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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
CARLSBAD: Bolsa Chica Steering Committee Receives White House Council on Environmental Quality Coastal America 2007 Partnership Award
Region 8, November 29, 2007
By Jane Hendron
Dr. Gerhard Kuska, Associate Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) presented the Bolsa Chica Steering Committee with its Coastal America 2007 Partnership/Spirit Award at a ceremony on October 26, 2007.  The Steering Committee, comprised of eight federal and state agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, worked together since 1996 to restore the Bolsa Chica lowlands in Huntington Beach, California.  Jack Fancher, Coastal Program Coordinator for the Service’s Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, was also selected for individual recognition by the CEQ for his dedication to the restoration of Bolsa Chica.  Jack Fancher retired on November 27, 2007, after spending more than 30 years with Service. 

More than 100 years ago the Bolsa Chica wetlands covered more than 2,300 acres along the Huntington Beach coastline.  Its ecological decline began in the late 1800s when local hunters constructed a barrier blocking the tidal influence of the ocean in order to create a closed wetland that provided enhanced opportunities for duck hunting.  Bolsa Chica’s fish and wildlife resources continued to be impacted by numerous human activities including grazing, oil and gas extraction, and commercial and residential development.

The opportunity to reverse Bolsa Chica’s demise came in 1996 when the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach proposed expanding their shipping activities in San Pedro Bay.  Generally, construction activities impacting coastal wetlands are offset by restoring or conserving adjacent wetlands, but the scarcity of remaining wetlands in southern California made it almost impossible to find a restoration site in close proximity to the construction area.  Bolsa Chica was one of the few remaining coastal wetlands that presented a viable option for restoration.

Working with the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries Service, Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Fish and Game, and the California Coastal Conservancy signed an agreement in 1996, to establish a Steering Committee dedicated to conservation and restoration of Bolsa Chica.  More than $75 million in funds were provided by the Ports to acquire the land and to buy out existing oil and gas leases on the site.

In 1997 the state purchased 880 acres of land from the Bolsa Signal Corporation with another 41 acres of the original wetlands purchased and conserved in 2005.  Restoration of Bolsa Chica which started in 2004, is the most complex engineering project overseen by the Service.  Over the course of the two-year restoration effort, a 367-acre tidal basin was created, with an additional 200-acre muted tidal area.  Approximately 20 acres of upland habitat were created to support nesting habitat islands for the federally endangered California least tern and threatened western snowy plover, and 19 acres of dune plant community were created for other sensitive species.  Other aspects of the restoration project included clean up of oil field contamination and the removal of oil wells and associated pipelines.

However, the biggest, most complex aspect of the project involved restoring the wetland connection to the ocean.  Returning the ocean’s tidal influence involved rebuilding and elevating a section of Pacific Coast Highway over the newly created ocean inlet.  Finally, in the summer of 2006, seawater flowed into the restored wetland for the first time in more than a century.

The restored wetlands will provide enhanced nursery habitat for a variety of fish, and feeding and nesting habitat for a variety of shorebirds.  The Bolsa Chica wetlands are managed by the California Department of Fish and Game.

Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov