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Why Restoring Habitat is Important

Why Restoring Habitat is Important

Getting communities back to their roots.

Los Angeles, California, the United States’ second-largest city, is no stranger to development and native habitat destruction. In fact, nearly 90 percent of California’s wetlands are gone. One little area remaining is just south of LA, in Newport Beach.

Matt Yurko is the Restoration Education Program Manager for the California Coastal Commission’s Community-Based Restoration and Education Program in the Upper Newport Bay. Matt has been working at the Upper Newport Bay since early 2005, and coordinates volunteers, plans and prepares restoration events and offers educational programs to the public and school groups.

The restoration work he has overseen includes salt marsh, riparian, and coastal sage scrub habitats.  In addition, Matt coordinates the monitoring and maintenance efforts at the restoration sites around the Bay as well as seed collection and native plant propagation. The Community-Based Restoration and Education Program is on-line at www.restorehabitat.org.  Photos from recent work can be found at www.facebook.com/cbrep.

How did you get started in habitat restoration?

[Matt] I moved to California somewhat naively and was very fortunate to be given an opportunity by the California Coastal Commission to manage a community-based restoration program.  It perfectly integrated my academic background in biology and environmental education while making use of my experience managing various constituents through environmental reclamation projects (developing and installing educational habitat gardens on school grounds in Baltimore, Maryland). I have needed to learn many of the methods and techniques of ecological restoration along the way.  At the Upper Newport Bay, I took advantage of a unique situation to educate the public about the value of coastal wetlands and upland habitats while providing a hands-on experience to make a difference in the environmental health of their community.

Why is ecological restoration important?

Ecological restoration addresses disturbed habitats and tries to make them whole again. It’s a very humbling experience to see how much work it will take to restore habitat that was very easily destroyed. Loss of habitat can occur through outright destruction, such as grading land and building over it, or through conversion of habitat to agriculture, human-constructed landscapes that aren’t appropriate for the location, or when non-native, invasive plants overtake an area, usually when no one is watching (or in the most serious cases, when we are watching and can’t keep up with the spread).

What makes a restoration successful?

A successful restoration requires an understanding not only of the structural qualities of the site (for example, what plants we might expect to see), but also the dynamic functioning of the site, including water and nutrient flows, soil conditions, and movement of wildlife. For plants and wildlife, successful ecological restoration means greater opportunities to thrive as species.  I don’t think the benefits are much different for humans.  Successful ecological restoration creates healthier spaces for our lives as well.

Why is community involvement important?

I’ve come to understand the power of positive environmental experiences for individuals as they help plant native plants, or feel the heavy weight of plant invaders as they carry them off the site. Reconnecting individuals to their local environment, reestablishing a link to their natural heritage, is essential to developing a sense of wonder as they move through their lives. Collectively, a community can make great strides toward protecting their local environment when they feel ownership over the open spaces which they have actively worked to bring back to health. Community-based habitat restoration provides the mechanism and the motivation by which individuals (and collectively as a community) can make a positive and memorable difference in their own lives and the human (and non-human) lives around them.

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