Groups seek permission to remove invasive ice plants from three acres of Ballona in Playa del Rey

By Gary Walker

Volunteers remove ice plant from the Ballona Wetlands during a Friends of Ballona Restoration Day event Photo courtesy of Lisa Fimiani

Volunteers remove ice plant from the Ballona Wetlands during
a Friends of Ballona Restoration Day event
Photo courtesy of Lisa Fimiani

Restoring a biologically compromised and long neglected 600-acre wetland to a more pristine natural state would require a lot of work, particularly when it comes to removing invasive non-native plant species.

The nonprofit Bay Foundation and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife will seek permission to do just that at a meeting of the California Coastal Commission on March 10 in Santa Monica.

The permit application calls for the removal of ice plant, a hearty succulent that stifles the growth of native species and is often used as landscaping ground cover, from a three-acre portion of the wetlands area south of Culver Boulevard in Playa del Rey.

Because the state-backed effort to restore the Ballona Wetlands has yet to officially start, ice plant removal is being dubbed an interim measure in the context of supporting native species in the wetlands and preparing it for a broader restoration.

“Removing the ice plant on site will help protect the remaining native flora that will be critical to the native revegetation of the reserve for the larger multi-year restoration effort currently underway,” according to a commission staff report.

The Bay Foundation, Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Coastal Conservancy are leading the official restoration effort, which has been delayed for years pending the publication of a draft environmental assessment. That report is now due out sometime this summer.

The Bay Foundation plans to kill off ice plant with solarization — spreading a black tarp over patches of ice plant in order to dry it out and give native species a chance to grow in its place.

Karina Johnston, a restoration biologist with the Bay Foundation, called solarization “a tried-and-true, straightforward restoration method” that has worked in numerous other locations. In 2008, for example, state workers used the technique to remove ice plant from a patch of land below the Playa del Rey bluffs near Cabora Drive.

“[The plastic tarp] heats and bakes the ice plant monocultures, which dries it out. Afterwards, we hope to see native plants come up because we believe that they’re there underneath the seed bed,” Johnston said.

If the Coastal Commission members grant permission, members of the public will be invited to take part in the work as early as late summer.

“It’s a great way for the community to be involved in something after so many delays,” Johnston said.

The nonprofit Friends of the Ballona Wetlands plans to assist the Bay Foundation and has already had tremendous success removing ice plant from eight acres of sand dune habitat located below the homes on the north side of Vista del Mar, Executive Director Lisa Fimiani said.

“One of our biggest success stories is the eight acres of dune where we’re permitted to do restoration work to remove non-native plants, the majority of them ice plants,” Fimiani said.

“In doing so we’ve seen the return of the endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly. It’s been one of our proudest achievements,” she said. “That’s the value of this kind of restoration. All these other plants started coming back, and in a few years we had lizards, butterflies, gopher snakes and antlions” (burrowing insects that dig tiny pits to trap prey).

The Coastal Commission will meet in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium’s East Wing on March 9, 10 and 11.

This will be the commission’s first meetings since its controversial February decision to fire Executive Director Charles Lester, who had strong support from environmental and slow-growth advocates.

Groups of Playa del Rey and Venice residents traveled more than 200 miles to Morro Bay to defend Lester during a raucous public hearing that made headlines statewide.

Commissioners are expected to appoint an interim executive director on March 9 and discuss the process for choosing a permanent replacement.

The Coastal Commission meets March 9, 10 and 11 in the East Wing of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1885 Main St., Santa Monica. Visit coastal.ca.gov/mtgcurr.html for agenda materials.

gary@argonautnews.com

Managing Editor Joe Piasecki contributed to this story.