A species of goose takes flight at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach on Thursday, January 18, 2018. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)Visitors to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve cross the footbridge at the start of a trail along the wetlands in Huntington Beach on Thursday, January 18, 2018. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)Entrance to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve off of Coast Hwy. in Huntington Beach on Thursday, January 18, 2018. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)A duck swims along in the waters of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach on Thursday, January 18, 2018. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)A trail follows along the wetlands in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach on Thursday, January 18, 2018. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)Sign indicating a protected area of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach on Thursday, January 18, 2018. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)Amid notices and maps on the kiosk at the main entrance to the Bolsa Chica wetlands is an announcement from the state requiring a pass to enter the grounds beginning Thursday, Feb. 1. (Photo by Greg Mellen, Orange County Register/scng.com)Show Caption of Expand
HUNTINGTON BEACH — On any given day, the Bolsa Chica wetlands are a haven to birds of many feather, both avian and human.
The human kind includes runners, hikers and birdwatchers who travel to the wetlands from across the globe to view the avian show. More than 300 bird species have been spotted in the habitat, including those passing through on their migrations or nesting.
Until now, the 1,550-acre ecological reserve has been open and free to visitors. But that changes Thursday, Feb. 1 when the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will require visitors either have a hunting or fishing license, or purchase a daily or annual State Lands Pass.
A notice from California Department of Fish and Wildlife tells visitors that they must buy a pass to enter the Bolsa Chica wetlands beginning, Thursday, Feb. 1. (Photo by Greg Mellen, Orange County Register/scng.com)
The policy, according to Julie Horenstein, ecological reserve coordinator with Fish and Wildlife, stems from 1988 legislation which expanded in 2012, but has rarely been implemented.
The cost will be $4.32 for a daily pass, and $25.10 for the annual pass. The kicker is the passes cannot be purchased on-site unless a visitor has a smartphone that can scan a square, or QR, barcode. Otherwise, passes must be purchased in advance at participating sporting goods stores, online or by phone.
Passes aren’t even available at the Bolsa Chica Conservancy, which maintains an office on the property.
According to Hoerenstein, the department does not have the resources to hire personnel to collect fees on-site.
As for the 32 cents, that’s an 8 percent charge for the equipment to collect fees.
Although visitors aren’t required to display the pass to enter the wetlands, they must be produced if requested by a department officer. Citations can range from $50 to $250.
However, Horenstein said initial efforts will not be directed on enforcement.
“There won’t be any added patrols,” she said. “For the first year they’ll be concentrating on public outreach and education.”
Horenstein did add that wardens would have the discretion whether to issue citations.
As implementation loomed, visitors to the wetlands had mixed opinions.
Shirley Dettloff, a founding member of the Amigos de Bolsa Chica grassroots group that fought off development plans for the wetlands more than 40 years ago, said her group along with the Bolsa Chica Land Trust and Bolsa Chica Conservancy were all aligned against the plan.
“I didn’t spend 40 years of my life saving it to have to pay to go see what I saved,” said Dettloff, a former mayor of Huntington Beach. “It’s a great national resource that should be available.”
Grace Adams, executive director of the Bolsa Chica Conservancy which runs programs and maintains a museum and gift shop on Warner Avenue on the northwest corner of the reserve, said her group has been fielding numerous calls about the proposal.
“There’s been a mixed response,” she said. “Some recognize the need for income streams, others are not too pleased.”
“To be honest, it doesn’t break my bank account,” said retired engineer Ron Williams from Huntington Beach as he sipped from a mug while standing on a footbridge entering the reserve. “I’m down here every other day.”
Ray Blasingame, from the San Gabriel Valley, said he didn’t mind the fee, as long as it is applied for upkeep of the reserve.
Bob and Barbara Gustavson, from Anaheim, were visiting for the first time.
“I wish they didn’t have to do that,” Barbara Gustavson said of the fee. “But if it’s only $25 a year, I don’t think that’s too much.”
“The question is whether (the fee) would prevent us from coming,” Bob Gustavson said. After consulting each other, the pair said they would probably visit anyway.
Currently, passes are required at 41 of 247 sites on more than 1 million acres under the auspices of Fish and Wildlife, according to Horenstein, but only six sites have been added in the past decade.
She added that the expansion of the State Lands Passes implementation has been at the behest of the legislature and hunting and fishing groups that felt they were bearing costs that should be shared by recreational users.
Bolsa Chica was added to the list precisely because of its popularity. In more remote areas, she said, passes might not even cover the cost of providing signage.
“The areas we selected, we looked at places that were popular and had facilities like a parking lot and qualities that draw people,” Hoerenstein said. “It’s going to properties that get the most love.”
The passes are expected to raise $152,000 annually and Horenstein said the hope is that money can be leveraged to gain federal grants and partnerships with private groups. She also said purchasers of the passes can direct where funds are spent by answering questions during purchase.
“I think it’s appropriate,” Horenstein said of the fee. “We have to pay for things like habitat restoration. I think there’s a lot to land management that’s not apparent.”
She added that fee waivers are available, including for volunteers working on programs in the parks, school groups and their teachers and chaperones on visits, and children under 16.
Dettloff said although passes may make sense in some locations, Bolsa Chica can be problematic. There are 11 entrances to the wetlands and some areas where private and public land overlap.
Dettloff said her group has reached out to State Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R-74) to push for a legislative solution. Harper did not respond to calls for comment.
“He’s our last hope,” Dettloff said.
Source: Oc Register
Walking and bird watching at Bolsa Chica wetlands will soon cost you
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