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In The Pipeline: Wetlands indicate where we're headed

June 13, 2011|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy Chris…)

Recently, I was walking at the Bolsa Chica wetlands. A group of photographers on the bridge had their attention fixed not on the clusters of birds gathering to fish, but on a thin line of white smoke rising about a half-mile in the distance, near the Brightwater trail. It appeared to be a fire, so I walked out to see what was going on.

By the time I arrived, eight or so firefighters were on scene, a few dragging a water hose down from the upper trail to extinguish a small fire burning with waist-high flames. The other firefighters were in the middle of the palm tree grove, chopping away at the fuel source to further contain the orange flames.

Gary Keller, a technician with the California Department of Fish and Game, wandered over from where he was working nearby to observe and comment on what was happening.

"It's another transient fire," he said. "We cleared this area out in '09, but they obviously came back to the same spot because it's so secluded and protected," he said.

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A firefighter confirmed that the fire appeared to have been started by a transient who had then abandoned the site, leaving the fire to burn.

Transient encampments are not a new problem in the wetlands. Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw someone actually riding a bike from his camp across a protected area of the wetlands, cruising all the way up to the fence, then attempting to toss the bike over so that he could ride out the main trail. As I approached on my walk, the man quickly got back on his bike and rode back down through the restricted area, crushing protected plants as he cruised back down the hill.

Keller and I started talking, and he expressed his frustration at the fact that transients continue to camp in the area, the fact that there is not enough manpower to keep up what is happening, and also that DFG personnel are not even allowed to come in and sweep an area.

"We have to, by law, come in and post laminated signs on stakes giving people something like 10 days' warning that we're coming in to clear them out and their possessions," he said. "Not to be harsh, I understand there are people living through hard times, but these are simple matters of safety and the law, and I think if people saw what was recovered in these camps, the public would agree that we should be able to deal with this in a more timely manner than having to provide 10-day warnings."

I asked Keller to describe what the typical conditions were.

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