Saturday, September 22, 2007

Los Cerritos Wetlands--what's new?

Wedding venues and wedding vendorsCommunityWalk Map - Los Cerrtios Wetlands

I haven't yet written up a post for the Los Cerritos wetlands, in east Long Beach, because access to this site is restricted, and I haven't yet had the opportunity.

But I have been keeping abreast of the news concerning this parcel, perhaps the only original wetland remaining in Long Beach (certainly the only one of any significant size).

Located on the Cerritos Channel (a tributary of the San Gabriel River), the Los Cerritos Wetlands are the subject of great controversy. The current ownership is a patchwork of city and state agencies, although the balance is privately held by the Bixby Company. The wetlands themselves are off-limits to development.

The fate of the upland areas, however, are in jeopardy. These areas are, of course, former wetlands. And there are plans to restore the marsh to recreate a portion of the extensive marshes that once existed in southeast Long Beach and northern Orange County. This project would rival in scale the restoration of the Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach, and represent perhaps the only opportunity for such a large-scale wetland restoration.

The Home Depot has other plans, of course. They would like to build a large store in the center of these wetlands.

Supporters of the project point out that there currently no large hardware stores in the City of Long Beach, convienently ignoring the two Home Depots and the Lowe's Hardware in Signal Hill (that munchkin to our city donut). No Long Beach resident has to drive more than three miles to one of these stores. (Don't believe me? Check out this map on google.)

Our City Council supports this project, of course. Even though Long Beach residents have many nearby big-box stores to patronize, the sales taxes (an important source of revenue since Prop 13 dried up revenue from property taxes) go to Signal Hill, not us. Even our normally progressive and environmentally foreward thinking councilmembers (I'm specifically referring to 2nd District rep Suja Lowenthall here) voted to support the draft Environmental Impact Report. This joke of a document claimes to find "less than signfiicant" impacts to noise, traffic, aesthetics, historic resources, and natural resources. (Access the documents here.)

Fortunately, the California Coastal Commission isn't buying it. Staff at the Commission ruled that by accepting the EIR, the City allowed this area, zoned for industrial uses (it's currently a tank farm for oil extraction), allowed commercial development and violated open space requirements determined by the Local Coastal Program. If the Commission accepts the staff's findings (which they often do, unless outside pressure is applied), they will have to draft a new EIR mitigating loss to biological and other resources.

Read about it in the Press Telegram here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Rainbow Lagoon

CommunityWalk Map - Rainbow Lagoon

I debated whether or not to include Rainbow Lagoon as a natural area. No doubt, the interpretive signs around the lagoon tells you that it is a haven for wildlife. There is half a truth to what they say. But that means that there is also a big fat half-lie too.

There is very little natural habitat here. The upland areas are mostly covered with lawns and non-native palm trees. It's a very urban park here, and there isn't to support wildlife here.

In the last century, most of this area was open ocean. The semi-circular Rainbow Pier was created in the 1920s, along with the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium. Soon after, the City began filling in the open water behind the pier. With the decline of Long Beach's downtown in the 1970s and 1980s, the City undertook aggressive revitalization plans, which included massive filling of the area behind the pier, to create the modern-day landscape.

Thus, Rainbow Lagoon is the vestige of the sheltered cove that was once protected by Rainbow Pier.

Oceanic salt water fills Rainbow Lagoon via underground pipes and culverts. This keeps a marine, but wave-free environmnent. In some ways, this is similar to natural lagoons (such as Malibu Lagoon) where waves are cut off by natural sand bars, which come and go with the seasons. In a natural state, this still water would be conducive the establishment of salt marsh plants, like Spartina foliosa. However, there are none to be found here.

In contrast to a natural lagoon, Rainbow Lagoon is paved with concrete and in general has a very hard "edge" which prevents the establishment of plants. As you can see in the picture above, there is no gradual shift from deep to shallow water; these gradients normally create a variety of depths, which are essential to a diverse fish community with species of different sizes. The far edge in the photograph is rocky, which adds a little diversity. But the hard substrate again does not allow plants to establish. No doubt the plant-free environment is an intentional component of the park management, as such plants could create nuissances in such an urban environment.

