California has approved a plan that would invest $6.5 million in the restoration of some of the state's severely degraded wetlands. The first beneficiary would be the Ballona Wetlands in Southern California but conservationists—who worked together for three decades to protect the area from development—are now split on the best use of the funds.
The debate centers on how drastically the existing wetland should be altered. Initial proposals call for a complete restoration of the area—a project that would necessitate the removal of dozens of concrete barriers, tons of dumped sediment, and an estimated expenditure of more than $100 million. The goal, under this plan, would be to reintroduce the seawater that naturally shaped the coastal wetlands before development of the area and to return it to as close to its untouched state as possible, as quickly as possible.
The problem, critics point out, is that the native ecosystem has not been completely eradicated by the changes that have taken place. Indeed, such invasive ecosystem construction—which would require bulldozing most of the protected area—would pose a threat to the rare plants and birds that currently live there.
The alternative would be a more subtle approach that would include replanting native species and buying surrounding land to create a buffer zone.
The controversy underscores the challenges of conservation—especially in areas that have been seriously degraded.