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Ecological monitoring plan for special status species for the purposes of wetlands restoration and adaptive management: utilizing the Belding’s savannah sparrow as a case study

May 2011 Environmental Science and Policy 400 Project Director: Eric Zahn

Prepared By: Max Klasky Cory Schmillen Kim Thompson

Environmental Science and Policy Department California State University, Long Beach

Introduction Wetlands are vital ecological systems that provide protection from storm surges, a filter for oceanbound pollutants, nurseries for fish, and habitat for species that can live nowhere else (California Department of Fish and Game [CDFG] 2009, Green et. al. 2006). Human development has depleted wetland habitats in the United States by 52 percent (Zahn 2011). More than 33% of the nation’s threatened and endangered species live only in wetland habitats, and nearly half of them rely on wetlands at some point in their lives (Environmental Protection Agency 2003). Efforts are underway to salvage these lands for the ecological and economic benefits they provide. The Los Cerritos Wetlands (LCW) have historically been home to oil activity, unregulated dump sites for trash and dredge material, and the endpoint of miles of urban runoff (Zahn et. al. 2009b). Currently they are heavily degraded salt marsh that have been filled with soil, mostly from nearby marine environments, creating uninhabitable soil conditions with high salinity and raising the elevation to prevent tidal influence (Zahn et. al. 2009b). Destruction of wetland habitat is often irreversible (Zahn et. al. 2009b), however enhancement is possible with adapted management techniques that recognize the complexities of ecological restoration by evaluating decisions and actions through monitoring processes (McEachern et. al. 2006). It is recommended that restoration managers utilize monitoring programs to survey the species for effective restoration (McEachern et. al. 2006, Thom 2000). The Belding’s savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi) is a state endangered species since 1974 that is endemic to the wetlands of Southern California (Zembal 2002). It is unique in that it represents one of only two wetland-dependant avian species that can only live in coastal salt marshes in southern California (Powell and Collier 1998). The little sparrow is heavily dependent on the health of the wetlands in Southern California, which have diminished by 90 percent (Zedler 2001). Historically found from Santa Barbara County, California to Baja California, Mexico (Zahn et. al. 2009a), the Belding’s savannah sparrow prefers to nest in the mid- to upper-littoral zones of coastal salt marshes (Powell and Collier 1998) where pickleweed (Salicornia virginica), their preferred nesting plant, is plentiful (Zembal and Hoffman 2002). In the LCW, the habitat that is so critical to the survival of the Belding’s savannah sparrow has been reduced from 2,400 acres in the 1920s to the miniscule 490 acres that remain today (Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority [LCWA], 2010). According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey in 2001, there were almost 3,000 pairs of Belding’s throughout California, but only 18 pairs in the LCW. Due to the endangered status of the Belding’s savannah sparrow, building an ecological monitoring plan for this and other special status species of the LCW such as the: California least tern (Sterna antillarum browni), wandering skipper (Panoquina errans), western snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrines nivosus), southern tar plant (Centromadia parryi ssp. australis), salt marsh bird’s beak (Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. maritimus), and east pacific green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas); is necessary to enable efficient, effective, and consistent survey methods that are conducive to their endangered or threatened statuses. Successful restoration efforts will be heavily dependent on accurate information regarding the special status species populations already existing in the area. An effective monitoring plan for these


species provides this information for the conceptual restoration and long-term adaptive management of the LCW. Background In Southern California, 90 percent of the coastal wetlands have been destroyed, jeopardizing the existence of the species that rely solely on wetland habitats for survival (Zedler et. al. 2001). Aside from human development, fragmentation, and pollution from urban runoff (Zedler et. al. 2001), coastal wetlands are physically harsh environments where only a handful of species can tolerate to live year round (Greenberg 2006). Compared to other temperate ecosystems, wetlands habitats support relatively few species of birds, mammals, and reptiles, most of which are so specialized that they only live in wetland habitats (Greenberg 2006). Due to the limited number of species that can live in the harsh wetland conditions, their survival is essential to provide all of the necessary ecological functions that keep the wetlands healthy (Zedler 2001). Given these circumstances, wetland restoration is critical. Currently, restoration efforts are underway at the LCW. More than 170 acres of the 490 acres that remain of the existing Los Alamitos Bay Wetlands complex have been purchased for restoration purposes (LCWA 2010). The already harsh environment, coupled with the human degradation makes planning difficult as it is plagued with uncertainties (Thom 2000). Adaptive management techniques enable restoration managers to utilize monitoring programs to determine which project goals are being met and adapt to work with those that aren’t (Thom 2000). Species monitoring is an important part of this adaptive management process in wetlands restoration projects because species number, identity, and their specific functions are especially relevant to wetland restoration (Zedler 2001). Many of the especially relevant species in the Los Cerritos Wetlands are the special status species. Due to the limited resources within the wetlands, most of the 25 species of vertebrates that rely solely on wetland habitats for survival and nearly 50 subspecies from which they are derived are endangered, threatened, or a species of concern (Greenberg et. al. 2006). Protections for these species vary from the state level to the international level, depending on the population distributions and status’ of the individual species. In the United States, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 provides protection for endangered and threatened species as well as the ecosystems upon which they depend. These protections are awarded on both state and federal levels, with state taking precedence in the event of conflict (FWS 2006). Species Southern Tarplant (Centromadia parryi australis)

