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 our latest trip:

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

Volunteers enjoy the view during a lunch break

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