The blunted tidal inputs creates other problems for the lagoon: lack of oxygen. Wave energy and fresh inputs of ocean water would normally keep the oxygen levels high. Making matters worse, the concrete lining makes the water heat up in the sun, further depleting oxygen. To prevent oxygen levels from getting too low (which would result in massive fish-kills), water is agitated and circulated by fountains. These fountains also improve the aesthetics of the park.

The dense urban surroundings contribute a lot of pollution to the park, but vigilant maintenance keeps out most litter. Still, a lot of the junk that winds up in the lagoon contributes nutrients, like nitrate. These nutrients promote algae growth, which can be unsightly, odorous, and further deplete oxygen (remember: algae and other plants only produce oxygen when they are photosynthesizing--at night they consume oxygen, just like most living things).

The park is much more welcoming for human inhabitants than wildlife. There is a beautiful winding path that take you over colorful bridges, and paddle boats to take you over the water. It is a lovely park, just not wondeful for wildlife, notwithstanding this semi-informative interpretive sign:

More than a pond

And, in the end, the park is far better than a sterile lawn in terms of wildlife. I came across a green heron (Butorides viriscens) catching a small fish in the lagoon! These guys aren't exactly rare, but nor are they that commonly seen.

Get ready for Coastal Cleanup Day 2007

Trash on our beautiful beach

Sunday, September 15, 2007 is California's Coastal Cleanup Day.

Why not devote half an hour to making Long Beach a more beautiful place? All you have to do is show up, and pick up trash you find along the beach.

Something is going on at nearly every stretch of the beach in Long Beach. In addition, there are inland sites along the Los Angeles River, and at the ponds in El Dorado Park. Remember: Trash anywhere on the strees in Long Beach will eventually wind up on the coast! So you can clean up the coast anywhere in the City. I'll post details about exact locations once they are known.

Coastal Cleanup Day is organized by the California Coastal Comission.

I participated in this event in 2006 at Alamitos Beach. So what did I think of it?

-Yes, it's kind of futile to think that one day of cleaning will have much of an impact. In fact, the beach didn't look any cleaner immediately after we finished.
-Some people don't quite get it. Some jerk dumped piles of moldy bread on the beach, and none of the volunteers thought it was littering until I pointed out to them that food on the beach attracts lots of rats.
-It's a great experience in self-education. There is FAR more litter on our beach than you might ever expect. And yes, it is all harmful to wildlife.
-It's a great public eductaion. If a man or woman sees hundreds of people cleaning up the beach, they may realize that the beach is something to value. Usually, people are ashamed to think someone else is cleaning up after them, and they will be more responsible with their own trash.
-They ask you to tally up all the pieces of trash you pick up. I think it's a waste of time and stupid. But for some people, it makes the task fun. I "guestimated" my numbers at the end. How many cigarette butts did you pick up? Eight billion?

By the way, they usually have awesome signs for the event. Last year's featured these cool wildlife cards:

The Cig-Egrett

The Spork Crab

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Long Beach Water Department giving away grants for water-wise landscaping

The Long Beach Water Department is giving away grants up to $5000 to encourage home owners to replace water-hogging lawns with water-wise landscaping.

The announcement can be downloaded here.

The deadline is September 28, 2007.

The desired projects will require little water and maintenance, have minimal runoff, and provide wildlife habitat.

Although they do not require that projects use native plants (for shame! they do not even mention native plants!), a native garden would meet every single one of their goals (especially wildlife habitat).

Monday, August 20, 2007

News: Fire at El Dorado Nature Center

The Press Telegram reports that firefighters put out a small fire near the Nature Center on the evening of August 19. [article]

Hot embers from an unknown source ignited the compost bin, although arson hasn't been ruled out.

However, damage to property appears to have been minimal, and none of the animals in the building were harmed.

Although brush fires were a historically common event in southern California, and most plants and animals are very well adapted to it, the small size of El Dorado park means that wildlife are very vulernable to fires here. A large enough blaze could wipe out an entire population

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I haven't done much on this blog in a long time. I have already covered most of the parks in Long Beach that contain significant natural areas (although there are quite a few, especially on the LA River, I have yet to visit!). I will continue to cover them, but in the future, this blog will expand to cover a variety of environmental issues affecting Long Beach and surrounding communities, especially those affecting Parks and natural habitats.