Protective Laws & Regulations Inventory of Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Plants of California by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and the Caifornia Coastal Act of 1972

When Listed 1994

Salt Marsh Bird’s Beak (Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. maritimus)

Endangered Species Act of 1973, California Endangered Species Act of 1970, California Native Plant Society ranking of 1B.2 (Rare and fairly endangered)

1978, 1979, and 1974 respectively


Coulter’s Goldfields (Lasthenia glabrata ssp. coulteri)

California Native Plant Society ranking of 1B.1 (Rare and seriously endangered)


East Pacific Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Endangered Species Act of 1973, Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2004, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora 1975 (CITES) Appendix I, Endangered-World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List, Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC)

1978, 2004, 1981, 1982 and 2001 respectively

Wandering Skipper (Panoquina errans)

World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List

Vulnerable 19831994, Near threatened 1996

California Least Tern (Sterna antillarum browni)

Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, Endangered Species Act of 1973, and California Endangered Species Act of 1970

Federally endangered in 1970 and state endangered in 1971

Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrines nivosus) Belding’s Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi)

Endangered Species Act of 1973

Endangered 1993

California Endangered Species Act of 1970, Category 2 candidate for federal listing

Endangered 1974

*Sometimes referred to as Black Sea Turtles due to smaller size and darker coloration

Chart courtesy of Alli Goldman Figure 1: List of the special status species of the Los Cerritos Wetlands with the protections that have been allotted to them. Sources: {CDFG} California Department of Fish and Game. 2011. State and federally listed endangered and threatened animals in California. Department of Fish and Game, Biogeographic Data Branch. URL: {CNPS} California Native Plant Society. 2011. Inventory of rare and endangered plants. California Native Plant Society, Rare Plant Program. 2011. Retrieved from:, IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <>. Downloaded on 12 May 2011. {OPR} National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Marine Turtles. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Protected Resources. 2011. Retrieved from:,


Southern Tar Plant (Centromadia parryi ssp. australis) The southern tar plant, also known as the southern tarweed (NatureServe 2010) is an annual herbaceous plant species characterized by its brilliant yellow flowers that bloom May through November (CNPS 2011). The plant has a preference for alkali and peripheral salt marsh habitats (Reiser 1994) and can be found in Photo Credit: Southern California and Baja California, Mexico. It has been specifically documented in San Diego, Ventura, Orange, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles Counties as well as Catalina Island (CNPS 2011). Due to the specific needs of the southern tar plant, habitat loss from urbanization, human disturbance, animal grazing, and competition with invasive species appear to be responsible for the loss of approximately 30% of the species and threatening another 40% (CNPS 2011, Leipzig and Murray 2011). Today, the Hellman Ranch area of LCW contains a medium-sized (1,0005,000 individuals) population of the species (EPA 2007). Salt Marsh Bird’s Beak (Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. maritimus) The salt marsh bird’s beak, is an annual, hemi parasitic herbaceous plant that blooms from May to October (CNPS 2011). When in bloom, the bird’s beak subspecies takes water and nutrients from neighboring plants and grasses to extend its growth season if needed (FWS 1985). Although it has been spotted in both, areas of both constant flooding and with no tidal influence, the salt marsh bird’s beak prefers middle to high marsh zone where tidal influence occurs, but not on a daily basis (FWS 1985). It is only found in salt marshes and coastal dunes in Southern California and Baja California, Mexico (CNPS 2011). Habitat loss due to urbanization and agricultural growth, invasive species, sea level rise, hydrological shifts, and human disturbances have all played a part in the California and federal ESA listings as well as a ranking of rare and fairly endangered by the California Native Plant Society (CPC 2010). Monitoring of this species is critical in the LCW so that proper habitat can be restored and enhanced to accommodate this species. Photo Credit: Peter Bryant (


Coulter’s Goldfields (Lasthenia glabrata ssp. coulteri)

Coulter’s Goldfields is an annual herb that blooms from February to June, growing in sprawling patches throughout wetland habitats (CNPS 2011). The goldfields inhabit coastal salt marshes, beaches, and vernal pools (CNPS 2011) in the uppermost areas of tidal inundation (Sierra Club 1994). This rare plant is found from California into Baja, Mexico with the bulk of known populations in Southern California salt marsh (CNPS 2011).

Photo Credit: Cory Schmillen

The main threats to Coulter’s goldfields are urban sprawl, agriculture, human disturbance, drought, and extreme weather have contributed to its current status as rare and seriously endangered by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS 2011). Previous speculation was that the Coulter’s goldfields were extirpated in Los Angeles County (NatureServe 2010), however it was recently observed on the Hellman Property in the LCW during the monitoring of the Belding’s savannah sparrows.

East Pacific Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) East Pacific green sea turtles play an important role in the shaping and regulation of coastal marine communities. Primarily herbivores, the turtles impact seagrass and algae productivity and abundance that enable an essential trophic pathway over expansive coastal marine habitats (Southwest Fisheries Science Center [SWFSC] 2006). They have been observed from Baja California, Mexico to Alaska. They are often referred to as black sea turtles due to their darker pigmentation and smaller size, which sets them apart from the general green sea turtles population (Alvarado and Figueroa 1990). Photo Credit:

The main nesting sites for East Pacific green sea turtles are found in Michoadan, Mexico and in the Galapagos Islands. While there are no known nesting sites in the U.S., small aggregations have been observed in U.S. estuaries and bays. The most studied of these U.S. populations are the year-round residents of San Diego Bay. The continuous juvenile sightings suggest that the turtles are continuing to


migrate into the bay (NMFS and FWS 2008). A similar phenomenon has been informally observed in the San Gabriel turtle population (Lawson et. al. 2011). Overharvesting of turtle eggs in nesting sites in Mexico coupled with boat collisions and marine debris in U.S. waters have led to severe declines in East Pacific Green Turtle populations over the last 30 years. According the NMFS and FWS, determination of recovery criteria for these federally and internationally endangered populations will require identification of key foraging grounds for each stock. Designation of foraging areas will be provided by formal observations that determine U.S. East Pacific green sea turtle population size and status (NMFS and FWS 2008). To date, there is no formal protocol for monitoring the San Gabriel River population of green turtles. The NMFS began to informally observe this population in 2008 after confirming a string of observations that were reported by local citizens (Lawson et. al. 2011). East Pacific green sea turtles are believed to have established a resident population in the San Gabriel River (Lawson et. al. 2011). Due to their endangered status, both foreign and domestic, and their proximity to the wetlands, the population status of these turtles could have great implications for restoration efforts in the LCW. Should restoration plans require change in tidal influence from the river, any information about this population and the potential impacts that changing water conditions may have on them will be essential.

Wandering Skipper (Panoquina errans) The wandering skipper, sometimes referred to as the salt marsh skipper, is a dark brown butterfly with cream colored spots on its forewings (Orsak 1977) that can be found in coastal areas from Central California to Baja California, Mexico and mainland mexico (NatureServe 2010). This species of skipper only lays eggs on seashore saltgrass (Distichlis spicata) and therefore is limited to Photo Credit: Peter J. Bryant ( coastal areas that support the grass (Orsak 1977). Wandering skippers spend their larval stages inside the saltgrass and can be seen from their emergence in March to until November. Habitat loss due to urbanization, insecticides, and human disturbance has caused wandering skipper populations to dwindle (NatureServe 2010). The presence of seashore saltgrass in the LCW provides valuable habitat for the wandering skipper.


California Least Tern (Sterna antillarum browni) Like most terns, the California least tern has the black cap, a blacktipped bill, orange legs, and black-tipped wings, but it is distinctly charachterized by its white forehead. About 9 inches long with a 20 inch wingspan, the California least tern is a migratory species that spends its nesting season, April to September, on the beaches and wetlands of California and Baja California, Mexico (FWS 1985). As of 2000, there were approximately 30 breeding colonies spanning from Baja California, Mexico to southern Washington with the bulk of the colonies found in the San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles counties of Southern California (Patton 2002). California least terns prefer to nest on sand and dune beaches, however they will also nest in dirt or dried mud (FWS 1985) and have been found nesting in odd open spaces such as airports and landfills (Patton 2002). They lay their eggs in small depressions which they make themselves in the sand and rely on previously made depressions in disturbed habitat (FWS 1985). Photo Credit: C. Mayne

Urbanization, habitat depletion, predation, and human disturbance have all contributed to protections under the federal and state ESAs (FWS 1985). California least tern populations have since been on the rebound with an increase from 624 pairs in California in 1973 to and an estimated 4,182 pairs in 1998 (Patton 2002). Least terns hunt close to shore, preferring wetlands habitats to feed on shallow water species of fish (FWS 1985). Upon restoration, the LCW could provide valuable feeding and nesting grounds for the endangered California least terns.

Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus)

Photo Credit:

The western snowy plover is a sparrow-sized shorebird, which has black and tan coloring with darker patches behind its eyes, on its forehead, and on either side of its neck (Fancher et. al. 2007). The coastal western snowy plover population consists of individuals that nest adjacent to or near tidal waters, including all nesting colonies on the mainland coast, peninsulas, offshore islands, adjacent bays, and estuaries. Their breeding season extends from March 1 through September 15 in territories that extend along coastal beaches from the southern portion of Washington State to southern Baja California, Mexico (Fancher et. al., 2007).

Western snowy plover nests are on the ground and consist of a shallow depression scraped in the substrate, sometimes lined with plant parts, small pebbles, or shell fragments. For an average of 27 days, both sexes will incubate the eggs, usually 3 eggs per nesting couple. Once hatched, the chicks leave the nest within hours of hatching in search of food, receiving only the minimum of care from their 8

parents in the form of guidance to foraging areas, danger warnings, and thermo-regulation assistance. Broods do not spend much time in the vicinity of the nests and are able to fly within approximately 31 days of hatching. Both chicks and adults forage for invertebrates in intertidal areas as well as dry sand above the high tide mark (Fancher et. al. 2007). California and Gulf of Mexico populations of western snowy plovers are federally protected as threatened species under the ESA (CDFG 2008). Similar to least terns, snowy plovers prefer to nest on above the high tide mark on wide, sparsely vegetated dune beaches, salt pans, disposed dredged materials, beach creek and river mouths, and levees around salt evaporation ponds (Wilson-Jacobs and Dorsey 1985, FWS 2007), and are associated with Southern California wetlands (Powell 1995). Of the 1,719 snowy plovers spotted in California during the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2006 coastal U.S. western snowy plover breeding season survey, about 360 of the birds were discovered south of Ventura County and 62 of those were present at Bolsa Chica (Fancher et. al. 2007), the only known nesting site in Orange County. Most of the Southern California nesting sites are found in San Diego and there are no nesting sites in Los Angeles County (Powell and Dorsey 2000). The decline of nesting sites in Southern California has been attributed to degradation and habitat loss due to urban sprawl, introduced beach grass (Ammophila spp.), harsh weather, and expanding predator populations (Page et. al. 1991, FWS 2007, Fancher et. al. 2007). To monitor breeding and wintering populations on the Pacific coast is among the criteria for determining the progress of recovery for the western snowy plover (FWS 2007). Given their association with wetland habitats in Southern California (Powell 1995), restoration efforts in the LCW could provide suitable habitat to attract nesting and wintering populations, making it necessary to provide a monitoring plan for the western snowy plover in the LCW.

Belding’s Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi) The Belding’s savannah sparrow is a state endangered species that is endemic to the wetlands of Southern California (Zembal 2002). It is a small brown sparrow with fine streaks across the head and face, a pale beige or white belly, and often has a dark central breast spot. Possibly its most distinguishing characteristic is the yellowish color of the lores (area between the bill and eyes) (Massey 1979). Photo Credit: Larry Wan ( This rare subspecies of savannah sparrow is one of the few species of birds that reside year-round in the coastal salt marshes of Southern California (Zembal, 2010). Belding’s savannah sparrow historically range from as far north as Goleta in Santa Barbara County, California to as far south as el Rosario in Baja California, Mexico (American Ornithologists Union 1983, Grinnel and Miller 1944, Van Rossen 1947). Due to increasing human population and impacts, over 75% of the coastal wetland habitats within this range have been lost or highly degraded (Wiley and Zembal 9

