Ballona Land Trust tangles with the Bay Foundation over invasive plant removal

By Gary Walker

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

A long-running feud over how to eradicate invasive plant species from the Ballona Wetlands went before the California Coastal Commission this month, with the nonprofit Bay Foundation ultimately prevailing in its request to pull weeds from targeted restoration areas on a year-round schedule.

The Bay Foundation and volunteers with the nonprofit Friends of Ballona Wetlands removed 15 tons of non-native ice plant between September and November of last year, according to Bay Foundation records. The work came in response to unprecedented growth triggered by drought-busting winter rainfall.

Last year biologists covered patches of ice plant with tarps to kill them with the trapped heat of the sun, a process known as solarization that other local wetlands groups have criticized as either too severe or ineffective without immediate re-planting of native species. The Bay Foundation reported a 100% reduction of invasive species where biolo-
gists employed both solarization and hand-pulling. But as those efforts continue, the Bay Foundation will only be pulling out plants by hand during the remainder of this year, according to a Coastal Commission report.

The Bay Foundation’s request had been challenged by the Ballona Land Trust, a Playa del Rey advocacy group that has sued the Bay Foundation for records related to its role in the environmental study that will guide the state’s overall restoration efforts in the roughly 600-acre ecological preserve. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state’s Coastal Conservancy are also collaborating on that report, which has been delayed more than five years but is due out later this year.

The Ballona Land Trust has previously called for greater public transparency in that process and broader collaboration with other wetlands advocates, most of whom have differences of opinions about what the goals and techniques of the state restoration should be.

At the Aug. 11 hearing, the Ballona Land Trust unsuccessfully petitioned the Coastal Commission to amend the Bay Foundation’s invasive plant removal permit in several ways to require the public release of planning and monitoring data, impose an official temporary stay on solarization, and allow the Ballona Land Trust to help.

Walter Lamb, president of the Ballona Land Trust, tried to frame the debate as less of a clash between adversaries than a disagreement between allies of the wetlands.

“I love the Ballona Wetlands,” he said. “Please don’t look at this as us-against-them.”

A committee that includes Heal the Bay and Los Angeles Waterkeeper offered a written endorsement of the Bay Foundation’s existing methodology as both adaptable and effective in its efforts “to restore ecological balance and functional integrity to a highly degraded portion of the Ballona Wetlands.”

Despite the commission’s vote, Lamb later issued a statement saying the group hopes the Bay Foundation’s effort is successful.

“Sometimes it feels like Ballona is just a fight,” said Coastal Commission Chairwoman Danya Bochco, “but it seems like everyone is trying to help it, not hurt it.”