The city of South Gate plans to transform a weedy and rutted field overlooking an industrialized stretch of the Los Angeles River into a sylvan retreat boasting a nursery for rare native fish that thrived before the explosive growth of Southern California after World War II.
The $20-million Urban Orchard Project is slated to sprout on 7 acres of undeveloped city property sandwiched between the 710 Freeway and the river and surrounded by electrical power-line towers, truck yards, mobile homes, manufacturing plants and some of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the state.
Great article! I hope this is a success and makes other cites do similar projects long the shores of their urban waterways; bring nature back, the birds, the fish and the pants and improving our green spaces, is a win for everyone.
Ever since I read the awesome “The Feather Thief” earlier in the year, I’ve been on an extinction reading kick. It’s depressing.
Kirk Wallace Johnson devotes a lot of pages to acquainting readers with biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection, along with Charles Darwin. Of course, Darwin is the name we remember but the story of Wallace and the doomed Birds of Paradise in the 19th century makes for a page turner, so much so that I continued the through line with other authors.
First came Melanie Challenger’s “On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature.” Challenger is a poet and skillfully takes the reader along a time line that leads from her grandmother’s favorite wild flower on England’s Berkshire Downs, the common dog-violet, to a global tour that takes her to extinction events in Antactica, First Nations, Canada and Manhattan. Much of the book chronicles the annihilation of the natural world. It’s depressing in a beautiful, lyrical way, full of the care for our language few except a poet possess.
Next, I read “The Sixth Extinction” by the equally lyrical Elizabeth Kolbert. But, whereas Challenger is a poet, Kolbert, a writer for the New Yorker, is a journalist. Another amazing work, this one takes the reader through geologic time, punctuated with scientists who are meticulously documenting this time dubbed “Anthropocene,” and you realize that we live an age of nearly unprecedented extinction. I always wondered what happened to the frogs in our own Frogtown. My friend Ban once recounted how there used to be so many frogs on the streets that in some seasons it was nearly impossible not to step on them. Now, they’re gone, and, thanks to Kolbert, I know why. It’s depressing.
Finally, I’m a third of the way through Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” It started out brighter than the other two, engaging the reader with such items as “the gossip theory” for why humans went from middling predators to the top of the food chain. But, once again, as the pages mounted, the message became equally dire. It’s a historical who done it, where the bad guys are us. Yup, depressing.
So, it was with great holiday pleasure that I paged through the print Los Angeles Times this morning, to find two memorable events: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is following former scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruit out the revolving Trump door, pursued by a cloud of more than a dozen ethics violations. Here’s a summary of what he did during his close to two years in office. Top of mind for me was his tone deaf response to millions of comments asking him not to recommend shrinking Bear’s Ears National Monument.
But the real good news (both Pruit’s as well as Zinke’s probable replacement are nickers’ deep in coal and gas industry ties) is the return of commercial and recreational fishing for rock fish off the Southern California coast. The feds just increased the catch rate on some rock fish populations by 100 percent or more because of the success of rebuilding those stocks. That translates to jobs, estimated at 640, revenue, estimated at $44 million and local red snapper back on dinner plates.
In 2010, after falling in love with the LA River, I got worked up about plastic bags and was mostly happy to start carrying my own to the grocery store. There was a howl of protest as the plastic consumer noose tightened, first with California cities creating a patchwork of regulation, then counties, and finally voters approved a statewide ban in 2016. Now, if you want a bag at the store, it will cost you 10 cents.
Back then, I wrote: As a fly fisherman, you know you’re sick and tired of seeing trash in the Glendale Narrows, especially after a storm. So it should be worth it to either take your friggin’ bags with you on grocery runs, or pony up the dime that grocery stores will be able to charge for green bags.
