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Seal Beach Wildlife Refuge reopens for public tours

Seal Beach Wildlife Refuge reopens for public tours Seal Beach Wildlife Refuge reopens for public tours


by Emma DiMaggio

There aren’t many people who would wake up early in the morning, pull on their work boots, and head out to a refuge to survey birds, care for plants and watch over nesting birds.

But there are a few, and some of them live right here in Leisure World. These residents don’t go to the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge to get paid, or for bragging rights, or for notoriety— though they were awarded the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s 2022 Molly Krival Refuge Friends Group of the Year award. They go for their love of nature and their assumed stewardship of the land.

These volunteers, known as the Friends of the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, are members of a nonprofit focused on the preservation of these unique tidal flats.

For the first time in over a year, those interested in becoming volunteers can get a taste of the refuge for themselves: after a long pandemic hiatus, the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge has commenced with public tours.

“Our situation is unique in that we’re the only national wildlife refuge that’s located on a military base,” said Esther Cummings, who’s volunteered at the refuge for two decades. “It’s great for our endangered species, they get wonderful protection. Nobody bothers them, but it makes it much more difficult for us to bring in visitors.”

Getting visitors into the Naval Weapons Station has always been tricky. Given that the site is an active military base which supplies the Pacific Fleet, the base maintains a high level of security. Volunteers must go through an FBI-level background check, providing everywhere they’ve ever lived, worked and played. But for visitors, the process is far less strenuous.

“Unless you’re looking for it, it’s hard to notice,” said longtime volunteer Ted Nowell. “90% of people on tours didn’t

REFUGE, page 2 know we were there.”

But lack of visibility doesn’t stop the volunteers from pursuing their mission.

“The main goal of the wildlife refuge is to protect the creatures that are endangered, but also reach out and educate people about that as much as we can, get them involved in the same process,” Cummings said.

The refuge is a bird-lovers paradise. The site is a migratory stopover: a winter destination for migrating birds. These include hawks, Canada geese and a variety of seabirds. During nesting season, California lease terns will lay their eggs on the refuge. The nesting area is fenced in to protect the young avians, and volunteers stand guard.

“Some of my best times on the refuge have been sitting out there, watching the birds to make sure they’re safe,” Cummings said.

Tours of the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge take place monthly. To reserve a spot, call 562-598-1024.

Bees buzz around some flowers at the refuge.

Photo by Leland R. Sisk

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