Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

The recent sale of 132 acres of wetland and Sitka spruce forest to the State of California by Hambro Group means the land will now be preserved and a rare species of lily will be allowed to thrive.

Gordon Leppig, senior environmental scientist supervisor at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the land will be incorporated into the Crescent City Wildlife area and managed for CDFW purposes. He called the area, “an odd and unusual fen habitat,” which currently has a number of rare plants, including the largest population of federally-listed Western Lily.

According to an article co-written by Leppig in the most recent Journal of the California Native Plant Society, the population of Western Lilies was previously unknown to CDFW.

“The Crescent City Marsh is a 600-acre coastal wetland and Sitka spruce forest complex, of which 335 acres comprise the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Crescent City Marsh Wildlife Area. From afar, it looks like a typical coastal marsh dominated by slough sedge, cattail, and hard stem bulrush,” the article reads. “Continue exploring and rare botanical treasures abound, including vanilla grass, great burnet, Arctic starflower, and an extensive population of bogbean.”

Leppig said the area also contains a lot of Sitka spruce, which spreads down the coast from Alaska to an area just south of Fort Bragg.

CDFW will also be eradicating English Ivy from the area, and will be working with California Conservation Corps or prison crews to restore certain areas, Leppig said.

“The Crescent City Marsh is broadly known as a fen,” he said. “It’s a peet marsh wetland.”

Leppig noted that “the hydrology is out of whack” at the marsh, partly due to its proximity to U.S. 101. The marsh is located east of the highway along South Beach.

“The Crescent City Marsh drains under 101 and the culvert has been clogged,” he said. “That’s led to the marsh rising and a decline in the Western lilies, which are beautiful and extremely rare.”

Leppig explained that for the lilies to thrive, they need to have drier conditions in the summertime or they will start to decline. Because of this, crews cleared the culvert and created a small channel to better drain the water.

“It’s kind of ironic that we have to drain the wetland a bit but when it comes to wetlands, more water isn’t always better,” he said. “It needs to have the correct hydrology. We need to bring it back to a natural state.”

“In another successful CDFW and Caltrans joint venture, CDFW is adding approximately 90 acres of wetlands to the marsh, including an occurrence of Western Lily, and 40 acres of rare mature Sitka spruce forest on its edge,” the Fremontia article reads.

Currently, there is no public access, as one would have to go through Hambro property to get to the marsh area.

“This is not the kind of place that has trails and public access,” Leppig said, “because it is a wildlife area.”

Let’s make a deal

Hambro CEO David Slagle explained last week that state mandates require Caltrans to purchase wetlands and timberlands in order to compensate CDFW for environmental impacts caused by other projects. CDFW now has a memorandum of understanding with Caltrans, which outlines the responsibilities of each agency.

“We’re happy with it,” Leppig said, “but Caltrans also got a lot out of it.”

“This purchase assists Caltrans at least partially with some of the wetlands mitigation that would be required for the proposed projects listed,” said Myles Cochrane, a Caltrans public information officer.

In May, CDFW approved and agreed that the former Hambro property is to be used for wetland mitigation to the greatest extent possible. The agreement is essentially a deal that allows for a similar amount of restoration to be exchanged for environmental impacts caused by state road projects.

The Hunter Creek and Panther Creek bridges projects, located on U.S. 101 in Del Norte County between mile markers 8.2/8.7, would temporarily and permanently affect wetlands.

The Dr. Fine Bridge replacement project proposes to replace the bridge located on U.S. 101 in Del Norte County between mile markers 35.8/36.5, which would temporarily and permanently affect wetlands.

Emergency culvert work at Waukell Creek at mile marker 2.22, was conducted within the creek channel.

The ongoing Last Chance Grade project proposes to resolve highway deficiencies on U.S. 101 and has the potential to temporarily and permanently affect wetlands, all according to the MOU.