EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — During a year when many people were cooped up inside, Los Angeles Conservation Corps Field Crew Supervisor Damian Morando is grateful to be outside.
“I am pulling out a mustard plant. It’s one of three mustard plans that we have, invasive,” he said. "And it spreads.”
It’s laborious work at the LAX Dunes but Morando, a conservationist and environmentalist, finds it relaxing. He’s been with the LA Conservation Corps off and on since 2002. This week, he and his crew pulled invasive plants in the coastal dunes owned by the Los Angeles World Airports.
Chris Enyart, a watershed programs program manager with the Bay Foundation, partners with LAWA to help restore the habitat and host clean-up events.
“There is no other ecosystem like this in Southern California,” he said. “It is the largest contiguous dune system at about 300 acres.”
Once a month, the Bay Foundation along with dozens of volunteers from Friends of the LAX Dunes typically pull non-native weeds, but that hasn’t happened in over a year because of the pandemic. Enyart said that means a lot of invasive plants have popped up, which can crowd out native plants like seacliff buckwheat.
That plan is important because the El Segundo blue butterfly, a federally endangered animal, relies on it for survival.
“If invasive and non-native vegetation chokes out and takes over habitat from seacliff buckwheat, the butterfly would likely go with it,” Enyart said.
In addition to the El Segundo blue butterfly, there are over 900 species that call the LAX Dunes home, including the burrowing owl, legless lizard and horn lizard.
Enyart is here today to assess and map vegetation, a method that combines aerial images, field observations and data, equipment including GPS’ and computer mapping software to produce maps that help track restoration activities over time.
“The site has temporarily suffered,” he said. “A lot of weeds have come in following the rain, but it is great that we can be out here today to get after it.”
As for when volunteers will be able to set foot on the dunes again, Enyart said that depends on Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 reopening guidelines.
For now, Morando and his crew are doing what they can to help get rid of non-native plants, filling up 130 bags over the course of 100 hours. He said it’s crucial to pull the weeds, like mustard plant, before they dry up.
“Once they dry up, the seed pods will just burst and the seeds will just disburse and so basically, a seed bank for more weeds to come up,” he said.
For more information about volunteer opportunities, go to www.santamonicabay.org.