1989). Statewide censuses of this non-migratory subspecies reveal wide fluctuations in local population sizes, along with local extinctions occurring in some of the years (Zembal et al. 1988). Reductions in both quality and quantity of suitable habitat are a direct factor in population decline. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey in 2001, there were almost 3000 pairs of Belding’s savannah sparrows ranging throughout California, but only a mere 18 pairs existing in the Los Cerritos Wetlands. Belding’s savannah sparrows are ecologically associated with dense pickleweed, particularly Salicornia virginica, where nesting sites are found (Zembal 2006). Much of the remaining salt marshes in California where pickleweed exists, have been altered dramatically due to human development and decreased tidal circulation. Reduction in tidal flow can have negative effects on vascular plant community structures and can directly influence bird use within the habitat (Zedler et al. 1992). The effect of habitat modification and altered hydrology has been detrimental to the Belding’s savannah sparrow, which depends on the pickleweed for nesting and shelter. The Belding’s savannah sparrows prefer to nest in the mid to upper-littoral zones of coastal salt marshes (Powell and Collier 1998) where pickleweed (Salicornia virginica) is plentiful (Zembal and Hoffman 2002). Breeding territories can be small and they nest semi-colonially, or locally concentrated within a larger block of habitat, all of which may appear generally suitable (Zembal 2006). Belding’s savannah sparrows forage for food across the marsh and even along the shoreline, with individuals often seen along the beach (Zembal et al. 1987). Males affirm their territoriality by singing, perching, chasing, and actual physical sparring with other Belding’s. Nesting season occurs during the months of March through May. Territoriality is most intense during these months due to the absence of the other Savannah sparrow races as well as their nesting habits (James and Stadtlander 1991). In the winter, individuals are relatively secretive and inconspicuous and form flocks (Massey 1979). Two other races of Savannah sparrow, nevadensis and rostratus, can also be found in Southern California salt marshes during this time (James and Stadtlander 1991). Given this background on the wetlands, monitoring for adaptive management, and specifically monitoring the Belding’s savannah sparrows, a monitoring plan for the special status species of the Los Cerritos Wetlands will be used to determine the following: Where are Belding’s Savannah Sparrows breeding in Los Cerritos Wetlands, how many are there, and how do we monitor their populations and those of other special status species most effectively for the purposes of adaptive management? Which of the special status species, if not all, could benefit from habitat restoration? Objectives The objective of this research was to determine the parameters for surveying the special status species that reside in Los Cerritos Wetlands so that they can be monitored and managed appropriately. Once the parameters have been set for these species, restoration efforts can be designed to avoid violation of the regulations that protect them as well as enhance and protect suitable habitat for them to thrive. These monitoring protocols will also aid in the long-run because they will become a critical tool for the adaptive management strategies, which is one of the most significant developments in aquatic system restoration management (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] 2011). Since the 10

Beldingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s savannah sparrow is the case study for the overall monitoring plan, determining the population size of the sparrows in the LCW is also an objective. Study Area The monitoring protocols created and followed for the Beldingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s savannah sparrows and the adaptations for the other special status species in this report were created specifically for the Los Cerritos Wetlands complex. The resulting protocols should be executed at the Steamshovel Slough, Campgrounds, Zedler Marsh, and Hellman portions of the LCW. It is critical that private property be taken into account when developing monitoring routes.

Map Courtesy of the LCWA Figure 2: Property lines in the LCW that should be considered when mapping out monitoring routes.


Methodology Breeding pairs of Belding’s savannah sparrows were counted in the Los Cerritos wetlands of coastal southern California on April 4, 5, 7, 11, 12, and 26 in the year 2011 (April 4th was a dry run in the afternoon). An accurate count of the nesting potential was done by reporting those individuals manifesting breeding or territorial behavior. Manifestations of such behavior were interpreted as singing, scolding, extended perching, or aerial chases. Individuals that were perched high, fully exposed in the pickleweed, and regularly spaced were all counted as territory holders. Birds foraging, flying, or displaying other non-territorial behaviors were not counted. Monitoring was mostly done in the early morning, around 7 a.m. and lasted into late morning, around 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. Prior to conducting counts, a predetermined route was mapped. Site specific monitoring routes were conducted in a loop so as to not count the same bird twice as well as to minimize our disturbance on the birds and vegetation (Zembal 2010). Conducting our routes along coyote trails and old fence lines helped to mitigate our impact on both. Due to private property rights in Steam Shovel Slough, the team was forced to complete the site’s survey on a small watercraft on April 26th. The authors of the following research conducted the monitoring throughout the Los Cerritos Wetlands under the advice and guidance of Senior Wetland Ecologist Eric Zahn. Surveys were completed in all coastal wetlands stewarded by the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, including Hellman Ranch, Campgrounds, Steam Shovel Slough, and Zedler Marsh. Special emphasis was given to monitoring Hellman Ranch, as this property has been newly acquired for conservation and a count of the breeding population of Belding’s has never been conducted there. The total observation time expended surveying was approximately 20 hours. Adapted monitoring methods for the Belding’s Savannah Sparrow and other special status species of the LCW were conceived from this and the accumulated research of others and are more completely described within the results. Results Plants Monitoring of special status plants in the LCW should be performed by trained ecologists or botanists for the purposes of positive identification. Surveyors should walk a pre-determined, pre-disturbed pathway similar to the ones used in the Belding’s savannah sparrow surveys to minimize impacts. Locations of the specific plant sightings should be marked on a map by the surveyor/s. Special attention should be given to heavy or lengthy rainfall and/or flooding. Southern Tar Plant Monitoring for the southern tar plant will take place two times a year between the months of May and November. Special attention should be paid to the peripheral areas of the LCW as this is the preferred habitat of the southern tar plant. Salt Marsh Bird’s Beak 12

