A Climate Change with Matt Matern Climate Podcast


23: Scott Culbertson and Neysa Frechette, Friends of Ballona Wetlands

Guest Name(s): Scott Culbertson, Neysa Frechette

Matt Matern speaks with Scott Culbertson and Neysa Frechette from Friends of the Ballona Wetlands. They discuss the Ballona Wetlands’ importance, housing endangered species, acting as carbon sinks, and regulating temperatures. The Friends focus on education, restoration, and advocacy. The restoration plan aims to reconnect the wetlands to the sea and enhance biodiversity. Despite delays, they anticipate public access within a decade, emphasizing youth education and community involvement.

Friends of Ballona Wetlands >>

Episode Categories:
Show Links:
Prior to extensive housing and commercial development in the 20th Century, the Ballona Wetlands encompassed more than 2,000 acres. In 1978, Ruth Lansford gathered other concerned citizens to join her in protecting what remained of the wetlands. That year, Lansford created and secured nonprofit status for Friends of Ballona Wetlands, and thereafter, the nascent organization pursued protracted litigation against a series of developers. In 2003, the State of California, the developer of Playa Vista, and the Friends reached an agreement to preserve approximately 600 acres of the Wetlands. The Friends’ history of advocacy through activism, working with other NGOs, and creating community restoration and educational programs established the organization as a leading voice in preserving the Ballona Wetlands.

This pre recorded show furnished by Matthew Matern. You’re listening to Unite and Heal America with Matt Matern, your host and it’s KABC 790. Today’s guests on the program are Scott Culberson, Executive Director of Friends of the Ballona Wetlands and Neysa Frechette, manager of scientific programs at the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands as well. Welcome to the program, Scott, Neysa.

Terrific. Thanks, Matt. And if I may be so inverted to start off and ask you to tell you that that it’s pronounced Buy-Yonah not Buh-Lona and it’s a really common mistake so well that my first year Spanish teacher would have told me that one as well and I kind of anglicized it and butchered it which is not uncommon when I see Spanish words, but I’m trying to trying to improve so Ballona, so can we have board members who still call it on?

So I tell us a little bit about the Ballona Wetlands and where it is for some of the listeners who may not know and and some who do

Sure well I you know, I often wonder how many people have driven right by the the intersection of Lincoln and Jefferson Boulevard in Playa Del Rey, and not even know that the bio wetlands are here. But the biota wetlands do have a rich history that by no wetlands once one stretch 2,000 acres from the Westchester bluffs all the way to Santa Monica. Of course, when Marina del Rey was built 1960 We lost 900 acres of the wetlands and in between that and development of Venice and Playa Vista in Playa Del Rey, we have left only 577 acres.

Well, that’s yeah, it’s it’s certainly dwindled substantially. And though, I mean, it’s still a big chunk of land almost a square mile. So, Scott, tell us a little bit of how what what your background is and how you landed at the Friends of bio Nova wetlands. And what’s your journey to this position?

Sure. Well, I took sort of a circuitous route to get here I started life, working in finance, and later on the business side of the entertainment business and did a couple of startups or two but found my found my way into working in an education nonprofit, in South Central Los Angeles, called a place called home and I had met the founder, and if you’ve ever met the founder of a nonprofit, no is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning.

And so I promised that I would come and help them out for a couple of years and 10 years later, I was still there. And thankful for that experience. And I have a friend who’s on the board of this organization of the Friends of Iona wetlands, and mentioned to me that they’re looking for an executive director and I kind of looked at it that, you know, of course, the environment supporting but I mean, not, maybe it’s maybe I’m not the best person.

And then when I discovered that there’s a really robust education program that engages lots of youth from all over Los Angeles. I was very interested in then I met the board and staff and, and there was there was that at that point, there was no turning away.

Well, that’s, that’s a great story. Neysa, what, what brought you to the Ballona Wetlands project or?

