David McNew/Getty Images
Willets fly over the Los Cerritos Wetlands on July 31, 2007 near Long Beach, California.
The Los Cerritos Wetlands run from Long Beach to Seal Beach. The protected stretch of salt marsh grew by 100 acres last year when a long-negotiated piece of private property was transferred to the wetlands’ trust. Environmentalists and city leaders took a moment to celebrate today.
Long Beach City Councilman Gary DeLong, chair of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority, welcomed a crowd full of happy nature lovers and relieved policymakers. "Welcome! Welcome to the Los Cerritos Wetlands. We are here today to celebrate the largest wetlands acquisition to date."
The acquisition of the 100-acre Hellman Ranch involved two counties, two cities, the state and conservationists.
"I mean I’ve been at the coastal conservancy for 10 years. This was going on when I was hired 10 years ago," said Sam Schuchat, the executive officer of the California State Coastal Conservancy.
Schuchat and other conservationists and community activists fought for years to bring the degraded piece of marshland under public protection so it can be restored to its natural state.
Schuchat says the irony is that the undeveloped property wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for the petroleum industry. "The only reason we have these relatively large parcels that have not been paved over is because these were oil fields."
Shuchat says he hopes that other parcels may be added to the wetlands to expand the wetlands to 400 acres.
Negotiations are ongoing, but for now, Seal Beach Mayor Michael Levitt says the focus is on rehabilitating what’s already protected. "This has been degraded for a half a century or more, so we’ve got to go in there. We’ve got to take a look around, see where we can restore it, see where we can put in some facilities so we can have visitors come in and enjoy it and admire it."
Visitors can do more than admire it. They can also participate in cleanups and monthly habitat restorations. As the salt marsh returns to its natural state, more native birds like herons, egrets and raptors might return too.