Monday, July 25, 2011

Madrona Marsh

Freshwater wetlands in southern California have been shrinking for a long time, ever since draining them for development became profitable. Kudos, then, to the city of Torrance, California for preserving, and even enhancing, a wildlife haven called Madrona Marsh. The city park is named not for any madrone trees on the property, but for a neighborhood road, one of many named after various types of trees.

I had the pleasure of visiting the park on May 17 with my friends Kim Moore and Emile Feisler. Emile has been documenting the flora and fauna of the park in images for several years. We managed to add at least one new organism to his list while on our outing.

Like most parks in the Greater Los Angeles area, this one comes complete with a nature center. The displays were museum quality, and the building also had meeting space, a library, and offices. Across the street from the nature center is the actual preserve, fenced at present, the gate locked in off-hours.

The morning started under overcast skies leftover from rain the night before, but the clouds eventually gave way to a bright, sunny afternoon. Inclement weather by human standards is often just perfect for other organisms, though, and we found plenty of insects, birds, and other animals. One of the first birds we saw was a female Blue Grosebeak, in fact.

The marsh is actually a vernal wetland, fed by rains in the winter and spring. By the end of August the pan is dry, and remains so until the rains resume. This cyclic phenomenon means plants and animals must adapt to annual extremes of wet and dry. The area is also a “back dune” habitat that is part of the extensive El Segundo Sand Dune System. You would be hard pressed to find any physical feature resembling a dune, however.

Unfortunately, the preserve is not immune from non-native species, and in fact that is what dominates the landscape in many places. Argentine Ants have displaced most of the native ants, for example. There is also a leaf beetle from Australia that feeds voraciously on the equally-invasive eucalyptus trees.

The human history of the marsh has been varied. Native Americans and early settlers utilized the natural resources of the area. Since the 1920s, the marsh was used for oil recovery (southern California is studded with tar pits, not just the famous La Brea Tar Pits). Ironically, petroleum salvaging kept the area protected from commercial development. The Friends of Madrona Marsh, a non-profit organization established in 1971, worked with other community groups to galvanize support for saving the marsh as a wildlife habitat and passive recreation site. Lobbying efforts and legal wrangling paid off with the dedication of of 35 acres. Later, state funds were allocated to purchase another eight-and-a half acres. The City of Torrance took over stewardship of the park in 1986, helping to stave-off development as part of Park del Amo.

I highly recommend visiting Madrona Marsh. Keep an eye out for waterfowl and other birds, as well as Pacific Treefrogs, dragonflies and damselflies, and Fox Squirrels among the other wild animals that call this place home.

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