be deposited. In Alt 5, the degree to which it is tidally-influenced will be regulated by natural processes – not by human hands on tidegates. So I don’t see how you can assert that the levee relocation proposal doesn’t meet the goals of re-establishing a naturally functioning wetland.

      Further down I made a comment quoting the old saying, nature abhors a vacuum – true too at the marina and canals and really all these sites we are discussing. I find it ironic that you are more concerned about what you call “industrial habitat alteration” that uses modern technology to remove human-placed disturbances when in fact wildlife has had to conform and adapt to our industrialization and exploitation of the landscape (levees for control of water, fill for agriculture and development, dredge for recreation and commerce etc). But as I said in my post, all our landscape actions are acts of selection. What of the species that can’t adapt? Living within the landscape to enable natural processes to support a greater array of life is my goal.

      I see the sensitivity of uplands as a very important issue and I am aware that uplands lack protection – that’s why I’m making the point about expanding upland acreage. I’m sorry you didn’t understand my Nazis for Gnatcatchers sarcasm – at a surprising number of events, I’ve been told that native plant people are zealots, plant fascists, nazis and racists. I was pushing the absurd to make my point – for better or worse if someone calls me that I am going to turn it around on them to make a point.

      Which brings us to ecological literacy. As I’ve said on many occasions, I am not an ecologist. But we have respected experts in the restoration planning process, and dedicated scientists out conducting surveys – and indeed, making their findings public as with the Gnatcatchers. I can understand disagreeing with them about goals and priorities, of putting forward your understanding of wetland function, but I can not fathom insulting their knowledge and expertise as you constantly do. It is a nasty tactic that we see perfected by the Tea Party to undermine the authority and legitimacy of their opposition and really has no place in this discussion.

      • Jessica ~

        Appreciating your dedication to removing concrete and daylighting streams UP STREAM from Ballona, I do honor your attempts to understand these things and clarify your comments. However, Ballona is not the same animal, so to speak. I applaud your efforts up stream and wish you great success there. But Ballona is not a tabula rasa. There is life there, and the life there must be honored and respected, which the plans drawn up by the State do not do.

        First, you ask how the “levee relocation proposal” does not meet the “goals of re-stablishing a naturally functioning wetland.”

        One — there was never a consensus of the stakeholders group that reflects agreement with the goal you state.

        Secondly, the designs being suggested in no way reflect historical conditions at Ballona. Read the recent report by Travis Longcore, Dave Jacobs and Eric Stein. Perhaps that will be enlightening.

        Thirdly, the disruption to current ecological systems would not only remove important historical organisms, including untold number of insects, soils, microbes, etc. — but would possible disrupt things one more time enough that you only wind up with a wetland zoo.

        There are historical species present – some which are no longer anywhere on the Los Angeles coast – and given that many species are intricately connected to others, one can not simply “play god” with what is living there and expect to know the results. Dr. Joy Zedler has famously talked about all of the “botched” restorations she has witnessed and been involved with. The best thing is to protect what is there now…and SLOWLY make little changes that do not do too much disruption and especially will not cause elimination of species — which all of the proposals by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission will cause.

        Have you thought about the ground-nesting bees, for instance? Has anyone on the “science” committee? I have.

        I stand by my characterization of the “science” meetings. Ecological literacy was extremely deficient there. I attended these meetings.

        It was more than disappointing when many habitat experts were not selected to be on the panel which would make the decisions related to Ballona. The result?

        These are the other-than-human species which were not represented at all: Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians, Mammals, Terrestrial Invertebrates, Non-Marine Aquatic Invertebrates….and the plants, while represented to a small degree, were only diminished and dismissed by the talk of things related to elevation, water quality and other things that were not originally agreed to by stakeholders to even be part of the guiding principles, let alone be leading the way.

        Now, yes, there are well-meaning and dedicated people counting animals they come across in the Ecological Reserve. However, dedicated and qualified are two different things.

        And wetlands are – even more so than other habitats in nature – changing, not “maintained.” Nature has found an equilibrium at Ballona, and with the rare and imperiled species represented and even thriving at Ballona, and the funds used to acquire Ballona mostly coming from Wildlife Conservation bonds, the focus needs to get back to what the public expected when we all worked so hard to pass the bond measures that supported Ballona’s acquisition.

