Sunday, November 20, 2011

CIR Leads Twenty Seven School Fieldtrips to the Islands in 2011

Over 930 students and adult chaperones joined CIR on 27 school fieldtrips to the Channel Islands so far this year, with funding raised primarily by our staff and board members.   Most of these students are from low-income districts that cannot afford the costs for this type of fieldtrip, and our program gives cash-strapped schools a chance to visit the Channel Islands and students a chance to participate in important restoration projects.

Our program this year targeted primarily 5th grade classes from Ventura County districts, but schools from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara also participated.  The trips were to Anacapa Island and Santa Cruz Island where the students helped CIR with invasive plant removal and helped propagate native plants.  Some of the schools paid the cost of the boat and transportation, but the vast majority benefited from grant funding that CIR staff and board members raised from Federal, State and private sources.

Students from Ventura pose by their handiwork on Anacapa
CIR staff visited most of the schools before the trips to provide comprehensive PowerPoint presentations highlighting the special nature of the Channel Islands and the Marine Sanctuary and background on the restoration projects.  Special effort was made to highlight the connection between mainland watersheds and the health of the marine ecosystem.  This included examples of what happens to storm water runoff and how pollution in city streets can end up in the ocean.  For the 5th grade classes, this instruction was specifically designed to address elements in the school curriculum.  As a requirement of some of the grant funding, the students were tested before and after the trip to gauge how much they had learned about the islands, marine sanctuary and conservation issues. 

Holy Cross School students receive instruction on Santa Cruz Island
All of the grant funding targeted low-income school districts, and few of the students had ever visited the Channel Islands or even ever been on a boat before.  The boat and bus transportation, plus modest staff costs for an average size class, cost around $2,400, so a great deal of grant funding is needed to fund so many trips.  Funding for this type of program is highly competitive and the grants are difficult to administer, but the results are more than worth it.  The kids are always eager to help with the restoration project, and they make a valuable contribution to our work. 

This is the fifth year of the CIR school program, and our busiest yet!  CIR staff worked hard to arrange dates with the schools, book the transportation, and organize the complicated paperwork required for a trip of this kind.  These trips would not have been possible without a great deal of logistical support from the Park Service and a discounted rate from Island Packers.  CIR plans to raise additional funding from private sources for the 2012 school year.

Schools/youth groups participating in CIR island trips:
Caesar Chavez Elementary, Oxnard (6 trips)

EP Foster Elementary, Ventura (2 trips)

Holly Cross School, Ventura (2 trips)

Meiners Oaks  Elementary, Meiners Oaks (3 trips)

Mira Monte Elementary, Ojai (1 trip)

Oak Grove School, Ojai (1 trip)

San Antonio School, Ojai (1 trip)

Santa Barbara Charter School, Santa Barbara (1 trip)

Sheridan Way Elementary, Ventura (1 trip)

Sun Valley High School, Los Angeles (1 trip)

Sunset Elementary, Oak View (3 trips)

Topa Topa Elementary, Ojai (2 trips)

Unitarian Society Teen Group, Santa Barbara (1 trip)

Ventura Charter School, Ventura (2 trips)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

CIR Completes Successful Restoration Trip to San Clemente Island

Twenty CIR volunteers and staff volunteered for five days on San Clemente Island last week helping the Navy remove non-native iceplant from sensitive habitat of the San Clemente Island sage sparrow, a threatened bird that is endemic to the island.  Our first ever volunteer trip was an unqualified success, as we cleared an estimated 41 acres of hundreds of small patches of iceplant.   

The iceplant crowds out native plants, including species of boxthorn (Lycium sp.) that the sparrows nest in.  CIR volunteers kept up a rigorous and steady pace in order to accomplish such a large scale iceplant removal.

San Clemente Island is owned by the U.S. Navy, and staff from the Navy and from San Diego State University worked with CIR to arrange the trip.  The logistics of such a trip are almost as daunting as eradicating the iceplant, but the results were well worth the effort.  CIR donated all staff time for the trip, and volunteers paid for their own housing and meals.

San Clemente Island is an important base for the Navy, and several hundred duty personnel and civilian workers are regularly posted to the island.  The island provides an important auxiliary landing field for the Navy, and it is used extensively for training.  Navy Seals train on San Clemente, and the southern part of the island is used for air bombardment and ship board gunnery practice.  San Clemente has 14 plants that are unique to the island, plus several species of endemic animals.  The Navy funds a large restoration program for many of these species.  The primary restoration staff are from the Soil Ecology & Restoration Group at San Diego State University.

