'Vital habitat' at LAX Dunes seeing resurgence of native, endangered species

"There's really nowhere else quite like the LAX Dunes in Southern California. It's a pretty unique and incredible habitat."
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A vacant coastal property near LAX can be a bit noisy, but some of Southern California's most endangered species are flourishing there.

The booming noise over the 200-acre parcel of land above Dockweiler Beach is why neighborhoods once called Palisades Del Rey and Surfridge Estates have disappeared. Some of the roads remain but no signs of the luxury homes that drew celebrities and socialites in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

Although the deserted landscape is an eyesore to some, it isn't lifeless. In fact, environmentalists are excited by what's happening there.

Tammi McCrossen-Orr, director of Environmental Sustainability and Compliance for LAWA, says it's a really special area.

The LAX Dunes, owned by the L.A. World Airports since the 1970s, are seeing a resurgence of native wildlife. Endangered species such as the El Segundo blue butterfly have returned to the southernmost dunes.

"It's a safe zone. It's a protected zone for those species and that's important for the survival of all species," McCrossen-Orr said.

Decades-long efforts to remove roads continue to make way for he native habitat to prosper. A 2014 agreement between LAWA and the Coastal Commission fast-tracked the efforts, and new partnerships with environmental groups such as The Bay Foundation are showing real promise.

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The Sierra Nevada red fox will soon be added to the endangered species list. Federal officials say the population has dipped to just 40 foxes.

"This isn't just some sort of fenced-in property, but this is a really vital habitat and restoration is occurring," said The Bay Foundation's Chris Enyart.

McCrossen-Orr says one of the best markers of success in the habitat restoration is the return of some federally threatened and endangered species. Two of the most notable are the California gnatcatcher and the burrowing owl.

There's also a leg-less lizard and the San Diego horned lizard, both now calling the dunes home. Some native plants are back, too.

"There's really nowhere else quite like the LAX Dunes in Southern California. It's a pretty unique and incredible habitat," Enyart said.

Although the dunes are protected, the Bay Foundation does host community events in which the public is invited to volunteer in the clean-up and restoration process.

"It's important for the community to remember the beauty of our coastline and maybe treasure a little bit of development-free space," McCrossen-Orr said.

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