        The characterization you stated earlier this week at CNPS re: Compton Creek is an accurate depiction of Ballona’s ecological reserve in the estuary channel. It is soft-bottom with gunnite on the sides. It is *not* the same as the concrete-lined channel of Ballona Creek in Culver City. Upstream – while there is some life – not much. The Ballona Creek estuary, however, west of Centinela – and especially in the stretch which is part of the Ecological Reserve – is a species-rich estuary, albeit not like its historical condition — which was not open to the sea during most months of the year. Yet, it is an ecologically functioning habitat and will only be harmed by efforts to relocate the levees.

        Jessica, your vision for bringing back native habitat is a noble one. But let’s now throw out the life that currently exists in order to bring back something else — the experts Playa Vista hired even understood and articulated that concept. In fact, that was partly what allowed us to win a federal lawsuit against their plans which ultimately helped secure hundreds of acres more land. I only wish the “experts” now on the case were expert in the same fields of discovery. Unfortunately, field science and field ecology is not supported enough these days. At Ballona Institute, we aim to change that circumstance.

  • Dick Trickle says:

    I’m with Marcia – More land fill on our wetlands and concrete in our streams!! Keep fighting the good fight. Well… keep fighting anyways.

    • If you think I’m for more land fill in wetlands or more concrete in streams, you have not been paying attention. What I am *for* is preserving rare species and their imperiled habitats. And FOR more ecological literacy (and transparency – perhaps Dick would like to use his real name?)

  • Charlie says:

    The native plants = Nazis thing is a fraud perpetuated by well meaning but confused individuals. Hitler did not push for appreciating organisms in each unique ecosystem. He pushed for a literal whitewashing and forcing of German ideals and culture on others (and of course lots of other unspeakable horrors). The truth is, perpetuating the current suburban landscape of green lawns (pastoral idealism) and European plants probably would resonate with der führer much more so than purple sage and toyon. Not that it matters, since the whole claim is preposterous as well as horribly insulting to Holocaust victims and survivors and their families.

    Seriously people. Listen to what you are spewing!!!

  • Charlie says:

    Also check out the Baldwin hills scenic overlook for some neat upland habitat and native plant landscaping. It’s a neat little parcel though it is in need of some CSS restoration work. There are some native shrubs amidst the oil wells too. There isn’t much else left in that area, but I am wondering if that private land has been surveyed for plants or wildlife, because id suspect things we don’t know about are surviving there

    It’s also an amazing potential for an urban restoration project as I think much of that land was on the table for a park. Unfortunately i also think the proposal had a lot of lawns and such. Not sure if the proposal went anywhere.

    • Jessica Hall says:

      The Baldwin Hills overlook is a beautiful spot, and the landscaping and restoration work in progress is heartening. It’s a significant patch of habitat in the Ballona Watershed.

      It is also a state-owned property: I’d like to see local governments, utilities and private property owners look to their own properties as well. Preserving existing patches would be a first-order priority in my mind; properties nearest the wetlands or existing habitat patches would also offer important benefits.

  • Shelley Luce says:

    Dear Creekfreak,
    Bluffs restoration is key to providing upland habitats in our highly developed coastal areas, and you mention one such restoration that is growing in now. The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission funded a Master Plan for bluffs restoration in the Bay several years ago and has been working to implement it. Beautiful work has been done at El Segundo and Redondo Beach, and on Palos Verdes, and more is underway at Dockweiler Beach. All the work is done by hand and provides volunteer opportunities and green jobs training for students, residents and the members of the LA Conservation Corps. And of course we use only native plants!

    We hope to do more bluffs restoration in the Westchester area and I hope that local environmental groups will join us in this effort to provide more and higher-quality upland habitats all around Ballona Wetlands.

  • Marcia Hanscom says:

    Again…ecological literacy is lacking….just as there are different types of wetlands, there are different types of uplands.

  • Jonathan Coffin says:

    I think the California Gnatcatcher at Ballona is showing us what kind of quality coastal scrub habitat it prefers. It’s time to learn from it and begin to protect this habitat and stop the human intrusions of dumping and excavation and destruction for bmx and motorcycle courses of seasonal wetland plants and coastal scrub habitat that exists there and is not represented on the habitat map at the beginning of this article.