A harbor on the south west end of San Clemente Island (April 2011)

The group of volunteers first traveled to San Diego (most staying the first evening at the same motel) before departing for the island by plane from the North Island Naval Air Station on Coronado Island.    The Navy contracts with a civilian airline to transport personnel to the island, so the flights were free for the volunteers.  Once on the island, the group checked in at one of the base guest housing complexes, which is reminiscent of a Motel 6.   Low-cost meals were provided at the base commissary.

The CIR volunteers then traveled by van to the western side of the island to begin work.  For the next several days every volunteer worked hard hand-pulling the iceplant and placing it in large piles.  This technique is usually quite successful at eradicating iceplant with only minimal re-sprouting, but some follow up work will be needed.  The restoration site is 55 acres in size, and the volunteers cleared about three-quarters of the site.  At lunch time island personnel took the volunteers to interesting view spots and even lead the group on a hike featuring endemic plants!

The restoration site on the west side of San Clemente Island

Volunteers take a hike during a lunch break

We are very proud of our first volunteer trip to the San Clemente Island, and we hope to follow up with more trips, perhaps starting this spring.  CIR is also working with the Navy on San Nicolas Island, and we are glad to be working on both of these islands that are not normally accessible to the general public.

Check out photos from a previous trip to the island by Ken Owen (CIR Executive Director): 

Volunteers enjoy the view during a lunch break

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sierra Club National Service Trip to Santa Cruz Island

During the week of September 19, Sierra Club members from all over the country joined CIR staff and key volunteers for some vigorous volunteer work and sightseeing on Santa Cruz Island.  Sierra Club service trips are advertised nationally, and participants pay a fee to the club in order to volunteer in interesting and beautiful locations.  Part of the fee for our trip helps pay two CIR staff members, who spend five days providing a very memorable volunteer experience in some of the most spectacular locations on the island.  The fee also covers the cost of boat transportation, plus vehicles and housing at the UC Reserve Field Station on the island.  Our staff were joined by CIR board member Tanya Atwater (a noted geophysicist) and Jerry Mitcham, a CIR volunteer and Santa Monica Mountain Trails Council board member.

The volunteers helped survey for Vinca major (a highly invasive weed) and helped maintain trails on the island.  The Vinca survey kicked off a new project that CIR has to eradicate the weed in Canada del Puerto, the largest riparian area on the island.  After being trained to spot the plant, the volunteers surveyed at least a third of the Canada, and flagged the sites with colored tape.  The sites were then entered into a GPS.

CIR provides four nights of educational programs during the trip.  These include:

  1. The biological significance of the island and its cultural history
  2. A presentation by Tanya Atwater on the geological history of Southern California and of the island
  3. An overview of restoration on the island, including fox and bald eagle recovery and habitat restoration
  4. and an evening of astronomy, far from city lights, with an 8 inch Mead telescope!

The Sierra Club volunteers work hard for four days and are then treated to a day off hike to the south side of the island.  CIR staff are proud to work hard to provide a productive, fun and educations trip to Santa Cruz Island!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New Video on Bald Eagle Restoration on the Channel Islands

Check out this new video recently posted on the Channel Islands Natiponal Park web site.  it provides some details about the restoration of the Bald Eagles on the Channel Islands.  The video can be found here:

Also, if you've never seen the Santa Cruz Island "Eagle Cam" you should check it out! Especially when there are eggs and chicks in the nest, it's one of the most popular web cams on the internet!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Internet and Social Media Helps CIR Organize

Over 1000 people are now fans of our Facebook page ( adding a powerful social media component to or organizing capability.  We have been using a huge email list and an extensive web page to communicate with volunteers since the year 2000, but our Facebook page has only recently become a relevant component of how we recruit volunteers for habitat restoration projects.  Facebook is attracting new people to our organization, and we plan to use the page to post news and interesting features about the islands soon.

Just 20 year ago, non-profits would use written newsletters and phone trees to publicize events.  Now we can use the web, email, blogs Facebook and soon Google Plus to reach volunteers.  Using these tools to their fullest extent can be rather time consuming, but we are able to reach thousands of people quickly and at short notice. 

As popular as CIR is with the public, attracting fans to our Facebook page requires a little finessing.  Earlier this year we publicized the page to our email list (of nearly 1,100 people) which provided an initial surge of fans to the page.  We also created a custom "landing page" so that people who visit the page for the first time see an attractive graphic urging them to "Like" us and learn more about the organization.  Links to the Facebook page can be found on our of our promotional materials, including business cards, brochures and on our web page. 

We look forward to adding more fans in the future, and we plan to use the page for more than just announcing volunteer opportunities.  Watch the page for interesting news and tidbits about all eight of the Channel Islands and about environmental restoration in general.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

CIR Receives Grant to work on Santa Cruz Island

The Southern California Wetland Recovery Project (SCWRP) recently awarded CIR a grant to remove invasive plants on Santa Cruz Island.  The project will target the removal of periwinkle (Vinca major) in Cañada del Puerto, the largest riparian area on the island (on Nature Conservancy property).  Although periwinkle makes an attractive garden plant, it spreads aggressively in creeks, creating large mats that smother and kill native vegetation.  

  Ridge Road on Santa Cruz Island

Volunteers will have a chance to participate in the trips, which will be four-days in length.  Volunteers will stay at the UC Reserve Field Station in the island's Central Valley, will be treated to evening presentations and will have a chance to visit parts of the island not normally open to the public.  

  Cañada del Puerto, Santa Cruz Island

The SCWRP grant will pay for island housing and vehicles, plus restoration supplies and CIR staff.  Volunteers will be asked to pay for their transportation on Islands Packers.  A multi-day volunteer trip to the Central Valley on Santa Cruz Island is truly a special opportunity that few people have a chance to experience!

   School kids remove Vinca major on Santa Cruz Island

Watch your email for announcements of these trips, probably starting in October.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More CIR Educational Trips to be Scheduled

Our trip last week to the White Mountains was an unqualified success, and many CIR volunteers and supporters want us to schedule additional trips there and to Death Valley National Park.  CIR has an educational mission in addition to our main focus, which is habitat restoration.  These trips highlight unique natural areas in California that we all cherish and want to conserve.

Our second trip to the White Mountains wrapped up on Sunday, and the 28 participants had a fabulous time and learned a tremendous amount about the natural history of the mountains, including about the geology, birds and the ancient Bristlecone Pines, the oldest trees in the world (see the details below).

We were privileged to have as our principal field staff Dr. Tanya Atwater, emeritus professor of geology at UC Santa Barbara, and Steve Junak, botanist and herbarium curator at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.  Both of these extraordinary scientists and educators guided us through this fascinating alpine ecosystem. We were also joined by Santiago Escruceria, who is an environmental educator with years of experience leading international bird watching trips and birding excursions for the Mono Lake Committee and others.  Our relaxed pace included hiking opportunities and visits to the Schulman Grove (location of the almost-5,000 year old Methuselah tree) and to the Patriarch Grove.  We also enjoyed a hike to Mount Barcroft, bird watching, evenings campfires, astronomy sessions and natural history slide shows.

We have received so many inquires about the White Mountains trip, we are considering holding another one next year (this would be the third one in a row).  We have also been asked to put together another trip to Death Valley National park (like we did in March) and a trip following the San Andres Fault and passing through Big Sur (like we did in September of last year).  We are fortunate that Cindy Kimmick (a CIR Board Member) has volunteered to help organize these kinds of trips, since the fee we charge does not cover the staff time needed to arrange these educational opportunities.  If you would like to help Cindy put together these unique trips, please contact us:

Check out our video highlighting all four days of our trip (a compilation of the 2010 and 2011 trips):

Here are the highlights of the August 4 - 7 trip:

Day 1:
We met at noon at Eastern Sierra Inter-Agency Visitor Center at the junction of highways 395 and 136 in Lone Pine.  This is a great visitor center highlighting Inyo National Forest and Death Valley National Park, among other attractions in the area.  We gathered, had lunch and then proceeded to our next two stops along highway 168.  This included a stop at the Owens River Crossing, where we saw a riparian habitat running through a desert environment.

We took a detour along the road to Death Valley to look at ancient lake beds and at an amazing rock outcrop at "Devil's Gate."  We then proceeded up 168, entering piñon-juniper woodland then turning on to White Mountains Road.  We stopped several miles up the road to enjoy the woodland, and the wildflowers along the road.  These included penstemons, pennyroyal and apricot mallows among many others. 

We arrived at the beautiful Crooked Creek research station in the late afternoon.  Crooked Creek is one of four facilities run by the White Mountains Research station.  This attractive and comfortable station is a wonderful place to stay, and the welcoming staff takes great care of visitors.  We had a wonderful meal, and then we were treated to a fascinating presentation by Tanya Atwater featuring the mountain geology and the geologic history of the west.
Crooked Creek Station

Dinner and the Crooked Creek Station (2010 trip)

Day 2:
Our second day stared off with a visit to the  "Sierra View" overlook, which provides spectacular views of the Eastern Sierras and the Owens Valley.  After learning about the geology of the Sierra Nevada and plants around the lookout, we explored the trails of the overlook.

Sierra View Lookout (2010 trip)

Next we hiked in the famous Schulman Grove of ancient Bristlecone Pines, which provided opportunities to study the famous trees, their relationship to the geological substrate, plus the wildflowers and birds.  After lunch in the area (and a hike to an old mine) we enjoyed views and flowers at Silver Canyon and along the Wyman Road.  After another truly fabulous meal, Santiago gave us a presentation about Mono Lake, including a beautifully produced movie.

Schulman Grove

Day 3:
We visited sites north of the station, including the Patriarch Grove (near tree line).  This grove is the home of the world's largest Bristlecone Pine, the Patriarch Tree. Its splendid remoteness and moonscape appearance gives the Patriarch Grove a surreal atmosphere. Bristlecone pines and limber pines dot the landscape with a background view of the Great Basin in Nevada.  Low-growing sub-alpine flowers carpeted the "Discovery Trail" though the grove.  In the same area we hiked along the Cottonwood Basin Overlook Trail, which gave us amazing 365 degree views.  We even saw a golden eagle!

Patriarch Grove

Cottonwood Basin

We then drove to the end of White Mountain Road, had lunch and then visited the Barcroft station, part of the White Mountains Research Station.  This station is normally closed to the public, but we are given special permission to drive to the station on our trips.  About half the group climbed Mount Barcroft, near by, while the others visited the station and took in the views.  Our evening was topped off by a slide show featuring one of our participants (Jeremy Mazur) photography of the trip, plus more campfire time.

Barcroft Station

Day 4: 
Santiago lead us on a great bird walk (and general exploring) around the Crooked Creek Station.  Highlights included a Red-Tailed hawk, American Kestrel, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Sage Sparrow, Violet-Green Swallow and Clark's Nutcrackers.  Here is a complete list of birds that we saw on the trip (in order of appearance):

1 -Black-throated Grey Warbler
2 -Mourning Dove
3 -Pinyon Jay
4 -American Kestrel
5 -Black Phoebe
6 -Mountain Bluebird
7 -Northern Harrier
8 -Mountain Chickadee
9 -Pigmy Nuthatch
10 -Red-tailed Hawk
11 -Green-tailed Towhee
12 -Brewer's Blackbird
13 -Dark-eyed Junco
14 -Broad-tailed Hummingbird
15 -White-breasted Nuthatch
16 -Lincoln Sparrow
17 -Tree Swallow
18 - Golden Eagle
19 -Common Raven
20 -Rock Wren
21 -Horned Lark
22 - ? Falcon -possibly a Prairie Falcon, seen at the Patriarch Grove
23 - ? Say's Phoebe -possibly seen by one of the clients, Santiago could not verify the sighting.
24 -Violet-green Swallow
25 - Clark's Nutcracker

We departed mid-morning and made a stop along the "narrows" on highway 168.  This is a great geology and flower spot.  Once in the Owens Valley, people departed for home or to visit other interesting sites in the area.  Several participants visited the Eastern California Museum and botanic garden in Independence.  The trip leaders (and a few participants) visited the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, which consist of amazing Granite formations.  We then took a detour up the Whitney Portal road, and in a half hour we went from a desert environment to pine forest and waterfalls!

The "narrows" on highway 168

Saturday, July 30, 2011

This Week in CIR

Things typically slow down a bit for CIR in midsummer.  Weed growth slows and planting time at our restoration sites finishes, but several projects still keep us busy:

We continue to make trips to Anacapa Island at least twice a month with volunteers from our email list and with support from corporate partners like Citrix Online.  Check out our Anacapa blog for details:

We started a new project at the Conejo open space near Thousand Oaks.  They have a great volunteer program, and they asked CIR to help with some specialty weed eradication and we also recruited some of our volunteers to help.  We should announce some other volunteer days in the near future.

CIR also began a project at More Mesa in Goleta, as part of the replacement of the large staircase from the mesa top to the beach.  The County of Santa Barbara required that the invasive iceplant and Myoporum trees at the site be replaced by natives, and CIR has been hired to assist with this aspect of the project.

Rein Teen Tours joined us at our San Marcos Foothills and Lake Los Carneros projects last week.  Rein is a tour group, consisting of mostly high school aged kids from the East Coast.  They spend several weeks in California doing many activities, including service work for non-profits.  This is the fourth year CIR has worked with them.

