Twenty nine Channel Islands Restoration volunteers and staff worked on San Clemente Island in October of 2011 and 2012 in cooperation with the Navy and San Diego State University. We hand-removed non-native iceplant that was surrounding the San Clemente Island lotus (Acmispon dendroideus var. traskiae) a federally listed endangered species. We also removed patches of iceplant from about 50 acres of sensitive habitat of the endemic Island sage sparrow.
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. Many species of native plants sprouted where the iceplant had been removed, including Cryptantha traskiae (a threatened plant in the Borage family).
CIR volunteers take in the view on San Clemente Island
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 trips. The logistics of such trips are almost as daunting as eradicating the iceplant, but the results were well worth the effort. CIR donated most of our staff time for the trips, 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.
Volunteers remove iceplant on San Clemente Island
The groups 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.
CIR volunteers then traveled by van to the western side of the island to begin work. Every volunteer worked hard hand-pulling the iceplant and placing it in large piles. This technique was quite successful at eradicating iceplant with only minimal re-sprouting. The restoration site is 55 acres in size, and the volunteers cleared most of it. At lunch time, island personnel took the volunteers to interesting view spots and even lead the group on a hike featuring endemic plants!
We are very proud of our volunteer trips 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.