  • Brent says:

    There’s at least one simple message here that doesn’t require eight talking points. I’m looking at the picture with the caption, “Former uplands in grave danger of native plant nazi attack” and in the context of this article I mainly see broad grassy parkways that would be eminently suitable as native upland habitat.

    Generally, the parkways in any city are part of the public’s right of way and not private property, though the nearby property owner is responsible for maintaining them. If that is true here then I see a way to garden ourselves some useful habitat which is what I believe Jessica means when she writes, “More uplands = more flexibility in our options.”

    • Jessica Hall says:

      Thank you, Brent.

      That was my point – and that there’s grousing, especially among designers, about “having” to use natives. It’s seen as fascist because it reduces their choices in plant selection. As a friend pointed out, it’s kind of a funny argument to make when all around us we probably see the same 30-50 non-native plants used everywhere. But it is also a dangerous (non)logic that dismisses the fact of extreme habitat loss in Southern California.

  • Charlie says:

    Marcia, what are ‘they and their friends’ trying to do to Ballona Lagoon? (serious question).

    Also, from the veg map (and my own observations) it seems that a large portion of the area is non-native invasive grasses and forbs. Is anyone opposed of restoring that and turning it back into a wetland? If so, why?

    It seems like the best option would be to remove the concrete crap along Ballona Ditch, build new levees where the structures are, allow the creek to wander around amongst the habitat, remove inavsives when possible, plant in a few appropriate native species if they aren’t there, and let the creek do the rest. It has plenty of floods, it will be able to create a new meandering channel. Whatever it creates is probably what is best for the site. (basically proposal 5 but maybe with less tidal marsh and more upland/wash type communities. Tidal marsh is good but best when connected to other community types too). This would do wonders for water quality too as the wetland filtered all that filthy runoff before it dumped into the ocean. But maybe it’s too expensive to flood-proof the roads. In any event, proposals 1 through 4 look like they will remain as human-managed systems without much in the way of natural dynamic hydrological change.

    I agree it’s best to let the gnatcatcher breed, since it is an endangered species. Which habitat patch is it in?

  • Jonathan Coffin says:

    Ballona ditch Charlie? Please explain.

  • Jessica: no one is making the designers take the jobs with native plants, if they don’t like them, they can stay at home and not pick up a paycheck!

    Jonathin, I am referring to the concrete or riprap lined ‘channel’ that Ballona Creek travels through as it bypasses its natural wetland area and is dumped unceremoniously into the sea.

  • Lonnie Mower says:

    “We know less about upland grassland vegetation than any other major California ecosystem. As a result, most upland grasslands are carelessly termed “non-native grasslands” due to the abundance of exotic plants; however, these grasslands typically have high occurrence and sometimes high abundance of native plant and animal species.”

    From: A new initiative to describe and protect California grasslands
    Jennifer Buck and Julie Evens, California Native Plant Society
    November 21, 2008


  • Jonathan Coffin says:

    There is natural wetland along the banks of the mud bottom Ballona Creek Estuary with wetland vegetation of Sarcocornia pacifica, Jaumea carnosa, Atriplex of various varieties and lichens. Every day hundreds of wetland associated birds visit the banks to rest and forage on mussels crabs, worms and insects including the Beldings Savannah Sparrow and the Least Terns will also fish there when they are nesting at the Least Tern Sanctuary on Venice Beach. Natural wetlands should not be burdoned any more than the ocean with accepting all the “filthy runoff” that Los Angeles will offer and none of the restoration plans deal with the sources of that filthy runoff.

    • Jessica Hall says:

      You are right, the restoration plans aren’t dealing with the water quality from Ballona Creek – that responsibility lies with the County and cities under their Clean Water and Porter Cologne Act stormwater permits and the myriad TMDLs that regulate them.

      And as they say, nature abhors a vacuum, so yes, there is life in the estuary. There are in fact few truly dead places anywhere. But I believe the estuary – or any natural place- will be richer in diversity and numbers when human impacts are minimized and natural processes restored.

  • well, natural or constructed wetlands do naturally clean water, and if we don’t have anything there to do that now, yes it makes sense to ‘burden’ a wetland with that polluted water. It’s better than bulldozing that land and building a treatment plant or something. The idea of trying to keep wetlands from being ‘burdened’ with water seems quite odd to me.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think we DO need upper-watershed solutions to deal with that runoff… in a huge way.