Yeah, well, when I was younger, I always knew I wanted to do something to save endangered species and help fight climate change. I didn’t know how I was going to do that. And I was born and raised in the San Fernando valley, surrounded by, you know, streets and buildings and didn’t really experience a lot of nature. It was kind of more of a concept to me.

But then when I went to college, I really dove in to all of the ecology and the wildlife that was present throughout our state. I went to UC Davis for my undergraduate degree. And that’s when I really discovered how much nature we have throughout our beautiful state. And I felt that we were really lacking that in Los Angeles. And so when I came home, after graduating, I decided I wanted to stay in Los Angeles and bring more nature back to LA and help wildlife in and around Los Angeles.

And that’s how I ended up discovering the Ballona Wetlands. I was one of those people that didn’t even know it existed. And after interning with the Bay Foundation, they led me to friends about a wetlands and I’ve been in love ever since.

Oh, it is a beautiful piece of land and as I drive by it many times I’m just struck by all the wildflowers and just kind of rugged, natural kind of beauty that was California before 10 million people invaded Los Angeles County and, and changed the landscape quite a bit. But it’s great that this organization that you two are a part of is preserving this very important piece of land. And tell us a little bit about that. And so in terms of the importance of having wetlands, in and around our community.

Sure. So Los Angeles County has lost 95% of its wetlands. So it’s a very rare habitat, California overall, has lost more than 91%. And so we are really struggling to hold on to what we have left and protect it from further urbanization, sea level rise, invasion from non native species, all sorts of things. And we really have to take advantage of the areas we have left to protect what we have left and expand wherever we can, because wetlands are our first defense against sea level rise.

And they also are the base of the food chain for a lot of fish and birds and other wildlife. Wetlands. How’s 1/3 of endangered species in the United States, so very critical for animals that don’t have anywhere else to go. There are a lot of species that can only live in wetlands, and when they lose their wetlands they have that’s it, right.

And so that’s one of our big goals is to defend the wildlife that live in the wetlands, but they also are carbon sinks. They protect our coastal cities from flooding. And they also help regulate the temperatures around the wetlands. So lots of ecosystem services that come from the wetlands that we all depend on, will tell us what did they meaning our water?

That’s a lot. Let’s just take them one at a time in terms of species that live in the Ballona Wetlands. Tell us a little bit about what what can be found there.

Yeah, so one of the iconic birds is the building Savannah Sparrow that lives in the pickle weed salt marsh at Ballona. It’s endemic to Southern California and Baja California, meaning it can be found nowhere else. And without the pickled weeds, salt marsh for it to live and breed in. It would not have a place for it to live. So that’s one of the critical habitats that’s found in Southern California that supports that bird.

There’s also the UN that’s a state endangered bird. There’s also the federally endangered Elsa Gunda blue butterfly, which lives in the coastal sand dunes along a very narrow range. And it was almost extinct. It was one of the first insects to be listed when the Endangered Species Act was written. And it used to exist at Ballona was extirpated loss from the wetlands due to the spread of ice plant and loss of native plants and its host plant is called doing buckwheat and without the buckwheat the butterfly cannot exist it lives its whole lifecycle on that one plant.

And friends of mine a wetlands pulled out all the ice plant put in the buckwheat and the other companion plants and that butterfly actually returned to the dunes in Ballona. So and it’s slowly expanding its range in other areas where other restoration efforts have taken place. And that’s just two of the several other special status species that they call by on a home.

Well, that’s that’s important work. And certainly, California has a very storied history in in being a part of the Endangered Species Act. I believe it was written by a California congressman Pete McCloskey, back in the early 70s. He used a Republican congressman, which probably surprises a few in this day and age.

But you know, that’s maybe what we could hope to get back to in the not too distant future. But another thing that I’ve been reading about is the carbon sinks and what their role is in, in sucking up carbon so that we don’t have the climate change that is predicted at this point in time. So tell us a little bit about what a carbon sink is and how important it is for for all of us.