I hope you enjoy!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Cha'wot Nature Preserve (Signal Hill)

CommunityWalk Map - Cha'wot Nature Preserve
Note: Location is approximate and not yet determined

Due to its small size, population density, and prolific oil industry, Signal Hill hardly retains any undeveloped open space. A few areas containing oil wells may one day become parks once the wells run dry, but few of these areas hold any promise for wildlife.


One exception is a 30-acre parcel on the north slope of Signal Hill. This property is currently owned by Signal Hill Petroleum and is strictly off-limits to the public due to safety concerns. The City, in conjuction with the Trust for Public Lands begun talks with the petroleum company to purchase the land. Everything is still in the early planning stages, and the final size/shape/appearance of the park has yet to be determined. The San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles River and Mountains Conservancy has conducted some of the studies that are necessary to turn this once-productive oil field into a park.

The name "Cha'wot" comes from the word used by the indigenous Tongva people to mean "signal-fire," referring to the signals used by the village in Long Beach (Puvungna, now the campus of Cal State Long Beach) to communicate with neighbors on Catalina Island and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

You can take a look at the future site of the park from Combellack Drive. From the street, the slopes appear to be dominated by nonnative trees and grasses. The Long Beach chapter of the Sierra Club has spotted more than 70 species of birds among the eucalypts trees, but it is unclear if a thorough assessment of the biological resources has been done. You can read about their work on this project in past issues of their newsletter.

The entryway doesn't say "Welcome", but it doesn't say "Unwelcome" either.... Still, best not to tresspass.

What do they have in mind? Maybe a woodland? Some sage-scrub? I imagine the tall eucalyptus are staying, but I wonder how much of the exotic vegetation they plan on removing....

Some of the prettier (but non-native) flowers from the site:

Moss verbena
Moss verbena (Verbena tenuisecta), from South America.

Gazania (Gazania linearis), from South Africa

Monday, July 2, 2007

West San Gabriel River Parkway (Lakewood)

CommunityWalk Map - San Gabriel River Parkway

The San Gabriel River Parkway and Monteverde Park in Lakewood are, perhaps, better examples of landscaping with native vegetation than native habitat restoration. The Parkway has a very manicured appearance, with long stretches of grass intersperesed with native plant gardens. Perhaps this appearance is a result of the newness of the park. The older portions at the southern end of the Parkway have larger patches of sage-scrub, more similar in appearance to the Long Beach Greenbelt.


None of this means that the Parkway isn't a beautiful place to visit, or that it lacks the wildlife benefits of more wild parks. The bird-life here is terrific, as flocks of finches and mourning doves gorge themselves on seeds, phoebes catch insects mid-air, and scrub jays squawk aggressively to establish their territories. I believe that the the River Parkway is an excellent example of how environmental concerns can be accomodated in even non-wildland parks, and I hope that this approach gets more widespread.

There are two parts to the parkway: Phase I (the larger, southern portion, between Carson Street and Del Amo Boulevard) and Phase II (the smaller northern portion, just above Del Amo). In between is Monteverde Park, which is partially landscaped by native plants and attepmts to recreate a few natural communities.

Carson street entrance
The trail winds sinuously through the parkway from one garden-like planting to the next. There is little shade in the park, as most of the trees are still very short. Perhaps in a few years, this park will be a bit more shady.

Trees of the Parkway:

Western sycamore (Platanus racemosa) is a typical riparian tree, growing along-side streams and in moist canyons. It has distinctive mottled bark, and the fruits hang in little strings.

Valley oak
Valley oaks (Quercus lobata) grow well in moist areas. Old trees can reach impressive stature. The tree drops its broad, thin leaves in the winter. Poor regeneration has been documented throughout the state, and this oak is now increasingly threatened.

Coast live oak
The coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) is far more common in our region than the valley oak. It keeps its hard brittle leaves throughout the year.

