In a bulletin published today, more than a dozen UCLA researchers and students take full measure of Los Angeles County’s land use, biodiversity, and looming environmental threats – and the impact of these factors on health and well-being of residents.
“Everyone sees Los Angeles as a concrete jungle, and in urban space, it certainly can be,” said Cassie Rauser, executive director of the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, which aims to apply the university’s research, expertise and education to help transform Los Angeles into the most sustainable megalopolis in the world by 2050. “But that’s not how it must be.”
Rauser said Los Angeles has a realistic opportunity to thrive as a mega-city while achieving a balanced and healthy ecosystem that ensures every Angeleno has equitable access to nature and the health benefits it provides – including the shade, clean air and clean water.
For its overall performance in these areas and more, Los Angeles County received a C + rating from the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Ecosystem Health Report Card.
The authors chose this brand because although the county has progressive policies with defined goals, it still has a long way to go to achieve those goals. Rauser said the researchers hope community partners and government officials use the newsletter as a basis for continued progress and work with UCLA to improve the score.
UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge
Mas Dojiri, deputy general manager of Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment, said the report would be valuable to policymakers in the region.
“The great part of the environmental report card is that anyone can understand these ratings,” he said. “The UCLA report shows that we are not horrible, but we are average and we still have a long way to go. And now we have to come together as a society to move forward.
The bulletin assigns individual ratings to the county’s performance in each of the four areas and includes recommendations for policies and actions to improve Los Angeles’ environmental health and the well-being of its residents. An overview of each of the categories:
Land use and habitat quality: C / Incomplete
The study found that 64.6% of the county’s land is natural areas, but only 50.6% of these natural lands are protected from development. The authors consider the score “incomplete” due to a lack of data on habitat connectivity, habitat quality and habitat protection.
The report recommends government protection for all remaining county natural areas and critical habitat corridors, and restriction of development within 100 feet of channeled rivers and streams and within 300 feet of bed rivers and streams. soft.
Los Angeles County is home to more than 4,200 native plants and animals, of which 38 are considered endangered and 12 are considered threatened. Of these species at risk, 18 have seen their populations increase since 2000, 18 others have remained stable and 12 have seen decreases. (Data for other species at risk is not available.)
“Los Angeles County has more federally threatened species than any other county in the United States outside of Hawaii,” said Thomas Gillespie, UCLA geography professor and report contributor. “We sometimes forget that in Los Angeles we have a lot of biodiversity and a lot of endangered species.”
In an analysis for the newsletter, Gillespie, UCLA graduate student Monica Dimson, and several UCLA undergraduates discovered that many unprotected habitats near the Santa Clara River are home to three or four endangered species.
“Identifying these patterns will help prioritize actions,” Gillespie said.
Threats to ecosystem health: C
Los Angeles County is more vulnerable than ever to natural and human threats. For example, the report found that about 21% of the county’s land – where 2 million people currently live – are classified as at “very high” risk of wildfire. The report recommends that development in these areas be stopped altogether.
The authors also examined the effects of invasive plant and animal species, nighttime light pollution, and continued loss of vegetative greenery, among other topics.
Community health and wellness: C
Experts say equitable access to parks and natural spaces can help solve many problems – from shade during increasingly common heat waves to alleviating mental health stress by providing safe places to relax and play.
Nurit Katz / UCLA
The report recommends restricting development to within 100 feet of the county’s channeled rivers and streams.
In 2018, for example, 13 in 100,000 county residents had a heat-related health problem requiring an emergency room visit, up from five in 100,000 in 2005. Living in a community with trees that provide natural shade can help combat these issues, but according to the bulletin, only 49% of county residents live within half a mile of a park or outdoor recreation area. And only 20% of the county’s urban footprint is covered by tree canopy.
The authors write that the county should design parks that reflect the needs and values of its communities while prioritizing native biodiversity, and that public funds should be allocated to plant more native trees in the most areas. needy first.
Ryan Harrigan, Associate Associate Professor at UCLA and Fellow of the UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability, said the newsletter should serve as a starting point to assess the success of regional initiatives over the next few years.
“It sets a baseline and a methodology so that students and other researchers, five or ten years later, can really assess how the environment and the community have changed,” said Harrigan, who contributed to the report. “We don’t usually get that in science.”