Yeah, so carbon sinks are ecosystems that absorb more carbon than they release. So most of the time people think think of forests and trees. The carbon gets sucked out of the air stored in the trees. The trees grow larger. or more carbon is sucked in and held there. And then can also be put into the ground by the plants. So similar effect happens in wetlands, the plants and the micro organisms in the wetland absorb the carbon from the air and store it in the soil.

And sediment beneath the wetlands are in the plants themselves and in their roots. And coastal wetland salt marshes are the best at doing this better than freshwater marshes. And so that’s one of the reasons why restoring wetlands overall is very important, but especially our coastal estuaries that are the best at doing that job.

That’s, that’s important. And the one other thing that you talked about was the temperature rise and how how does this affect the temperature in the areas that surround the wetlands?

Yeah, so natural open spaces inherently Reduce the heat island effect. And wetlands are contribute to that and have the ability to reduce heat and control the the air and how it affects the area around it. So because we have those plants that open space and that water, that all adds a regulating effect.

These are these are all important benefits of having the Ballona Wetlands in our area. And everybody, we are going to be right back in just a minute from our break and we’ll continue our conversation with Scott and Neysa regarding the Ballona Wetlands and what we can do going forward to help protect that area. This is Unite and Heal America with Matt Matern KABC 790. We’ll be back in just one minute.

You’re listening to Unite and Heal America. This is Matt Matern KABC 790. Again, my guest Scott Culbertson, executive director or Friends of Ballona Wetlands and Neysa Frechette, manager of scientific programs. Scott question to you in terms of the organization and when did it start and what was its original mission? And has that mission changed over time?

Yeah, so the so the friends of mine are wetlands started to save the wetlands. The land was owned by Howard Hughes, and after Howard Hughes died, his heirs had every intention of developing this land they were going to extend the marina here, build a golf course have high rises, just basically an extension of Marina Del Rey and our founder, Ruth Lansford wasn’t really going to stand for that.

So along with some professors from LMU, and she started friends of mine on a wetlands in her kitchen passed around a coffee can everybody put in 10 bucks, and we were off to the races. 25 years later at Sur after lots of litigation and negotiation, the state of California approved our plan to save the property.

The same California purchased the property designated an ecological reserve thereby saving land in perpetuity. And now California Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the property. So Los Angeles you have three plans for to thank for this beautiful land.

That’s, that’s a great example of community involvement and just taking a stand for something and that’s something all of us have the opportunity to do is it some sometimes feels a little bit overwhelming, but stories like that remind us that one person standing up for something can make a difference. So when did the state of California actually purchased the property they purchased property in 2003 and designated an ecological reserve in 2005.

It’s a wonder that the property made it through that period of time from Howard Hughes’s death to 2003 without being developed, because obviously it was a piece of land that would have had great value to develop or to pave over and turn it into something else.

Well, and you know, for the last 200 years, you know, by on has been been farmed and drilled and driven on you’ve got, as I mentioned earlier, Marina del Rey was built losing nearly half of the original 2,000 acre wetlands you know, by no Creek was was straightened and channelized development, but somehow somehow Ballona has made it through it’s, it’s still needed and in need of restoration and a lot of place a lot of areas. But it’s it’s an important sanctuary in the middle of this really dense urban community.

Tell us what did the Friends of Ballona Wetlands do today.

The friends of mine are wetlands I have a very successful, we have four basic programs are explored by an education program, which engages 1,000s of students from all over Los Angeles. We’re focusing primarily on schools from underserved communities part poor communities that don’t always have the opportunity to be outside. We have a grade level specific curriculum that’s aligned with with Next Generation Science Standards.

So we’re helping what’s happening in the classroom. And we have a restoration program, which engages 1000s of volunteers from all over Los Angeles to help us, Paul, the invasive plants that Neysa mentioned, plants, native plants. In fact, in the last two years, from seed collected on site, we’ve planted more than 2000 plants, and many of them are the dune buckwheat, which is the post plan for the El Segundo blue butterfly.