    But, I still think we also need as natural and expansive a wetland as possible, so long as it isnt at the expense of other natural habitat.

  • Marcia Hanscom says:

    “Charlie” …you appear to ignore naturalist Jonathan’s quite detailed description of functioning, thriving habitat….

  • Question: Is “naturalist.charlie” and “Charlie” the same person commenting on this blog? Attention to detail.

  • Marcia, yeah it is the same person. That should be pretty easy to infer from the fact both are linked to the same small blog that only one person posts on.

    I’ve noticed you are somewhat rude with your comments. I’m not sure why you are acting that way since I don’t feel like I asked a rude question. I am not ignoring anything. There might be some habitat in the concrete ditch caused by accumulation of scum from upstream, but are you seriously proposing that this is more valuable than putting the creek back into a natural channel? In a natural channel, there would be a dynamic matrix of changing habitat – exactly what all of the animals and plants are adapted to. In that ditch, all you will ever end up with is marginal habitat that the ACOE or whoever will always be fighting to clear out.

    It seems like you are having trouble staying civil in these blogs. Please try not to be rude, I am actually interested in discussing this but if you keep making comments about that I am just going to write you off and ignore you from now on.

    • Charlie ~ please inform us as to what you consider “rude” I consider it rude to bulldoze away habitat where imperiled species are thriving.

      • charlie says:

        I am assuming you are just arguing for argument’s sake but here are a few little snippets:

        Condescending tone right off the bat: “Ecological literacy was extremely deficient in the “science” meetings where the plans were drawn up and justified” and “Have you thought about the ground-nesting bees, for instance? Has anyone on the “science” committee? I have.”

        Assuming i am ignoring something because I don’t agree with it: ““Charlie” …you appear to ignore naturalist Jonathan’s quite detailed description of functioning, thriving habitat….”

        nitpicking because I accidentally used two different names: “Question: Is “naturalist.charlie” and “Charlie” the same person commenting on this blog? Attention to detail.”

        Implying I am not knowledgeable about the area, before I really said anything about it either way. Assuming I am not an informed, qualified naturalist, again, because I don’t agree with you: “As Jonathan said earlier, Charlie, you are mis-informed. When you lived in California did you ever spend any quality time at the Ballona estuary? Meaning, being with an informed, qualified naturalist who could explain what you might be seeing?”

        etc, etc, etc.

        Maybe it isn’t your intention to be incredibly rude and condescending, but that is how you are coming off. If you aren’t trying to be insulting, maybe you should try changing how you approach this a bit. I’ve found your posts in this section and in the Malibu Lagoon section to be extremely abrasive – even though I agreed with a bunch of what you were saying about Malibu Lagoon, I still had trouble with your wording.

  • Jonathan Coffin says:

    Naturalist Charlie, you are uninformed. There is no concrete bottom in what you continue to call a “ditch” and now you are calling a “concrete ditch” within the domain of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve which includes the Ballona Creek Estuary. The concrete bottom ends miles upcreek at Centinela and is soft bottom from there to the ocean.

    • naturalist.charlie says:

      The sides of the ditch are lined with ‘hard’ engineering, are they not?

      It absolutely blows my mind that anyone would argue for the ‘protection’ of a straightened, riprap/concrete lined trench built by the ACOE on the grounds that it is endangered HABITAT!!! Have you ever seen an intact estuary? This ditch – yes it is a manmade ditch, no matter what you want to call it… lined with whatever it is lined with (concrete, riprap, asphault, it isn’t natural, it doesn’t matter, it is engineered and impervious)… may have some wildlife and plants struggling to survive in it… but it is a tiny fragment of what would be possible if the engineered sides were set back or removed. It seems to me that people arguing for keeping the ditch are just very entrenched in maintaining the landscape they currently know. I understand that feeling… but the bottom line is you are arguing for keeping the status quo after 100 or more years of habitat destruction. The status quo is NOT GOOD for habitat, people, wildlife, for anything, really, except Starbucks. Any chance to return an engineered channel to functioning as a natural, self-organizing, sustainable, and much larger estuary, is a GOOD thing. If you think the creek needs to stay in a ditch rather than turned back into an estuary, you have been in the city TOO LONG! I love urban nature too but there are so few cases where we can get anywhere close to returning to natural wetlands in the LA basin… it would be really sad to squander this one.