Monitoring of the salt marsh bird’s beak will take place twice a year, sometime between May and October, when the plant is in bloom. Close attention should be paid to areas with occasional flooding. Coulter’s Goldfields Coulter’s goldfields will be surveyed once a month from February to March, with special attention after significant rainfall. Due to their limited bloom, it is recommended that patches of goldfields be flagged upon being spotted so their whereabouts is known. Reptiles Green Sea Turtle Informal observations by employees of the NMFS, local citizens, and Aquarium of the Pacific volunteers have observed turtle activity at the 3 Haynes Generating Plant and 3 Alamitos Generating Station outfalls, as well as the Zedler, Hellman, Calloway, and Orange County Retention Basin outfalls within the San Gabriel River. Given these locations, the protocol will require 10 observers, one for each outfall site, at the same date and time. Previous research and observations indicate that the best results will be obtained between the hours of noon and 3 p.m. once a month. The observation areas should be marked by small flags that are spread out on the north bank of the river in 100 foot increments. If 100 feet is too much and the observation areas intersect, then adjust the markers accordingly. There should be no intersection of observation areas. If adjustments are made, all survey areas must be adjusted to the same distance. All observers will begin counting; using a clicker (to be handed out before dispersal to his/her designated site) at the same allotted time for a total of 30 minutes. Every time a turtle surfaces within the flagged observation area, the observer will click once. Results should be handed to project supervisor in a designated spot once the 30 minutes is up. The NMFS should be notified of each monitoring session as well as the results. Dan Lawson has been the lead principle of investigation for the NMFS Office of Protected Resources and should be the primary contact. Insects and Birds Monitoring routes should be predetermined to follow pathways, similar to those of the Belding’s savannah sparrow surveys, along trails already established within the LCW. Such routes are best mapped as a loop, following coyote trails, historic fence lines, and other pre-disturbed walkways in order to minimize impact on the wildlife and vegetation. Routes must also adhere to site specific property boundaries, making sure all monitoring is conducted on Los Cerritos Wetland Land Trust or public property. Pace along the monitoring routes should be slow yet steady as to not stay in one place for too long. Potential raptor perches, such as telephone poles, should also be considered when mapping the monitoring route. Following the predetermined monitoring routes, the observer/s should use binoculars to scan for the species being monitored. The following are specifics for each of the special status insects and birds: 13

Wandering Skipper Monitoring of the wandering skipper should take place once a week from March to November. Given its affinity for seashore saltgrass (Distichlis spicata) (Orsak 1977), it is advised that observers locate the grass along a path that is consistent with those utilized for the Belding’s savannah sparrow surveys. The saltgrass is most likely to be found in alkali soils in areas that experience flooding, but are not submerged all the time (Orsak 1977). Observers should utilize a clicker to get a count as they make their way through the pre-determined path. California Least Tern California least terns should be monitored once a week from April to September. Special attention should be paid to shallow flooding areas, as the least terns like to feed on shallow water fish. A clicker should be utilized to account for each individual spotted, however special note should be taken if the birds are seen flying or parading on the ground holding a fish, but not eating it. This is a sign of courtship behavior and close attention should be paid to the area if such behavior occurs (USFWS 1985). Western Snowy Plover Preliminary monitoring of western snowy plovers will be conducted twice a week from mid-March to late September (Fancher et. al. 2007, Powell and Collier 2000). Sites do not have to be monitored simultaneously, therefore it is possible to monitor with just one observer, however sites can be divided up among 2 to three observers since monitoring will take place a couple of times a week during the breeding season. Given time and resources, monitoring should also be conducted on potential wintering populations from late September to mid-march as well (Powell and Collier 2000). Belding’s Sanannah Sparrow Professional surveys of the Belding’s savannah sparrow will be completed every nesting cycle, at least once a week, from late March to early June. Population counts should be taken from time of sunrise to usually no more than 4 hours after when the peak of territorial behavior occurs (Zembal 2010). Wind, rain, or overcast conditions may lead to prolonged Belding’s activity, in which case surveys may continue later into the day. These conditions may also delay or even prevent morning territorial activity from occurring, in which case monitoring for that day should be postponed. Before any monitoring is conducted, survey techniques should be validated for consistency before each biologist or ecologist surveys their designated area (James et. al. 1998). Unnecessary human approaches or disturbances may cause the Belding’s savannah sparrow to abandon their nests or even lose territories to rival males (Zahn et. al. 2009a). Once an individual is spotted, persons should immediately confirm the individual to be a Belding’s savannah sparrow, determine the bird’s behavior, and finally, decide whether the individual should be counted as a breeding pair. Once properly tallied, using maps or GPS units, pace along the route is to be resumed. Breeding pairs are to be tallied based on their observed behavior. Male Belding’s savannah sparrows exhibiting territorial behavior will indicate a territory holder, and is presumed to be a breeding pair 14