And we’re hoping that that extra roughly acre will see an expansion, and we’ll see the butterflies. Hopefully this year, our science program that NEYSA manages oversees all of our restoration efforts. So not only we’re documenting them, but ensuring and monitoring and maintaining that really important work. And lastly, our advocacy, not just for the wetlands, but for environmental causes. throughout California and particularly Los Angeles.

What what environmental causes in particular, is your organization backing at this time? Well, so

I mean, certainly are we’re very myopic as it relates to issues of buy on end, the biggest issue for us is ensuring that the states restoration plan for this for the minor wetlands is implemented. But we also support plastic bands there was there was a recent I’m gonna get up I’m gonna butcher the name, but it was stopped the stuff so that we’re not collecting all of our plastic utensils when we go to restaurants for takeout, clean water issues. And importantly, Governor Newsom says 30 by 30 plan, which will increase net which will increase habitat and well being ecological well being is by 2030.

And how does that 30 by 30 program, our plan work? What’s your understanding of how it would be implemented?

Well, it was it was just announced. Actually looking at the press release now in October, and the the primary features are healthy soils management. Importantly, to us, certainly wetlands restoration to protect coastal wetlands, forest management and boosting green infrastructure, those are there. Those are the primary functions. And in the coming budgets, there will be funds allocated against this. So not only is it going to be good for California, and healthy lifestyle, I’m sure though it will be a job Kriging program as well.

So who manages the wetlands currently?

So that again, the land is owned by the state of California, in California department, Fish and Wildlife manages the property as the nonprofit organization. We’re permitted by Fish and Wildlife to operate are the programs that I just mentioned.

Okay, so you’re working in conjunction with the state of California to to carry out these programs?

Yes, that’s correct. We’re permitted by them to operate the programs on the land. So what is the state of California its restoration plan for for the Bayona wetlands?

Well, I mean, much of the wetlands are highly degraded for the reasons that I mentioned before in addition to you know, the the join me there was even a racecar track, you know, in 1920, a huge oval racecar track built in the wetlands. There was a train line, the Pacific Railroad ran right through the middle of the wetlands.

But when the Marina but when Marina del Rey was built in 1963 Point 1 million cubic yards, and if I can put that in perspective, imagine that we’re making cubic yard bales of marine fill, we placed an end to end we’d be in about Mobile, Alabama. So all that marine fill was dumped on the northern edge of the biota, wetlands, disconnecting the wetlands from the water. And one of the priorities of the restoration project is to reconnect the land to the state.

And what is being done on that front of reconnecting the land to the sea? Sounds like a pretty major project moving 3.1 million cubic feet of marine fill.

Yeah, it is. And the project has not started yet. They’re still in the permitting phase. Uh, Um, you know, we really expect that this will be the work will will begin year and a half, two years, maybe two and a half years.

I mean, imagine it was, it was, you know, 10 or 15 years to write the environmental impact report, getting getting feedback from the community, the scientific community, folks who live in the neighborhood. And then to develop the plan, refine the plan, do all the studies, and now they’re, they’re getting the permit permits going so that work can begin someday soon.

But that’s, that’s a long time to to move something forward 10 to 15 years.

It’s honestly, it’s way too long. I mean, I don’t in a typical restoration project like this wouldn’t take 15 years to get moving.

What have been the roadblocks that you’ve had to face to to get this project done?

Well, I want to be really clear. This isn’t our project. This is the state of California project. It’s been managed by California department, fish and wildlife. We are We are simply advocates and supporters of the project along with our partners here, the bay Surfrider Foundation Trust for Public Lands.

California Audubon and several other organizations. It’s a complicated project and like I don’t claim to know all the ins and outs. But I can see like it would take a long time, but it seems to have been taking an extraordinarily long time. Now, so probably can respond in a little more detail to that.

