A proposed golf course near Los Angeles International Airport that would destroy a large part of an endangered butterfly's breeding ground needs more study, the state Coastal Commission's planning staff said last week.
Staffers said they will recommend that the commission deny the proposal to build the golf course and a nature conservancy on 302 acres north of the airport that are practically all that remains of the El Segundo dunes--the natural habitat of the endangered El Segundo blue butterfly and a number of other species near extinction.
The airport plans to develop about two-thirds of the area into a golf course and recreation area. About 80 acres would be maintained as a conservancy for the butterfly and other plants, insects and animals that thrive on the dunes.
But the Coastal Commission's staff found insufficient information in the airport's plan to show that the airport could adequately protect the dune environment.
"Basically what we are recommending is that the commission deny the plan at this point, but give the airport some guidance so the proposal could be approved in the future," said Lisa Horowitz, a member of the commission's planning staff.
An airport official, however, said the plan is "totally acceptable."
"We have worked on the plan for over 10 years," said Maurice Laham, airport environmental coordinator. He added that it has been approved by the State Department of Fish and Game, which looked into the matter because an endangered species is involved.
Nov. 21 Hearing
Noting that five golf courses in the area have closed in the past five years, Laham said the airport's proposed course is the best use for the land, which has already proved unfit for residential use.
The commission will receive the staff recommendations at a public hearing Nov. 21 at the airport Holiday Inn. Officials said the final word on the project could be delayed until the end of the year, depending upon the outcome of the hearing.
Coastal Commission approval is all that is needed to carry out the proposal, which already has been approved by the county Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council.
Community representatives and environmentalists, however, say the airport's proposal is insensitive to the dunes and the endangered species that live there.
The critics say the proposal's 80-acre conservancy is too small to ensure that the area's wildlife would survive.
Problem of Predicting
"The problem when you are dealing with a small population of animals in a small area is there is no way to predict how large or small an area is needed to maintain the population," said Julian Donahue, assistant curator for the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History's insect collection, who will testify at the hearing as an expert witness.
"If the area is too small you can get inbreeding and run into a genetic dead end," he said.
"That is one reason we have laws against marrying our first cousins. Genetic defects surface. The same thing happens to other kinds of animals."
The airport dunes and a similar area on Chevron USA's El Segundo refinery south of the airport are the last remaining portion of a dune system that once stretched 36 miles between Playa del Rey and San Pedro. Housing developments, refineries and other businesses have eliminated the rest of the dune system and have nearly wiped out the flora and fauna that depend upon it for survival.
The remaining 302-acre stretch "sounds like wowee," said Sallie Davison, a Playa del Rey resident who is president of Friends of the Dunes, an environmental group. "But when you realize that's all that's left of the whole thing, it's pretty mind-boggling."
The airport dunes are healthy, Donahue said, now that more than 10 years have passed since the airport bought and cleared nearly 1,000 noise-afflicted homes from land surrounding the dunes.
Feeds on Buckwheat
"The dunes are starting to come back," Horowitz said. "They provide a habitat for hundreds of different species, several of which are only found in that area, including the El Segundo blue butterfly."
Other rare or endangered species that live in the area include the coastal pocket mouse, Lange's dune weevils, horned toads and horned lizards and a number of wildflowers, Horowitz said.
The El Segundo blue is one of only 13 insects on the federal government's list of endangered species. The tiny blue butterfly, which is no larger than a thumbnail, feeds off a form of wild buckwheat that grows along the California coast. The buckwheat, once common along South Bay shores, is now found locally only in the airport dunes and Chevron property.
Scientists and environmentalists fear that the golf course could affect the dunes' fragile, ever-shifting composition and kill off the buckwheat.
A distant cousin to the El Segundo blue, the Palos Verdes blue, is nearly extinct now that the strain of locoweed it feeds on has been killed off by development.