Natural Perspectives: Land Trust's composting plan is no good

Editor's note: This removes the paragraph regarding the water tanks, which will be above ground, not in pits that were to be no larger than 8 feet deep.

Vic and I learned early this week that the California Department of Fish and Game has extended the comment period on the plans for the Bolsa Chica mesa to March 17.

As we reported in our column last week, the Bolsa Chica Land Trust proposes to disc, or plow, the lower bench of the mesa three times a year. It plans to build four Terra-Farms of 1 acre each on this 118-acre portion of the ecological reserve.

On these farms, the Land Trust will grow native plants and produce compost on a commercial scale. The compost piles in each farm will be 60 feet long, 10 feet wide and 6 feet tall. And what is it going to compost? The grasses and other plants that are at the base of the mesa's food chain!

The Land Trust plans to compost 10% of the plants growing on the mesa each year, producing 5 tons of compost that it will then spread back on the bare ground. I'm not making this up. The Land Trust proposed it, Fish and Game signed off on it, and the Wildlife Conservation Board is poised to award them $550,000 in public funds. The only thing standing in the way of this development project is a concerned public and the California Coastal Commission.

The Land Trust claims that mesa soils are "destroyed" and "severely depleted." But it provides no evidence that the soils on the mesa are any different than soils at the Dana Point headlands or any other coastal bluff top site. If you look at the mesa now, you see a sea of green and purple. The grasses and wild radishes come up to my armpits. That is clearly not the sign of destroyed soil.

Let's look at the logic of harvesting the plants that grow on the mesa, composting them and then tilling that compost back into the soil. The minerals that are in the soil are taken up by the plants and then put right back in the ground when the compost made from those plants is tilled in. Nothing new will have been added.

Meanwhile, the gophers and ground squirrels that eat those grasses and grains will have nothing to eat. The herons, hawks, owls and snakes that feed on the rodents will have less to eat. How on earth is this good for the ecosystem? And don't forget that every pass of the plow will chop up silvery legless lizards, a sensitive species that lives on the mesa.

But an even more sinister problem lurks. Disking opens up the ground for noxious weeds. The plants growing on the mesa now are mainly non-native, but they have high food value and are not classified by the California Exotic Pest Plant Council as highly invasive. But if the soil is disturbed repeatedly to exhaust the seed bank of grains and radish, what is likely to grow next are noxious, highly invasive weeds like yellow star thistle, Australian saltbush and Russian thistle. There are already plenty of those growing outside the fence in the area that the Bolsa Chica Stewards tend.

Part of their "restoration" plan is to plant a row of coast live oaks along Warner Avenue and around Warner Pond. Perhaps the Land Trust didn't notice that Warner Pond is a saltwater marsh. Coast live oaks don't grow near saltwater.

Planting a row of trees along Warner Avenue probably would be a violation of the California Coastal Act because if the trees grew, they would restrict the view of the people living in the condominium complex across the street. They would also block the view of the motorists, bicyclists and hikers traveling along Warner Avenue. Coast live oaks don't belong at Bolsa Chica.

One of the many things about the plan that I object to is that apparently the Land Trust plans to cut down the existing coastal sage scrub that is in the way of its proposed grassland. There is a patch of ground a bit north of center of the lower bench that I recall being wet even during the dry season. When Vic and I walked back there about 20 years ago, I saw mulefat growing there, which indicates water close to the surface. That patch of native vegetation has continued to expand over the decades and is now so large that it shows up on Google Earth maps.

One of the drawings provided with the Mitigated Negative Declaration shows "coyote brush" in that location (L2), but drawing L3 of the restoration process shows only grassland. On Feb. 7, I asked Fish and Game biologist Carla Navarro via e-mail to confirm that the Land Trust really does plan to eliminate this large stand of native vegetation, but she has not replied. Conversely, the Land Trust does not mention any plans to remove the Myoporum bushes on the mesa. Those are listed as "highly invasive" by the California Exotic Pest Plant Council and should be the first thing that is removed from the mesa.

I reviewed the 333-page California Coastal Commission staff report from November 2000, when the commission, including Shirley Dettloff from Huntington Beach, voted to protect the mesa from development. The main rationale for the decision was that the mesa was raptor habitat and was necessary for raptor foraging. The staff report stated that the Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (Warner Pond and the eucalyptus grove) functioned cooperatively with the non-sensitive areas of the lower bench of the mesa to form an ecological unit. They recommended that the "lower mesa be designated as Conservation."

Coastal Commission staff stated on Page 3 of their report that "no grading will be permitted in conservation areas." In addition to plowing three times a year, the Land Trust proposes to grade the mesa for construction of their Terra-Farms and for construction of seasonal ponds. It claims that its "cut and fill" will not exceed 800 cubic yards. That's about 80 truckloads of dirt.

The Land Trust calls this plan Community Promoted Restoration, or "CPR for the mesa." It's more like Catastrophic Plowing and Ripping. And Fish and Game has signed off on it. Send your comments to Navarro at In case you're curious, the Fish and Game new director is John McCamman at 1416 Ninth St., 12th floor, Sacramento, CA 95814 or Let him know how you feel about this plan.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World