Well, we’ll probably turn back to that in just one minute. But we’re going into break you’ve been listening to unite and deal America with Matt Matern, and we’re gonna be right back with the Executive Director Scott Culberson and Neysa Frechette in just one minute. So standby, and we’re going to talk a little bit more about what’s happening in the future for the Ballona Wetlands.

You’re listening to KABC 790. This is Unite and Heal America with Matt Matern. And talking to executive directors, Scott Culberson and manager of scientific programs NEYSA, Russia, NEYSA, if you could tell us a little bit about what are the benefits is red restoration process and why it’s taking so long?

Sure. So as Scott mentioned, the process really began back in 2003, when the land was purchased, and planning for restoration began at that time. And because of the nature of jurisdiction jurisdictions involved in Ballona, involves the state as well as the federal government. So Ballona Creek is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. And so they also have to be involved in the restoration planning. And so there’s an environmental impact report, as well as an environmental impact statement.

And both of these very detailed reports are informed with over a decade of scientific monitoring that was done by several different environmental consulting organizations that do studies related to the wildlife, the vegetation, the soils, the sediment, the hydrology, you name it, geological studies, all of that needed to be done form these documents. In addition to that, there was a ton of Public Engagement and scientific engagement.

So there was a science advisory panel that met several times to review the documents and come up with a plan, different stakeholders were involved, there was 40 different presentations made by environmental organizations. And everybody from the community was invited to put in different alternatives that they envisions that they wanted to see for Ballona. So friends, abandoned wetlands participated in that process, along with many other organizations. And then all of that was reviewed. And then the plan came out with the most feasible and most beneficial alternatives. So there was more than 12 options that they were reviewing in the beginning.

And then after finding out which ones are going to be the most beneficial and which ones are feasible, they ended up with three alternatives. And then they had to release that document. But all of the community was invited again, to comment on that, on which alternative they preferred, if they thought that something was overlooked if they wanted a combination of the alternatives, and so that started in 2017.

And then Fish and Wildlife had to go through and respond to every single one of those comments. It was over 4000 letters from the community all throughout California, actually and other agencies including US Fish and Wildlife. So there was a bunch of feedback, and then the final environmental impact report was released, and then the state had to certify that plan. So that’s the part where it started to feel like, you know, can’t we speed this up a little bit.

That’s where the bureaucracy comes in, and only certified at the end of last year. But we’re still waiting for the environmental impact statement from the Army Corps of Engineers, which will be finalized after some additional studies related to flood control. So you want to make sure you have to make sure that those levees are designed correctly. So that’s the next step for the state of California and their partnership with the federal government. So we’re all anxiously awaiting that. And that’s because this project is going to give us so many amazing benefits.

And I just want to highlight five of those. Number one, repair damaged habitats and improve biodiversity that’s near and dear to our heart as an environmental organization, thinking about all of the wildlife and endangered animals that that need this land Ballona, as mentioned, has gone through so many impacts from drilling, filling pollution, the invasive plant Apocalypse going on out there, it’s also going to reconnect the land and sea by opening up the cement levees, pushing them back to the roads, the existing roads, and making them earthen levees instead, allowing the water to move more naturally through the wetlands.

And then vegetating those levees, so it’s not just cement, we actually will have plants and, and soil on the levees. I will also make Ballona climate resilient. So part of the reason of using those earthen levees that are pushed out to the edge is that it will allow the as as the ocean rises, the water can move up the slowly us sloping levees and will adjust over time. Whereas if we leave it as it is now, the self regulating tide gates will eventually shut around 2050 When the tide reaches about 2.3 meters, and then there will be no more water flow at that point.

So by moving the levees back, we allow the water to flow in naturally adjust over time. And that’s partially I mean, that’s basically because we’re surrounded by urbanization on all sides. If it wasn’t for that Ballona could expand naturally and move eastward. But because we have city on all side, we have to come up with some creative solutions here in California. And the last two great success of removing SoCal gas from the ecological reserve. All 16 of their wells inside the reserve will be abandoned and all the infrastructure supporting those wells will be removed and restored back to native habitat.

And last but not least, Ballona will finally be accessible to all Angelenos. No matter where they live, or if they’re coming by foot bike or car, they will finally get to access Ballona with well regulated maintained trails that are safe, that have bike paths and pedestrian paths separate. And that’s really going to be the shining beacon for our city.

Well, that would be great. Currently, if somebody wants to access the wetlands, what, what can they do?

So so the wetlands are so vital wetlands, I’ll just you know, it’s not a park. It’s an ecological reserve. So it’s number one function is for wildlife. However, it’s really important in park for Los Angeles to get people outdoors and have them physically connect with nature. So as mentioned earlier, we see 1,000s of schools of students, K through 12, and college students every year in our education program.

And every week we post we host Creek cleanups to help get to get the trash out of bionic Creek before it finds its way to the ocean, and also restoration projects. And if you go to the calendar, on our website, Ballona friends.org. You can see all the activities that we sponsor and we have all kinds of events that we do throughout the year.

Okay, so we’ll come when Neysa is doing birdwatching tour and you’ll, you’ll benefit from Neysa’s bounty of information.

Okay, well, so for people who are listening, generally speaking, it’s the wetlands is not a place to its current form, to just walk around and hike around it it because of it being a nature preserve. Is that a fair statement?

That’s correct, but as in as Neysa mentioned, you know, one of the great and very important benefits is that once the restoration project is completed, it will be open along the perimeter path. With new boardwalks a new bypass for for anyone to come visit and enjoy the beauty of Bayana. But currently, it is it is what fish and wildlife calls managed access.

Okay, it’s a really sensitive habitat, and we just really just can’t have folks wandering through at this point.

Right, that makes sense. In terms of tours of it, you were saying there’s a bird watching tour that people could find out about through the BallonaFriends.org.

Yeah, so we’re literally just, you know, coming out of COVID sat down and just having our our community events start. They’re small, right now, we’re limited to the size of the number of people that we can now but at any given time, after June 15th, when the state releases, the new guidelines, and once we see what the county’s interpretation, we’ll have a better idea of how many folks we can have at any given time, and what activities we can do.

So we’ll start opening up pretty quickly, I would imagine, when is it expected that the trails and will be constructed and made available to the public in general.

So the trail system that that is present now on the western part of Ballona, is narrow, and it’s maintained by friends of mine, a wetlands and occasionally California Fish and Wildlife. And it’s not the extensive, well maintained trail system that is going to be built during the restoration process. And so that’s why it doesn’t have the same capacity that it will.

But after the restoration starts, we we expect that the first phase of the restoration will take about five years, and there is a public access plan for that first phase. So there will be after that first phase trails throughout the the northern and part of the central part of Ballona. And there there are maps in the environmental impact report that detail this that showed there’s going to be meaningful access at that time, then there’s a waiting period, and then they the state will do the second phase of the restoration.

And then there’s an additional access that expands after that. So that would mean probably in about seven years, we would see our our meaningful access with the miles of additional pedestrian and bike trails added including restroom facilities, drinking fountains, those sorts of things that we just don’t have available to us right now.

Are you talking about removing the Southern California gas wells? Did they own the property where their wells are at are those those on state property.

They own the mineral rights underneath the state property. So if California Fish Wildlife managers, the top SoCal Gas has the rights to everything underneath and and then they have the easements to be able to access those wells. And the folks negotiating really fought to ask them to leave and and they acquiesced. And we’re benefiting from that. But yeah, they did not have to leave if they didn’t want to.

Well, that’s great, because I’ve seen them out there working on the wells for the last couple of years. And, and I would imagine it’s pretty damaging to the wetlands to have those heavy vehicles move out onto the onto that very fragile terrain. We’ll be taking a break here for just one minute.

