Natural Perspectives: Mea culpa for last column

I made a goof in my last column about the Bolsa Chica Land Trust's plan for the mesa. The error is mine, not Vic's. I said the Land Trust was going to excavate no deeper than 8 feet to bury its 2,825-gallon water tanks in the ground. Actually, the tanks will not be buried. They will be above ground, with three or four tanks at each of the four proposed Terra-Farms on the mesa.

Here's where I went wrong. Their restoration plan is not available as a text document. All of the words of their plan are buried in landscape maps. I have examined several versions. On the version that is available to the public at the Huntington Beach Central Library, the print is too small and blurry to be read even with a magnifying glass. I also worked with an enlarged printout of the PDF files, but even that was blurred and barely legible. On the full-scale maps available at the Bolsa Chica Conservancy, I saw that the text on map L4 read, "Terra-Farm area excavated to 8" depth to form mounds." But the symbol for 8 inches looked like 8 feet.

The water tanks are 7 feet, 7 inches tall, and the very small drawing showed the tanks just below ground level. Because the restoration plan is not spelled out in detail, I assumed that the tanks would be buried. Turned out that the ground level (below which the tanks will sit) was a hill that they plan to build. So the proposed tanks would be above ground, but behind a constructed hill.

In a letter to the editor ("Columnists have it all wrong," Community Commentary, Feb. 17), Land Trust President Connie Boardman and board member Joe Shaw wrote that their planned vertical axis turbine is small. I guess it's how you define small. The head on the vertical wind turbine would weigh 310 pounds and be more than 8 feet tall, sitting atop a 14-foot-tall pole. The design is helical, not a horizontal windmill with vanes.

The marketing claim from the manufacturer is that this type of vertical wind turbine is safe for birds and bats, but no data from studies supporting that claim are provided. Boardman and Shaw state that this model is used at a particular wildlife refuge in Alaska, but there are no bats in that location.

Green technology is great, and I'm thrilled that the library is going to get solar panels. But I don't think that the Bolsa Chica mesa is a good place for Terra-Farms, huge compost piles, solar panels and a nearly 9-foot-tall wind turbine atop a 14-foot pole.

I've continued to research the effect of disking on rodent populations. Mary V. Price, professor of biology emerita at UC Riverside, has a research specialty of rodents and their habitat.

"Disking has a number of bad effects," she wrote. "First, it destroys rodent burrows (and any rodents in them). Second, it guarantees that weedy species come back in, so you never return to anything resembling the native grass/annual forb mix that was probably the original vegetation before European annual grasses invaded."

Also in their opinion piece, Boardman and Shaw wrote, "The columnists do not believe adequate biological assessment was done. Wrong. Department of Fish and Game biologists reviewed this plan as part of an eight-month project plan evaluation and gave it their support."

Just because a DFG biologist has looked at a plan doesn't mean that the biological assessment was adequate. Here is an example of what I mean. In the Mitigated Negative Declaration, the word "rodent" does not even appear. But rodents are at the base of the food chain on the mesa. There is no mention of either the rodents or their role in supporting the sensitive birds that depend upon them for food.

It doesn't take much effort to find out what rodents live there. Copies of the extensive biological studies that have been done in the past at Bolsa Chica are available at the Huntington Beach Central Library. In the final environmental impact report/environmental impact statement for the Bolsa Chica Lowlands Restoration Project, Vol. 1, from April 2001 on pages 3-127 and 3-128, I found that the following species of rodents and rabbits were found at Bolsa Chica: western harvest mouse, house mouse, deer mouse, California vole, dusky-footed woodrat, valley pocket gopher, California ground squirrel, Audubon's cottontail and San Diego black-tailed jackrabbit, a federal Species of Concern and a California Species of Special Concern, plus the Southern California saltmarsh shrew, an insectivore on the state and federal lists.

Because disking destroys rodent burrows and any rodents in them, the impact of the proposed plan on rodents should have been addressed. And because the San Diego black-tailed jackrabbit and Southern California saltmarsh shrew are federal and state listed sensitive species that are known to live at Bolsa Chica, those species should have been on the Land Trust's list of sensitive species. They weren't.

Here is another issue. Long-tailed weasels used to live at Bolsa Chica. The last documented sighting was in 1982. They are thought to have been extirpated at Bolsa Chica as well as at San Joaquin Marsh. But according to Trude Hurd, the naturalist who works at San Joaquin Marsh, they caught a long-tailed weasel in a live trap there last year. The Bolsa Chica mesa hasn't been disked in a long time, so there is no telling what wildlife may have returned. I contend that new biological studies should have been performed by experts in their fields to assess what is living on the mesa. And DFG should have produced an EIR on a project of this scope in an area this sensitive.

What I had really intended to write about this week was the good work that is being done at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center. I was at the center last week with a crew from the Orange County Conservation Corps. Jamie Pavlat gave my group a great tour, pointing out the surgery facilities, radiology lab and area for blood work. Injured or sick wildlife gets state-of-the-art care to diagnose and treat their injuries or illnesses. Since the center opened in 1998, it's treated more than 33,000 birds and other animals.

The volunteers at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center are gearing up for the onslaught of baby animals that arrives every spring. Well-intentioned folks who find baby ducks, raccoons, etc. may think these youngsters have been abandoned by their mothers. Consequently, they scoop them up and take them to the center on Newland Street at Pacific Coast Highway. Usually, though, Mom is hiding nearby, waiting for the big humans to leave. So if you see baby animals this spring, it's usually best to just leave them alone. Mother Nature usually takes care of her own.

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

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