(Zembal 2002). Manifestations of such territorial behavior are to be interpreted as singing, scolding, extended perching, and aerial chases. Straight lined aerial chases indicate a single territory with the bird being chased leaving the area. Circular aerial chases are a good indication of two, close by territories, where the bird being chased holds its ground once removed from the original spot of confrontation (Zembal 2010). Individuals perched high and fully exposed, often singing, are to be counted as a breeding pair. Individuals in the Los Cerritos Wetlands can often be seen perching amongst the invasive Mustard, behavior not usual for the Belding’s savannah sparrow. Individuals foraging, flying, or displaying other non-territorial behavior should not be counted as a breeding pair (Zembal 2002). Distances fled upon human approach can be an indication of whether or not an individual is nesting or foraging. Flight distances of individuals actively defending territory will be short, usually with the female following shortly after. Flight distances of foraging individuals can be great often ending out of sight. Foraging individuals will not be counted as we are only interested in males, actively defending territories to be counted as breeding pairs. Our April 2011 surveys yielded the following results for each of the sites:

Figure 3: Section of the Bryant property, commonly referred to as “Campgrounds”, recorded three nesting pairs. A site specific monitoring route begins at the corner of Studebaker Road and 2nd Street following a figure eight pattern around the site’s two major expanses of pickleweed.


Figure 4: Steam Shovel Slough is a thriving ecosystem that contains a richness of life unparalleled in the Los Cerritos Wetlands. 40 breeding pairs were recorded here. Steam Shovel Slough is not part of the LCW land trust and is located on private property owned by Bixby. Monitoring routes should be mindful of private property rights and should stay within the intertidal zone where land remains public.


Figure 5: The southern-most portion of the Los Cerritos wetlands, known as the Hellman Property, was newly acquired by the Los Cerritos Land Trust in December of 2010. In this heavily disturbed ecosystem we observed 9 breeding pairs on the first day and 11 breeding pairs on the second, adding up to a total of 16 pairs sighted. The number of sightings is small considering the vast expanses of pickleweed throughout the property.

Discussion Belding’s Sanannah Sparrow According to Richard Zembal, it is important to monitor the Belding’s savannah sparrow and it should be done every five years (2006). Monitoring Belding’s requires timing and patience due to their secretive nature and lack of tolerance to human interactions (James et. al. 1998, Zahn et. al. 2009a). In the winter, individuals are relatively secretive and inconspicuous and form flocks (Massey 1979), but come March, the territorial behavior of the males is in full swing and the birds are easier to monitor (James & Stadtlander 1991). Their territories are tallied on the basis of observed behavior, usually territorial behavior by the males, and reported as territories or presumed pairs (Zembal and Hoffman 2010). In the LCW, our monitoring sessions were possibly affected by a number of factors. Occasional overcast or windy conditions on survey dates led to delayed territorial activities. There were no sightings on our walk-through at Zedler Marsh on April 11th, however Eric Zahn did spot a male Belding’s 17

savannah sparrow displaying territorial behavior at a later date. We also noticed that several areas of habitat are within an immediate radius of abandoned or live telephone poles (characteristic of the Hellman property) and likely void of any Belding’s territory or activity. Raptors native to the LCW such as the American kestrel (Falco sparverius) and the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) have adapted to use these telephone poles as vantage points to locate prey such as the Belding’s savannah sparrow and should be considered when mapping the monitoring route.

Figure 6: The Hellman property has a high potential to support numbers well beyond the current population of Belding’s savannah sparrows. The Hellman property displays a number of stresses that may contribute to the suppressed population. Noise coming from oil operations in the northwest corner and continuous construction in the residential areas to the south may inhibit nesting behavior such as singing from occurring. Much of the usable habitat, shown here, is under invasion by mustard, which seemingly dominates the property.