      • Jonathan Coffin says:

        Charlie, Jessica Hall corrected somebody recently on another discussion stream here at LaCreek Freak who had referred to the Centinela Creek now referred to as the Playa Vista “riparian corridor” as a “ditch” where another endangered bird, the Least Bell’s Vireo, has also been documented nearby, and also I must add where substantial sections of 90 degree vertical narrow concrete wall channel is a part of their “natural wildlife corridor”. The otherworldy calls of American Coots amplified to monstrous proportions by those narrow concrete channels hardly seems natural to me and would surely blow your mind too. What such features might we come to expect in a future “Ballona Wetlands Restoration” that have not been sketched out in detail or disclosed to an unknowing public?

  • Jonathan Coffin says:

    Getting back to the initial subject specifically of the California Gnatcatcher on the Ballona Ecological Reserve, the California Gnatcatchers here, so far known to me, are inhabiting over a 1/4 mile of native successional coastal scrub including Baccharis pilularis, Artemisia californica, Baccharis salicifolia, Atriplex sp. and Malosma luarina. I’ve also seen the California Gnatcatcher visiting Lotus scoparius. Seasonal wetland vegetation including Sarcocornia pacifica and Frankenia salina that represented wetland habitat on a 2006 habit mapping are not represented on the current habitat map at the beginning of this article but are still present on the site. This seasonal wetland vegetation is being negatively impacted currently as well as some Coastal scrub vegetation the California Gnatcatcher is using by human alteration for off-road courses and dumping.

  • charlie says:

    Jonathan, this is in regard to your last post at 4:07 since it won’t let me reply there.

    i changed my name back to charlie because it seemed to bother Marcia when I was naturalist.charlie. It’s just my email address.

    Anyway… of course the calls of coots are natural, and of course they might sound neat in a place where it echoes. I was just listening to the caws of a raven in a deep ditch dug as part of an Adirondack iron mine. It is good to appreciate what is in the world now, even if it isn’t exactly what we would like to see. Furthermore, it is amazing the extent to which animals and plants can adapt to the immense changes humans have made to the world (especially incredibly intelligent and adaptable animals like ravens!) That being said, things like concrete ditches and channelized estuaries contain dramatically less space for animals, plants, and humans to enjoy and use a waterway than a more natural channel would. I grew up in Torrance next to the horrible Dominguez Channel ditch. Yes sometimes plants and animals were in there, but it always made me sad to think about what it once was. In Ballona, there may be a chance to remove some over-engineered, obsolete infrastructure and dramatically increase the value of the creek to just about everyone.

    It just doesn’t make sense to try to preserve and keep 1930-1950 ACOE type hard channels and ditches… they cost a lot to keep around, are hideously ugly, and completely destroy most ecological and social values of a waterway. In my mind, any chance to get rid of one is an opportunity to jump on! I am not commenting on anything specific about the Ballona plan, but based on looking at the proposed alternative maps, I am 100% in favor of the one that remove as much as possible of that nasty straight channel.

  • As Jonathan said earlier, Charlie, you are mis-informed. When you lived in California did you ever spend any quality time at the Ballona estuary? Meaning, being with an informed, qualified naturalist who could explain what you might be seeing?

    Before I lived in the Ballona Valley, I had a similar viewpoint. It was uninformed. And inaccurate. Now, my eyes see better the 1,100 to 1,200 Black-bellied Plovers and hear their cool, clear whistles in the evening. I see the hundreds of Willets, come from the northern mid-west prairies, blending in with the rocks they stand atop. And I find joyful the jumping of Striped Mullet in the estuary, preyed upon before my eyes by Osprey.

    There also seems to be quite a bit of mis-information about the physical characteristics of the Ballona Estuary.

    Unlike your characterization, the Ballona Creek estuary levees in the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve area are not impervious, except for in the locations of paved bicycle paths – i.e., the south side of the levee is impervious – not paved or concrete or asphalt. It is an earthen levee.