The beds are lushly planted with wildflowers typical of coastal sage-scrub, such as California sage, buckwheat, and Mexican elderberry. Maby of these plants have showy flowers and are very attractive to butterflies. The berries and seeds are also important food for wildlife.

Bee on elderberry flowers
Honey bee (Apis mellifera) visiting the flowers of a Mexican elderberry (Sambucus mexicana)

Sage and carpenter bee
A huge carpenter bee (Xylocarpa sp.) visits the flowers of Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii)

Scrubjay in western redbud
A scrub-jay (Aphelocoma californica) in a western redbud tree (Cercis occidentalis)

There are plenty of wildflowers to enjoy here:

Salvia mellifera
Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii)

Creeping mahonia
Creeping majonia (Berberis aquifolium repens)

Bush sunflower
Bush sunflower (Encelia californica)

[Need ID]

[Need ID]

[Need ID]

[Need ID]

Among the plantings are nonnative butterfly bushes (Buddleja davidii). This plant was an unfortunate choice to include in the park, as Buddleja is a major invasive pest and a threat to native plants.

Butterfly bushButterfly Bush

Outside the gardens, the grass grows a bit wild, and many wildflowers proliferate here.

Shaggy lawn
The unmowed grass reflects a wildlife-friendly and water-wise approach to park management.

The landscape is countoured to direct the flow to the river. The vegetation in the swale provides some treatment for the stormwater. In these wetter areas, the wildflowers are most abundant.

Flax-flowered linanthus (Linanthus liniflorus) is one of the more common and shower flowers in this area.

An aster (probably Erigeron sp.)

Yarrow, or milfoil (Achillea millefolium) has strongly aromatic leaves.

Heliotrope (Heliotropium curassavicum)

In very wet areas of the grass, stands of cattails grow.

Typha domingensis
Typha domingensis
Southern cattail (Typha domingensis) is distinguished from other species by the wide space between the upper male flowers and the lower female flowers.

At the southern end of the parkway, the more mature plantings take on a more genuinely wild appearance, like a natural sage-scrub habitat. These areas are profuse with flowering sages, buckwheat, and sagebrush.

Poppy and sage
The orange poppies (Eschscholzii californica)and the purple Cleveland sage flowers (Salvia clevelandii) make an excellent contrast!

Sagebrush and encelia
The silvery gray California sagebrush (Artemesia californica) is one of the most important plants of the coastal sage-scrub. Many species of birds rely on its leaves for cover and its seeds for food. The yellow flowers behind belong to the bush sunflower (Encelia californica).

Buckwheat and sagebrush
California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) provides white-to-pink flowers all year.


A large expanse of sage provides a striking note for its foliage as much as for its flowers.

In addition to coastal sage-scrub, the southern end of the parkway has a few chaparral areas as well. Many, like the California lilac, have conspiculous flowers.

California lilac (Ceanothus sp.)

Manzanita gall
Manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.). The bright red leaves are galls caused by the manzanita leaf-gall aphid (Tamalia coweni).

Although the park rambles along the San Gabriel River, there is no real effort to connect the park with the river. Such a task is nearly impossible given the extensive channelization here. Although these concrete channels effectively eliminate the risk of floods they also eliminate nearly all value to wildlife. Wetland and riparian plants cannot establish on the concrete bed, and few fish or insects can withstand the super-high water velocity and lack of protective cover. Sadly, such habitat destruction has afflicted most of the lower San Gabriel River, and almost all of the Los Angeles River. Most of Southern California's rivers have suffered a similar fate. Careful planning and prevention of sprawl is necessary to protect the few unchannelized rivers left in the region.

But just as a crack in the sidewalk may be enough habitat for a wildflower, some wildlife manage to find some foraging in the San Gabriel channel. The river is best appreciated from the bikepath along the east side of the river.


Near the Parkway, slight shifitng of the soil has allowed shallow flooding over a short stretch of river. In these low-velocity shallows, a few bugs can hang out, attracting birds who eat them.


Some of the birds you may see here:

Five stilts
Black-necked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus)

Great blue heron and stilts
Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) (plus some more stilts)

Stilts and killdeer
Small, but noisy killdeer (on the left, Charadrius vociferus), with yet more stilts.

A cliff swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota