The largest solid waste firm in the business has been tackling more than waste issues at hundreds of landfill sites across the U.S. It also has been making an impact on the local environment in those areas.
Recently named to Corporate Responsibility’s list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens, which ranks public companies based on outstanding corporate responsibility performance, Houston-based Waste Management has earned Wildlife Habitat Council certifications at 116 sites and is preserving 28,000 acres through its “Wildlife at Work” program. The program is aimed at preserving land as wildlife habitats by providing food, water, shelter, cover and space “suitable to animals’ needs”.
One of those sites is the El Sobrante Landfill located in Corona, Calif. The landfill, permitted in 1986, offers waste disposal services to Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego counties and processes about 50,000 tons per week or 2.5 million tons per year.
In 2001, the landfill received its expansion permit to become one of Waste Management’s 116 wildlife preserves.
“The wildlife preserve is mitigation for the landfill’s expansion and protects two federally listed species and 29 other sensitive plants and animals,” says David Harich, Waste Management El Sobrante Landfill district manager.
According the landfill’s Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), which was created in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the firm must preserve and protect sensitive habitats, wildlife and plants throughout the lifespan of the landfill.
Both the 468-acre landfill and 688-acre wildlife preserve are managed by Waste Management and covered by the HCP. In total, the landfill property is about 1,300 acres, implements the HCP and manages the wildlife preserve and landfill for the protection of biological resources and sensitive species.
“Waste Management finances all of the habitat improvement projects and monitoring activities that occur on the property,” says Harich. “The El Sobrante Landfill also sends about $1 million per year to the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan to fund conservation and open space projects on preserve lands managed by the county—outside of El Sobrante Wildlife Preserve.”
The long-term goal is for the El Sobrante Landfill to become a wildlife preserve, as well.
“Eventually, the El Sobrante Landfill will join the surrounding 688-acre wildlife preserve and encompass more than 1,300 acres of permanent protected open space. Currently, more than 100 landfill acres are in the process of restoration,” says Harich.
“El Sobrante is one of few landfills across the country to restore filled landfill phases back to nature as the rest of the site progresses elsewhere,” he says. “We call these restorations ‘rolling closures’ because we close and seed the filled areas in phases and monitor their progress to ensure they become thriving habitat for the wildlife. Maintenance includes weeding several times each year and reseeding areas as needed. Success criteria include plant cover, species diversity and minimal weeds.”
Currently, the El Sobrante Landfill manages the wildlife preserve for the benefit of the 31 sensitive species identified in the HCP. Habitats that exist in the preserve include riversidian sage scrub, riparian habitat, grasslands and rock outcrops.
According to the Wildlife Habitat Council’s website, programs like Waste Management’s El Sobrante Landfill & Wildlife Preserve support the recovery of endangered species at their site by maintaining suitable habitats.
Waste Management contracts a site biologist, Cindy Daverin, to implement the HCP and the landfill’s restoration requirements.
“Some of her responsibilities include completing monthly, annual and three-year reports that track our progression with the HCP and our conservation goals. She also executes adaptive management as needed,” says Harich. “For example, when we experienced a significant amount of weeds in Stephens’ kangaroo rat habitat, she initiated a weed abatement program that included sheep grazing.”
The firm's employees are encouraged to get involved in the wildlife preserves.
“Our employees really enjoy getting involved with our habitat conservation program,” says Harich. “They help with general preserve maintenance, take pictures of wildlife for documentation and tracking, help relocate sensitive animals—like Red Diamond Rattle Snakes—to the wildlife preserve, and lend a hand to our habitat enhancement projects such as building artificial burrows for the Western burrowing owl. Our site biologist also provides educational training to landfill employees.”
Additionally, team members teach visitors about respecting the environment via the company’s site tour program. Each year, about 1,500 people tour the El Sobrante Landfill and Wildlife Preserve.
Since 2008, the Wildlife Habitat Council has recognized the El Sobrante Landfill for involving the public and its employees in restoration projects and environmental education.
“We regularly invite the community to the landfill to connect with the environment and participate in volunteer-based conservation projects,” says Harich. “Historically, children and adults have built underground dens for the Western Burrowing Owl and roosting boxes for bats. These were great STEM projects for the kids.”
Community volunteers also have planted cactus on the landfill’s restored slopes and native milkweeds in the preserve to support the monarch butterflies’ thousand-mile migration to California and Mexico. Additionally, volunteers have disguised illegal off-highway vehicle trails that obstruct sensitive habitats in the preserve.
“The landfill biologist regularly leads residents on nature hikes into the El Sobrante Wildlife Preserve, as well. During the nature hike, visitors observe habitats and wildlife, and discuss the importance of preserving biological resources,” says Harich. “Since 2000, the El Sobrante Landfill has provided an outdoor education program that gives students, scouts and the community at large hands-on experiences with waste, recycling and environmental stewardship.”