What did the L.A. Basin look like before there was a Los Angeles? A common misconception—one that resonates with genuine concerns about the city's aridity and reliance on imported water—is that the city's natural state is desert. But early accounts of the landscape painted a different picture, depicting a patchwork of grassy prairie, wetland, scrub, oak woodland, and dense willow thickets where freeways, office towers, and houses stand today.
Recently, a team of scientists, geographers, and other researchers released a report for the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project that reconstructs the historical landscape of the Ballona Creek watershed—a 130-square-mile swath of land home to more than 1.2 million people that includes much of western Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Inglewood, South Los Angeles, and the Baldwin Hills. Piecing together clues gleaned from survey reports, photographs, maps, and other archival documents, the researchers created a detailed map of the region's historical ecology, identifying lost habitats and the flora and fauna that once lived there.
"The use of multiple archives, including specialized repositories such as those housing ornithological collections, aerial photographs, or maps, was central to our approach to the historical ecology of the Ballona watershed," said Travis Longcore, one of the report's co-authors and the science director of the Urban Wildlands Group.
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