I Was Here, But Now I’m Gone

Fill in the blank: American __________

Flag! Citizen! Express! Apparel!

Not many guesses would be American…Badger and do you know why? Cuz they’re not here anymore.

At Laguna Canyon Foundation, our staff, volunteers, board and community strive to protect and preserve the South Coast Wilderness. This land, which literally encircles Laguna Beach, makes Laguna Beach unique and far more than just another beach town.

Native populations of wildlife struggle against a combination of predator control, rodent poisoning, habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation – meaning we, as humans, might plow through their space with anything from unauthorized (social) trails to domestic dog walking to roads and urban development.

The American Badger hasn’t been sighted in the South Coast Wilderness in decades. The last local verified sighting was in 2014, near Santiago Oaks Regional Park. Little research exists on the Southern California badger population, but experts agree that its population decline is likely due to urban development of housing, highways and overall habitat encroachment.

Let’s add to the list of the gone or going…

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, used to roam the South Coast Wilderness. It is estimated that a single cougar needs, at a minimum, 10 square miles of hunting habitat, though given the chance their range can extend over hundreds of miles. Our South Coast Wilderness, checkered with habitat fragmentation, is about 22,000 acres (or approximately 34 square miles). Add to that the biggest social trails of the 5 and 405 freeways bifurcating the coast and its neighboring mountain ranges (San Jacinto, San Bernardino and San Gabriel), and any cat would have a tough go of getting here, let alone surviving. The last confirmed sighting of a mountain lion here was 2001.

Gray Fox. It is true, through OC Parks partnering with nonprofit organizations to track wildlife through motion-detecting cameras, that one gray fox has been seen recently in the South Coast Wilderness – one. Are there more? Based on tracking, scat, and other evidence, most experts say it is highly unlikely. While gray foxes are solitary most of each year, both male and female will share in the raising their kits. Does this gray fox have a mate? Does it have a chance of finding a mate? We don’t know.

Big-Leaved Crownbeard (Verbesina dissita). Sounds a bit like some old-man plant, but it is a rare, beautiful semi-woody shrub with bright yellow flowers. It is a California threatened plant species protected by the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) and is found in and around Laguna Beach. Our ecosystem counts on biodiversity and, as we lose native habitat, so we lose our diverse wildlife.

Other species that once called the South Coast Wilderness home but are now no longer here include the spotted skunk and the black bear. And there are a multitude of native plants on the brink as well, including the Laguna Beach Dudleya (Dudleya stoloniferea).

It takes time, commitment, patience and research to undo a population decline. Take the California condor. In the 20th century, due to habitat loss, poisoning (in this case, lead from the shot remaining in the carcasses of hunted animals), and pesticides (in this case DDT), the California condor population dropped to just 22 individuals in the 1980s, all in captivity. Through a shared effort among scientists, legislators, and concerned citizens, through breeding programs and regulations to eliminate use of harmful pesticides, the population was brought up to its current numbers. There are about 140 now flying free in California.

While hiking in Laurel Canyon recently, I was stunned when a geologist, who, let’s remember, thinks in terms of millennia, mused that even with climate change, pollution, and warming seas, Mother Earth will be “…just fine. She will survive,” he said. Then he added, “…maybe not the way we would want, with the beauty and life we see now, but she’ll be here.”

Hmm. Brings new meaning to Newton’s law: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

If we build roads and housing developments, lo, even if we just create a “new” trail, we fragment wildlife habitat. If we kill predators, say, coyote, we get an overpopulation of rodents, say gophers, who mess up our yards, so we use pesticides, which get in our food webs and into our oceans, creating disease and death for animal and plant life.

We are part of Mother Earth; we belong here, too. As such, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve for generations to come.

Every one of our actions – every one – has an equal and opposite reaction.