Wednesday, December 9, 2015

CIR Stewardship of the San Marcos Foothills

Volunteers pose at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve
following a day of invasive plant removal near
a natural freshwater spring.

In addition to maintaining our current restoration projects and planning new ones for the years ahead, CIR adopted a more active stewardship role for the San Marcos Foothills Preserve. In 2015, we now provide educational programs and have produced materials that educate visitors about protecting wildlife while we all enjoy the 210-acre Preserve, located between Santa Barbara and Goleta.

This year CIR organized three educational walks at the Preserve, including two bird watching events with biologist Mark Holmgren and a plant walk with Ken Owen.  All of these events were popular and were attended by nearly 60 people.  CIR also created a web guide to the Preserve that highlights the plant and animal life, geology and history and more.  We continue to develop a docent program for the Preserve, which will train volunteers to lead educational walks.

Biologist Mark Holmgren leads a CIR bird
watching walk at the Preserve.
As CIR takes on new responsibilities at the Preserve, we’re mindful of our previous successes there.  Since 2010, CIR has partnered with several non-profit organizations, businesses and County government to restore portions of the Preserve.  Our restoration sites along Cieneguitas and Atascadero Creeks have been spectacular successes.

Even during this dry year, in the middle of the worst drought in history, many of our plants continue to bloom well into autumn.  The sites attract butterflies that feed on nectar from the flowers, and they attract birds that collect seeds and insects from the plants.   In a generally dry and brown landscape, our restoration sites are some of the only green spots in the Foothills.  The success of the restoration sites is due to our dedicated staff and the help of more than 1,000 people who have volunteered with CIR at the San Marcos Foothills since we began our work.  

Common buckeye butterfly collecting nectar on California
buckwheat plants installed by Channel Islands
Restoration at the San Marcos Foothills
Thanks to a grant from outdoor retailer REI this year, CIR also removed invasive plants along trails and at a freshwater spring, where several species of wetland plants grow.  The REI grant paid for the cost of a staff person to lead the 16 volunteer days and for the cost of recruiting the 278 volunteers who participated.  Thanks to REI and to the Volunteers!

REI Funds Restoration Trips to Anacapa Island

A young volunteer plants cactus!
For the third year in a row, outdoor retailer REI has supported the Anacapa restoration project by providing a grant to CIR for native plant installation on the island.  The funds were granted to Channel Islands Restoration, which works in partnership with the National Park Service on the project.  Over the course of six trips, 30 volunteers planted several hundred plants including sage brush alkali rye grass and coastal prickly pear cactus. 

CIR Volunteer, Doreen Jones, keeping the Anacapa Island
nursery plants happy.
The volunteers who helped on these trips were all associated with local conservation groups or were employees or members of the local REI stores.  Participating groups includes Santa Barbara Audubon Society,  Ventura Surfrider Foundation and the Santa Barbara Zoo. 

 Most of the trips were led by Kelle Green, the CIR nursery manager and all around NPS volunteer.  The groups worked hard, and also had an opportunity to take a short walk on the island following the restoration work.  CIR thanks all the volunteers and REI for making these trips possible!

Volunteers from the Santa Barbara Zoo plant natives near the historic lighthouse.

Upcoming Volunteer Trips to San Nicolas Island

CIR volunteers maintaining the native plantings
that were installed early this year.
CIR, in partnership with the U.S. Navy, has two upcoming multi-day planting trips to San Nicolas Island in January 2016.  CIR will be recruiting a select number of volunteers for the chance to visit the most remote of the Channel Islands, and the hardest for civilians to visit!

The goals for the two restoration trips will be to install 1,000 native plants (which includes two dune species) and replenish the island with native and island-endemic vegetation.  CIR collected seeds on-island and grew the plants in the island nursery that was rebuilt by CIR staff and volunteers in 2012.  CIR nursery manager Kelle Green and volunteers has been tending the native plants in the nursery, and they are almost ready to be planted.  One of the dune species is Beach spectaclepod (Dithyrea maritima) a California rare and threatened species. 

Plants growing at the San Nicolas Island nursery including
needle grass, box thorn, and cactus.
Volunteers fly out of Point Mugu Naval Air Station to the island where they will stay in motel housing while working on this important restoration project.  Each volunteer will pay for their own single-occupancy room ($68 per night). Because of holiday flight schedules, the trips are  five and six days in length.  This allows more time for volunteers to enjoy an extraordinary experience and beautiful island views.  CIR staff and volunteers will be kept very busy planting and caring for these precious island plants in the coming months.  Watch for the upcoming volunteer announcements!

Upcoming Volunteer Planting Trips:
Thursday, January 14 – Tuesday, January 19  
 Friday, January 22 – Tuesday, January 26

Monday, December 7, 2015

Conserving the "Cloud Forest" on Santa Rosa Island

CIR staff installing organic-fiber wattles around groves on Santa Rosa Island.
Outstanding efforts were made this fall by CIR staff and volunteers, partnered with Channel Islands National Park, to begin restoring the unique “Cloud Forest” of Santa Rosa Island! CIR coordinated seven restoration trips to Santa Rosa Island, and 50 volunteers contributed their hard work and diligence to assist on this important restoration project.
The project goals are to slow erosion on the island and replace the lost fog-water-harvesting vegetation, such as the rare island oak trees. During the volunteer trips, erosion control devises were built and installed in areas on the island that have been severely impacted by the overgrazing of non-native species.  Volunteers sorted, loaded and transported multiple stake bed truckloads of wood to the restoration sites that were used in the construction of check dams and silt fences in eroded gullies.  Volunteers pounded in rebar and posts as structural support for the dams and material silt fences. Organic-fiber wattles and rock bags were filled and assembled, transported, and installed on the island’s ridges and around groves. Staff and volunteers put in long but satisfying hours, knowing they were assisting in a unique and vital restoration project, and enjoying  the spectacular island setting and work group comradery.

Volunteers construct check dams and silt fences in eroded gullies.
Even CIR volunteers on the mainland assisted with the “Cloud Forest” project!  Channel Islands National Park hosted two volunteer events in October and November to help assemble and roll wattles to be installed on Santa Rosa Island during the volunteer trips.  Kathryn McEachern, Research Plant Ecologist from the U.S. Geological Survey, who led the volunteer events wrote, “Thanks to everybody who helped roll erosion control wattles for the Santa Rosa Island Cloud Forest Restoration project, on October 31 and November 14!  About 50 folks helped (some came twice!), and we made about 150 20-foot long wattles in a little under 7 hours of work over the two weekends.  Those made on Halloween are already at work on the slope above the ancient oaks at the Soledad Ridge on Santa Rosa Island.”
Volunteers excited to start restoration on Santa Rosa Island.
Funding for these restoration trips was provided by a grant through the National Park Service, which covered boat transportation through the NPS boat and Island Packers, and lodging at the Santa Rosa Island Research Station operated by CSU Channel Islands.  CIR has been grateful to work with so many amazing volunteers and organizations to help restore the natural environment of Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park.