Work continues at the San Marcos Foothills sites.  Although planting is finished for this season, we continue to irrigate our native plantings.  Weeds tend to sprout up where we apply water, so we will still be calling on volunteers for help providing love and care to the great native plants now growing in what used to be weed patches!  Watch your email for announcements about volunteer days.  Starting around November, we will do a second round of planting at both sites in the Foothills.

For more information about this projects or to learn about volunteering, please contact:

More than 25 people came to our presentation on the White Mountains in Ventura earlier this week.  Dr. Tanya Atwater provided a super PowerPoint on the plate tectonic history of Southern California and the geology of the White Mountains.  Ken Owen showed a presentation on "ecological islands" (ecosystems surrounded by unlike ecosystems) like high mountains surrounded by desert.  Twenty eight people have signed up for our White Mountains trip that will start on Thursday.

Friday, July 22, 2011

New CIR White Mountains Video

Our pre-trip meeting for our second White Mountains educational trip is coming up on Tuesday, and we have produced a new video to highlight the best parts of the four day excursion.  We plan to offer the trip to the White Mountains periodically, and the video will serve as a showcase of some of the wonderful educational opportunities that CIR offers.  We are privileged to have Dr. Tanya Atwater and botanist Steve Junak join us on these trips as we highlight the amazing geology and botany of the area.  One big botany feature is the bristlecone pines, the oldest living trees in the world.  Some are almost 5,000 years old.  Follow these links for videos and further info:

CIR White Mountains Video
CIR Video Page
White Mountains Trip Web Page

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Busy Spring for CIR

Channel Islands Restoration has been kept very busy this spring:

We are working with our project partners on two restoration sites on the San Marcos Foothills with funding from the Goleta Valley Land Trust.  We've plant several thousand plants at both locations and made war on some very tenacious invasive weeds.  To see some details on both of the projects (including lots of photos) check out the following links:

San Marcos Foothills Atascadero Creek Restoration Project
San Marcos Foothills Cieneguitas Creek Restoration Project

We finished up the iceplant removal project at Carpinteria State Beach, in partnership with South Coast Habitat Restoration and the Southern California Wetland Recovery Project.  We "solarized" the iceplant (killed it without the use of herbicide) and planting nearly 3000 native plants.  If you have not visited this site at the Mouth of Carpinteria Creek, we highly recommend that you check it out!  For more information including some photos detailing our work, follow this link:

Carpinteria State Beach Iceplant Removal and Native Species Re-vegetation

Our project at the Santa Barbara Zoo along the Andree Clark Bird Refuge has been a wonderful success!  This project is also funded by the Southern California Wetland Recovery Project, and it has involved removing Myoporum trees (and other invasives) and planting of several hundred natives.  We put up some amazing "before and after" photos on our web page which you can check out at this link:

Andree Clark Bird Refuge/ SB Zoo Invasive Plant Eradication and Re-vegetation

CIR continues to work on a major dune restoration project along Harbor Blvd. in Oxnard.  We are working with Arcadis US. on the North Shore/McGrath project, which is large is scope.  We control invasives at the site and have helped install plantings.  We have posted photos of the project here:

McGrath/North Shore Dune and Wetland Restoration

CIR has partnered with Bio Resource Consultants to restore 3.25 acres of habitat, including approximately 2 acres of giant reed (Arundo donax) and 1.25 acres of disturbed southern willow scrub on the Santa Clara River near Santa Paula.  The goal of the project is to create and restore/enhance riparian habitat to increase wildlife diversity, including creation and/or enhancement of southwestern pond turtle habitat.  This project is meant to mitigate impacts of the City's new waste water treatment facility.   Work began in late spring of 2011.

On the islands, CIR took nine elementary school classes to Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands to learn about conservation ecology and to help with invasive plant removal.  We did this with funding from several grant sources and we plan some more trips this fall.  Holy Cross School in Ventura contracted with us to take them on a four day volunteer trip to the Nature Conservancy side of Santa Cruz Island.

We led several volunteer trips for adults to Anacapa Island as part of a program we have with Channel Islands National Park to restore the native plant communities of that island.  The island nursery is now up and running, and volunteers are now helping to grow plants for the project.  Check out some photos of this project here:

East Anacapa Island Restoration Project

CIR is helping the U.S. Navy in a program to eradicate Sahara Mustard on San Nicolas Island.  We would love to provide volunteer trips there in the future, and also to San Clemente island, perhaps as early as this fall.  Stay tuned!!

Some photos of recent trips to San Nicolas and San Clemente can be found here:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Using Facebook

CIR has started a Facebook page, and we are using that (together with our email list) to stay in touch with our volunteers.  Please visit the page for updated on our projects:

Also, we started a photo album to share pictures from recent trips: