Environmental groups opposed to an approximately $200 million state project to restore Los Angeles County’s Ballona Wetlands — saying it would actually harm the biologically diverse area — enlisted this week the 14-year-old great-grandniece of Cesar Chavez, Genesis Butler.

Butler was recently recognized as a “Marvel Hero” and featured in a commemorative comic book for her work raising awareness about Ballona, the county’s largest coastal wetlands.

The teenager and a coalition representing various conservation groups — led by In Defense of Animals — held a press conference Wednesday near the UCLA Marina Aquatic Center to bring attention to the restoration project, which they say will actually be a disaster for animal species that live in the wetlands. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is leading the project, has defended it as necessary and the best option for restoring the degraded wetlands.

Today, 577 acres, south of Marina del Rey, are all that remain of vast marshes and sand dunes that once stretched for 2,000 acres, from Playa del Rey to Venice and inland to Baldwin Hills. The wetlands have been degraded over decades because of development, pollution and other human causes.

The Ballona Wetlands is also home to many endangered and threatened animals, such as Belding’s Savannah sparrows that depend on salt marshes for survival.

The National Audobon society has identified more than 25 bird species vulnerable to losing their habitat as a result of sea level rise, including the California Least Tern that nests on Venice Beach and forages in Ballona Wetlands, according to the nonprofit Friends of Ballona Wetlands. The marsh also serves as a refuge for migratory birds and a nursery for young fish.

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As part of the project to restore 566 acres, a portion will be excavated to remove invasive weeds and essentially unearth the remaining wetlands under roughly 20 feet of material previously dumped there, according to a Fish and Wildlife report. The plan is to restore fish and wildlife habitat and add close to 10 miles of bike paths and trails. Tidal water would also be allowed to flow into the marsh, which has been cut off from the ocean since the early 1960s.

The project would create berms along the perimeter to help connect the creek to its historic flood plain.

But environmental groups have said the project will actually destroy habitat for troubled species during the excavation process.  And exposing the wetlands to tidal influence, they said, is a mistake. Opponents have proposed an alternative plan they call more gentle.

“Not only is the wetland important for the animals that call it home, but they play an important role in climate change because they absorb carbon from the atmosphere and support the soil and the plants,” Butler said. “When we lose the wetlands, we lose a natural source of fighting climate change.

“Yes, parks are great,” Butler added, “but what kids like me love are natural environments where we can explore the ecosystem.”

Fish and Wildlife’s webpage on the project, however, says the restoration effort will actually allow insects, reptiles and …read more

Source:: Los Angeles Daily News


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