    The Columbia River is straight. In fact, “perpendicular to the ocean” is one portion of the definition of an estuary. A straight river channel does not necessarily make a waterway “nasty.”

    And if you are informed with eyes wide open, it is difficult to conclude that there is little “nasty” about the Ballona Creek estuary channel. After a rain storm, the many acres of watershed from Dodger Stadium to UCLA drain with huge amounts of trash – mostly styrofoam and snack wrappers. This could be termed “nasty” ~~ and all of that nastiness would soon end up in the rest of the wetlands ecosystem. Is this a good idea?

    Only the engineers and public works people call it a “ditch” or a “flood control channel” — it is a fully alive part of the Ballona Wetlands ecosystem.

  • charlie says:

    Marcia, you insist on continuing to talk to me and others with an incredibly rude tone. I take it from your website that you are attempting to persuade people to change how they do things. With your ridiculously poor attitude, I’d be surprised if you ever convinced anyone of anything.

    I lived in southern California for 25 years, spent 9 years doing vegetation surveys, etc in southern California. I also grew up within a few miles of the Ballona Creek area. So, yes, I do know a bit about it. It’s very nice that you assume I am not qualified just because I don’t agree with you. Again, you aren’t going to catch any flies with your vinegar, though you may kill two birds with one culvert.

    It’s nice that birds have adapted to deal with the channelized culvert of Ballona Creek. I find it hard to believe that they NEED a channelized culvert as you are implying, since birds have been in the area for countless millions of years before people started turning rivers into gutters. Are you are trying to say that birds are better off with a channelized culvert than they would be in a natural, dynamic estuary? If you are trying to say that, please type that out directly now so that I can disregard you from here on out. It’s a preposterous claim and I certainly hope no one calling themselves a ‘qualified naturalist’ would say something of that sort.

    So, apparently you also think that a ‘pervious’ levee is the same as no levee at all. Do you believe a creek will meander, transmit sediment, etc, through this levee? It is the wanderings of creeks that deposits and removes sediment and allows for natural wetland succession and diversity. An open wetland area is not supposed to be straight. The Colombia River through The Dulles is a bedrock-bound system in which a river has eroded through mountains. This is needless to say nothing at all like an estuary in an open area. Follow this link:


    to see just how straight and channelized the Colombia is when it reaches the ocean.

    Oh wait… it isn’t straight at all! It is a meandering braided channel, much like how natural estuaries are SUPPOSED to look. For more info, look at every unmodified estuary between Santa Monica and San Francisco on the coast. Those aren’t moving in straight lines either, unless someone MADE them that way or they are in a very steep, narrow canyon! There isn’t a steep narrow canyon at Ballona!

    You are arguing for the preservation of a harmful human structure because animals have adapted to tolerate it. Rats and pigeons have done a great job adapting to suburbs. Should we keep building suburbs for the rats and pigeons? Animals are amazingly adaptable, but that does NOT justify the atrocious destruction of the past that you wish to preserve.

    Would it be a shame if trash got washed into a wetland? Of course it would, and we need to work on cleaning up our watershed. But it is preposterous to propose that we should willfullly and knowingly dump that same trash into THE OCEAN where it will never be picked up, and will probably end up in the trash gyre in the center of the ocean. You are basically subscribing to the idea that ‘the ocean is big so we can do whatever we want to it’. I hope that you realize the fallacy of this idea, even though you are, through some perverse attempt to ‘preserve’ a wetland, are advocating for this. Yes, trash in a wetland is bad but there are ways to minimize it getting in there, and if it does, at least it can be picked up, and water pollution is decreased. Trying to keep a creek channelized because of pollution is also irrational

    I’m not an engineer, I am an ecologist (or naturalist but you seem to take offense to anyone who doesn’t agree with you calling themselves a naturalist). I grew up near a ditch for 18 years, I know one when I see one. Just because birds tolerate it and the levee is made out of dirt doesn’t change anything. It’s a ditch, and you and your cronies intend to keep it that way.

    Ridiculous arguments like this make me glad I left California. Way too many people there with way too little sense. You need to spend some serious time outside watching water and birds and plants in a natural ecosystem, because you have a seriously flawed idea about how riparian and estuarine areas work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Uplands up the ante at Ballona – and beyond at L.A. Creek Freak.


%d bloggers like this: