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The Alphabet Series 2000: H is for Habitat

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
May 10, 2000


The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes — Marcel Proust

According to the Dictionary of Ecology and Environmental Science, habitat is the place where an animal or plant normally lives or grows. Usually characterized either by physical features or dominant plants, there is not a habitat on the planet that has not been disturbed by humans. Even the moon has garbage on it.

Coastal sage scrub is such a habitat, and our communities of asphalt and manicured lawns have altered it to the edge of collapse. Overrun with neighborhoods of introduced species, the ecological balance that sustains the biology of Southern California has been thrown out of whack. There is no denying that our impact has now reached a critical phase. I think the proper term for what's required is triage.

If the hemorrhaging of open space is not stopped, biological diversity will be bled from the region, one narrow wildlife corridor at a time. An honest assessment of how much has been lost to the cancer of uncontrolled growth is now needed. I believe once having done the assessment, we, as voters, will no longer allow the destruction of the few remaining intact habitats.

Recently the City of Carlsbad approved grant loss permits to four city projects, two of which will erase gnatcatcher habitat. The projects you ask? Widening roads and accommodating more human fecal matter, of course. The California Gnatcatcher is listed on the Endangered Species list. What ethic allows five people sitting on the council dais to permit the loss of more native habitat? We're talking extinction. The gnatcatchers will be gone long before we see the last of the coastal sage scrub. How is that for a legacy?

Slowly eating away at what few boundaries we recognize, human encroachment continues as if there are no other options. Not even our scant wetlands, and the watersheds that support them are safe. In Encinitas, San Elijo lagoon is threatened by two projects that would claim 40 acres of open space bordering the San Elijo Ecological Reserve. This threatens the entire lagoon ecosystem. No amount of political spin will negate the harm done by allowing any further development of native habitat surrounding the San Elijo Lagoon. The California Coastal Commission understands this.

The first project, the one farthest along in the appeal process is the Encinitas Country Day School, a private school that will include classrooms for 430 students, an administration building, caretaker's residence, and a playground. Denied by the Coastal Commission as a threat to San Elijo's biological integrity, the school's owner decided her commercial endeavor would not be thwarted by environmental concerns, and appealed to the superior court. Basically saying her property rights were being denied, the judge, obviously sitting too long beneath courtroom florescences, agreed with Ms. Porterfield in the belief that her needs come before the environment. To be fair, so does a majority of the Encinitas City Council.

While I'm on the subject of the City of Encinitas and their lack of commitment to protect coastal habitat, the city is planning to develop a 20 acre sports park west of the proposed private school. Referred to as the Manchester Sports Park, this soccer complex will add an increasing amount of noise and pollution to the ecological reserve. Understanding how wrong this project is for such a fragile ecosystem, architects have designed a earthen berm to protect the lagoon from human runoff. This will be a major issue come November when incumbents start touting their environmental credentials.

I'm sorry if I seem anti-soccer, I'm not. I'm am only of the opinion that it is wrong for elected officials to put residents in the position where they have to chose between children and the environment. I am also of the opinion that it is inexcusable for those same elected officials to put their political aspirations before the environment they have been intrusted to protect. Now that I think about it, H is also for hypocrisy.

Only by protecting what remains of indigenous coastal habitats, and restoring native species to our communities, will we begin to live in a sustainable manner. You would think that in this day and age protecting coastal wetlands would be an easy call. It's not. Parents unwilling, or unable, to impart to their children a love and respect for nature, will settle for soccer fields when seeking activities for their children. Those children in turn will grow up to settle for even less for their offspring.

Meanwhile, native habitats of coastal North County continue to disappear, slowly fading from memory beneath the human landscape. How exactly do we mitigate for extinction?

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