You’re listening to Unite and Heal America with Matt Matern on KABC 790. I’m talking to Scott Culbertson, the head Executive Director of the Ballona Wetlands and also Nyesa Frechette, manager of scientific programs. We’re going to be right back and continue talking about this important subject.

You’re listening to KABC 790. This is Matt Matern host of Unite and Heal America. My guests today again, Scott Culbertson and Neysa Frechette from the Ballona Wetlands and wanted to discuss with you Scott, how the program has had an impact on youth who have been involved in your educational programs.

Sure, you know, the friends of mine, our wetlands explorer Ballona education program has been going on for 20 years, and it’s immensely successful. We’ve seen we see 1000s of students from all over Los Angeles. If we if I were to be able to show you a scatter map you would see that we have students coming not only from the immediate area, but all the way up to Malibu, Northridge Pasadena, you know down in the unincorporated around Downey, he’s in Long Beach and then back to my own again, a good 70% of those students come from underserved communities, park poor community.

So it’s the it’s the great opportunity to get them in nature. And in connect with nature. There’s a particular success story that I think we’re all very proud of and, and it’s we had about six years ago, a young woman who was a junior in high school, her name is Amy and Amy visited with her high school on an education tour. And she never really thought of just from South LA, she didn’t live in an area with a lot of open space. And she got very excited about bio and asked her if she could volunteer.

We took her on as volunteer, she ended up going to college at LMU. She continued to volunteer with us while she was in high school, and then at LMU, she became an intern. During her junior year, she we hired her to work with us part time, and she just graduated a couple of a couple of weeks ago, and she is now working for us full time in our education program. And that’s that’s really, you know, if there’s a dream that you could have for a program, or the impact that you would have on a person’s life, that would be it.

That’s a that’s wonderful story. And yeah, I think that programs like yours, connecting students who haven’t seen these open spaces many times, because we have a lot of jewels in California, but sometimes they’re hidden from view and people who aren’t in the know, don’t, don’t have a chance to connect to those. And so you’re connecting students from underserved areas is is an amazing part of the work that you’re doing. So what’s what’s the ultimate goal?

And so for the Ballona wetlands, yeah, so the restoration project has two main goals. The first goal is to promote and enhance biodiversity, expand wetlands and protect the environment and the species that live at Ballona. And make opportunities for other species throughout the state to come back. They have to have been lost. And then the second main goal is to provide a beautiful fully functioning wetland for the Angelenos that live here to come and visit and and cherish. And these goals are, I feel are equally important. As an ecological reserve, we protect we’re protecting the environment first.

But the in Los Angeles in the heart of of our city, you can only imagine obviously everyone’s going to want to come and so having that well manage access with with trails that are accessible to everyone right now. We don’t have the capacity to bring differently abled folks folks with strollers into the reserve. The trail isn’t designed that way. And and that’s not right. You know, that needs to be fixed. There’s not enough parking for if people from all over Los Angeles really wanted to come. We don’t have enough parking.

There’s one lot and it gets used by the entire Playa Del Rey community on a Saturday, everybody coming to go to the beach, there needs to be parking there needs to be meaningful access, access that protects the wildlife, but also gives all Angelenos the opportunity to visit and explore Ballona and feel connected to nature, but also need to have nature here to come to and right now only about 30 acres of Ballona is high functioning or I would say medium functioning wetland.

The rest of Ballona is cut off from water covered and Phil covered in non native plants and doesn’t provide the meaningful services that wetlands are supposed to that all of these wild these animals need. And so the restoration project will write those wrongs it will remove the fill created by Marina del Rey, they’ll open the creek back up and let the Tidewater in, let the floodwaters in. Restore the native diversity bring back to the native plants.