Monitoring in the LCW The LCW are a thriving yet severely depressed salt marsh containing several acres of suitable habitat for the Belding’s savannah sparrow. It is crucial for the development of a monitoring plan to be adapted to the geographical, historical, and biological specificities unique to the LCW. Best management practices for monitoring the Belding’s were derived from past studies, however adapted management was required to construct a monitoring plan specific to the needs of the LCW. Adapted management is a broad concept that acknowledges our insufficient information base for decision making. In light of such 18

scientific uncertainty, it was absolutely critical to fit our experiment to the specificities of the LCW, rather than trying to force our site to fit the experiment (Zedler 2001). It is recommended that citizen scientists and Aquarium of the Pacific volunteers be utilized in the primary monitoring processes. The use of volunteers is not conducive to every survey, but for primary surveys to determine raw numbers for species such as the sea turtles, California least terns, snowy plovers, and wandering skippers, volunteers could be a useful commodity. Southern Tar Plant, Salt Marsh Bird’s Beak, and Coulter’s Goldfields Most of the previous literature for monitoring plant species recommends minimal surveys, usually twice a year. Given the infant stages of restoration at LCW, especially in the newly acquired Hellman portion, it would be beneficial to survey these species once in the beginning of the blooming season and once towards the end. In the case of the goldfields, we saw them in the field after a significant period of rain and within a few weeks, they were gone. If surveys require observers to veer off of the predisturbed paths, special care must be taken when observing in May to steer clear of potential Belding’s savannah sparrow nests as it is the end of their breeding season. East Pacific Green Sea Turtle According to unpublished data from the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), turtles are most often sited midday, around noon (NMFS and FWS 1998). These observations, coupled with those of Dan Lawson from NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources make time of day a significant factor for creating the monitoring plan. Also, the turtles surface every few minutes to breathe when active, versus every two hours when resting, enabling more accurate observations this time of day (North Fisheries Science Center [NEFSC] 2011). While the informal observations show that May is the peak time for turtle sightings (Lawson et. al. 2011), the NMFS and FWS recommend regular surveys in U.S. waters to determine population size and status so they can identify and protect primary foraging areas (NMFS and FWS 1998). That said, monthly monitoring sessions are recommended if resources are available. The most consistent sightings have been at the Department of Water and Power’s Haynes Water Plant outflow pipe #2 (Lawson et. al. 2011). Early speculations suggest that the turtles stick around to forage in the warm water that is injected into the San Gabriel from this point. They also suggest that the majority of this potential population is juveniles (Lawson et. al. 2011). Answers provided by this primary monitoring protocol to determine population abundance in the San Gabriel River should lead to more detailed monitoring regimes to determine what the turtles are doing there, where else are they going, and how all of this information can be utilized to protect them (Lawson et. al. 2011). California Least Terns and Western Snowy Plovers There are currently no known California least tern or western snowy plover populations in the LCW (Fancher et. al. 2007, Powell and Dorsey 2000). Based on previously mentioned habitat preferences, it is logical that, once the restoration efforts get into more developed stages, these birds will come to call the LCW home. If primary surveys determine that the birds are coming to the LCW, the monitoring plans 19

should be adjusted to answer more specific questions such as what are they doing there? If nesting, where are the nests? The ecological monitoring protocol for the special status species of the Los Cerritos Wetlands is a valuable tool for the conceptual restoration planning and the long-term adaptive management of the habitat. The surveys conducted on the California endangered Beldingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s savannah sparrow will give restoration managers valuable insight into the existing parameters they have to work with. This protocol will serve as a useful tool for the purposes of restoration and enhancement in the Los Cerritos Wetlands for years to come.


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Zedler, J.B., J.C. Callaway, and G. Sullivan. 2001. Declining biodiversity: why species matter and how their functions might be restored in Californian tidal marshes. BioScience 51(12): 1005—1007. Zedler, J. B. 2001. Handbook for restoring tidal wetlands. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, USA. Zembal, R., K. J. Kramer, R. J. Bransfield. And N. Gilbert. 1988. A survey of Belding’s Savannah sparrows in California. American Birds 42:1233–1236. Zembal, R., and S. M. Hoffman. 2002. A survey of the Belding’s Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi) in California, 2001. Calif. Dep. Fish and Game, Habitat Conservation Planning Branch, Species Conservation and Recovery Program Report 2002-01, Sacramento, CA 12 pp. Zembal, R. and S. Hoffman. 2002. A survey of the Belding’s savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi) in California 2001. Department of Fish and Game, Habitat Conservation Planning Division. Zembal, R., J. Konecny, and S. M. Hoffman. 2006. A survey of the Belding’s Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi) in California. 2006. Contract Final Report (S0150019), California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento, California, USA Zembal, R., J. Konecny, and S. Hoffman. 2006. A survey of the Belding’s savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi) in California 2006. Department of Fish and Game, Habitat Conservation Planning Division.


Ecological monitoring plan for special status species  
Ecological monitoring plan for special status species  

for the purposes of wetlands restoration and adaptive management, utilizing the Belding’s savannah sparrow as a case study