Next up, single-use plastic straws. Yesterday, the LA City Council voted 12-0 to move forward to ban them by 2021. Reversing the earlier governmental patchwork plastic bag trend, the city council action comes before a statewide ban goes into effect Jan. 1, one in which you’ll have to ask for that straw. In what could be a game changer, and will incur the wrath of the fast-food industry, the Los Angeles ban could include fast food outlets, which, incredibly, are currently exempted by the upcoming state law
Then there’s the microplastics issue, in which fish digest small amounts of plastic that then never leave their bodies, causing a host of problems, including organ damage and reproduction. And, if you eat fish, you may also be eating plastics.
As a fly fisher who has walked our river in hope of a better future, I know we can do better.
Pasadena Casting Club Conservation Committee member Steve Kuchenski and I talked about this at the Faire yesterday in Glendale, and he was nice enough to share this image with readers. Several times, places I’ve loved to fish on the LA have either been disrupted by Army Corps bulldozers, or swept away in high flows, due to winter rains and a lack of actual riverbed structure. Anybody remember the great bass disappearance from a few years back?
In a gem of a piece, photographer Roberto (Bear) Guerra chronicles the species loss the LA River has suffered since being encased in concrete with photographs of specimens from the Western Foundation for Vertebrate Zoology and the LA County Natural History Museum.
An important photo essay as our city weighs the future of the river in terms of development and habitat restoration. A sample:
Western Toad (Bufo boreas) — Perhaps no animal is as emblematic of the decline of native species in the decades following channelization as the western toad. One of the neighborhoods adjacent to the soft-bottom Glendale Narrows section of the river is still known as “Frogtown,” for the swarms of young toads and Pacific treefrogs that hopped through the streets each year until the 1970s. Today, toads and frogs are rarely to be found.
Mining hole 30 feet long x 20 feet wide x 15 feet deep.
Miners’ Rock and Concrete Hut.
Undercut old-growth Alder trees.
Battery used for dredging equipment. (Photos courtesy of FRVC)
By Tom Walsh
President, Fisheries Resource Volunteer Corps
Repetitive comments from anglers, who have fished the East Fork of the San Gabriel River over the past five years, have indicated that there are no fish left. Based on 1,261 CDFW Angler Surveys over the past 15 years, anglers reported catching 10,901 fish. However, during the past five years only 777 fish have been caught, with only 11 being caught in the past two years.
What are the reasons for this significant decrease? Over the past five-to-12 years there are a number of events that have contributed to the loss of this fishery:
— 2005 – Twelve-year drought reduced total rainfall by 43.6 inches (3.6 inches/year) below 140-year season average.
— 2008 – Downturn in the economy brought an increase in encampments to the East Fork backcountry.
— 2008 – Price of gold hit all time high increasing from $769/oz. in 2007 to a high of $1,987/oz. in 2011.
— 2008 – Began removal of 20,000 tamarisk plants (One plant consumes up to 200 gallons of water per day)
— 2010 – California Department of Fish and Wildlife terminated fish plants on East and West forks to abide with court ruling.
— 2014 – High rain event on Aug. 3 bought significant amount of sediment downstream with large fish kill.
Of all of these events, the mining activity has been the most damaging, which has increased significantly, with the rise in gold prices, the promotion by mining guides via social media and the lack of enforcement of the mining prohibition.
The negative impacts to the stream and its riparian areas resulting from the mining activities are numerous. Large amounts of material in the stream and riparian areas are being moved to create dams, dredging holes and long diversion channels for sluicing, resulting in heavy silting, reduction in water flow and the interruption of the entire ecosystem. FRVC volunteer stream patrols have documented the loss old growth trees along the stream banks, permanent campsites within 50 to 100 feet of the stream, large amounts of equipment and trash from abandoned campsites, and the use of motorized dredging equipment.
In October 2010, the California Fish and Game Commission designated the East Fork from Heaton Flat to the headwaters as a Wild and Heritage Trout Stream. This designation includes 33.6 miles of perennial stream habitat, and is one of only 12 watersheds in the state with this designation. Unfortunately, the CDFW management plan has not been published or implemented.
This once-prominent fishery, which has been abandoned by almost everyone, needs the support of the Southern California fishing community.