Get out the non native plants that are essentially weeds taking over more than 200 acres of Ballona are just covered in non native weeds. I know every spring when you drive by all the yellow flowers are really pretty, but they’re actually weeds. They’re mustard, they’re crown daisy, their Euphorbia their ice plant. And that stuff does not provide the food and shelter and nesting habitat that our wildlife need. So we need to get that stuff out of there. We got to put the native California plants back in we got to bring the water back in and we will have a beautiful shining gem of a wetland that Los Angeles deserves.

So tell us how long is that going to take and kind of are there steps on in the process as far as pieces of acreage that your work? yawn, and how quickly can can that all get done?

Yeah, so Friends of Ballona Wetlands has been doing restoration at just the western edge of the Ecological Reserves since the 90s. We’ve been working in the same eight acres of sand dunes for two decades by hand, with trials occasionally to put plants in some pruning shears and things like that. But very, you know, this restoration project is going to require heavy machinery, it’s going to require phasing, to move cement to move dirt.

And we so we’ve been toiling for decades to just restore a few acres of coastal sand dunes. And the results have been great, but it just takes way too long, right. And so this restoration plan, though, it’s going to take about 10 years altogether, once it gets started, the state will be able to restore 577 acres in half the time that we’ve spent on eight acres, because of the planning, the funding, the technology, the machinery.

And so it’s going to be an astounding change in what might seem like a long period of time, but in the grand geological scale, and in the scale of our organization is going to be like a blink of an eye once the shovel gets in the ground.

Yeah, that’s why it’s important. And the fact that your organization helped save that piece of wetlands, so that this important work could be done is is a real big story and the amazing work that you’ve done there. I was talking to another guest recently, and they were talking about the the water that comes down from our rains and that we’re not capturing that effectively in something like 3 billion gallons of water, or are are going out to the ocean every year because of us not capturing that. What’s the wetlands role in in capturing some of that, that water?

Yeah, so wetlands are designed to act like a sponge, and they the soil captures the water and stores it and because they’re generally also in basins they can fill up and then slowly release water over time. Coastal wetlands are a little different in the fact that they also have the tides coming in from the ocean side.

And so Ballona will be able to absorb not only the sea level rise and tides coming in from the west, but also rain coming stormwater runoff and we’ll clean that water the plants and organizations are going to organisms in the wetlands will help clean that water as it comes down to. So that’s very important. But I would argue that we do also need to find a way to store more of that water upstream, absorb it in areas that have already been paved over and make use of some of that water upstream where it’s also needed.

Scott, where do you see your program expanding from here?

Well, certainly, you know, this restoration is the legacy is the legacy to our future generations. And when the restoration is finished, the friends will still be here running our education programs and running our, our our restoration programs. But I think in the long term that the friends are really will become more and more our education program will grow.

And our advocacy programs will probably take on more of the environmental, regional environmental issues after especially being able to have the success of the restoration behind us. You know, Neysa mentions that, you know, in a city where where we spend billions of dollars in poor water every year, we’ve got to start we’ve got to start collecting and saving the water upstream. And I think that’s a really important mission for all of us.

How do you see yourselves partnering with other organizations going forward? And we don’t have a whole lot of time to wrap that up. But I’ll give you a minute or 30 seconds to give me the highlights.

Yeah, sure. We partner we partner with heal the bay, the Bay Foundation, Surfrider Foundation Trust for Public Land, several other organizations in Southern California Sparta and San Diego on environmental and watershed issues. So we’re we have a we have a coalition. It’s called the wetlands restoration principles coalition that deal with wetlands issues throughout the state.

Well, thank you so much, Scott, and Neysa for being on the program. It’s been great getting to talk to you about the work the great work that you and the Friends of Bayona Wetlands are doing and you know, help saving a piece of habitat which is important for all of California.

So kudos to you and the world, work that you’re doing thanks to listeners for listening to Unite and Heal America I’m your host Matt Matern and you’re listening to KABC 790 I hope to have you back next week. This pre recorded show furnished by Matthew Matern.

(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)

Help Us Combat Climate Change by Subscribing to our Newsletter!