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Natural Perspectives: Land Trust's composting plan is no good

February 16, 2011|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
(Courtesy Lou Murray )

Editor's note: This removes the paragraph regarding the water tanks, which will be above ground, not in pits that were to be no larger than 8 feet deep.

Vic and I learned early this week that the California Department of Fish and Game has extended the comment period on the plans for the Bolsa Chica mesa to March 17.

As we reported in our column last week, the Bolsa Chica Land Trust proposes to disc, or plow, the lower bench of the mesa three times a year. It plans to build four Terra-Farms of 1 acre each on this 118-acre portion of the ecological reserve.

On these farms, the Land Trust will grow native plants and produce compost on a commercial scale. The compost piles in each farm will be 60 feet long, 10 feet wide and 6 feet tall. And what is it going to compost? The grasses and other plants that are at the base of the mesa's food chain!

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The Land Trust plans to compost 10% of the plants growing on the mesa each year, producing 5 tons of compost that it will then spread back on the bare ground. I'm not making this up. The Land Trust proposed it, Fish and Game signed off on it, and the Wildlife Conservation Board is poised to award them $550,000 in public funds. The only thing standing in the way of this development project is a concerned public and the California Coastal Commission.

The Land Trust claims that mesa soils are "destroyed" and "severely depleted." But it provides no evidence that the soils on the mesa are any different than soils at the Dana Point headlands or any other coastal bluff top site. If you look at the mesa now, you see a sea of green and purple. The grasses and wild radishes come up to my armpits. That is clearly not the sign of destroyed soil.

Let's look at the logic of harvesting the plants that grow on the mesa, composting them and then tilling that compost back into the soil. The minerals that are in the soil are taken up by the plants and then put right back in the ground when the compost made from those plants is tilled in. Nothing new will have been added.

Meanwhile, the gophers and ground squirrels that eat those grasses and grains will have nothing to eat. The herons, hawks, owls and snakes that feed on the rodents will have less to eat. How on earth is this good for the ecosystem? And don't forget that every pass of the plow will chop up silvery legless lizards, a sensitive species that lives on the mesa.

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