Blog: How land reclamation hurts California’s environment
One of the most famous, though possibly apocryphal, quotes to come out of the Vietnam War appeared in a Feb. 7, 1968, Associated Press report. It quoted an unnamed “United States Major” explaining why U.S. forces leveled the Vietnamese town of Ben Tre—in one succinct, memorable turn of phrase: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,” the major reportedly commented. The quote lives on because, real or not, it seemed to perfectly encapsulate the absurdity of military logic. … But the quote didn’t apply only to the military. In fact, it could easily be applied to the large-scale public improvement project that built much of what California is today—via a process known as “land reclamation.” The reclamation projects of the late 19th and early 20th century turned the so-called swamps of California’s Central Valley into some of the country’s most fertile agricultural land—but in the process, destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the wetlands that were the natural habitat for hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and many other kinds of life.