Over 6,000 Volunteer for CIR since 2002


Volunteers from REI volunteer for CIR on Anacapa Island.
REI is one of several groups that have joined thousands
of other volunteers on CIR projects
Since Channel Islands Restoration regularly started working with volunteers in 2002, a total of 6,273 people have volunteered for our program on nearly fifty projects on the Channel Islands, and at many mainland locations.  At a recent social event held in appreciation of CIR supporters, Executive Director, Ken Owen, reviewed CIR’s history and directly attributed our success to the tremendous support of our volunteers.

CIR has grown from a two-person volunteer operation centered on an invasive tree removal program on Santa Cruz Island, to a full-service environmental restoration and education non-profit organization with ten employees.  We have worked on all eight of the Channel Islands and have projects in dozens of mainland locations, from Orcutt in the north, to San Pedro in the south.


CIR volunteers on Santa Cruz Island in 2002

CIR founders Ken Owen and Duke McPherson met on Santa Cruz Island and quickly realized they shared a passion for the unique native habitat of the Channel Islands.  Before there was a regular habitat restoration program on Santa Cruz, Duke and Ken made quarterly trips to Nature Conservancy property  with the Restoration Club from U.C. Santa Barbara to remove invasive plants, particularly Eucalyptus trees.  Later, Ken joined Duke on his small speed boat to regularly visit the island on multiple volunteer trips that took place over several weekends a month. 

This evolved into a larger program after Ken began recruiting volunteers for the project.  The Nature Conservancy provided equipment, the National Park Service provided boat transportation and the U. C. Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz Island Reserve provided housing and pick-up trucks to help facilitate the volunteer work.  Near the end of 2002, Kate Symonds with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service arranged for grant funding for the project.  Duke and Ken initially formed CIR as a partnership, and it was at this time that the Santa Cruz Island project had become a professional operation.   Ken provided volunteer coordination and trip logistics, and Duke contributed his many skills as an arborist and professional contractor.

CIR volunteers on Santa Cruz Island in 2002
Although the program had expanded into regular monthly trips with large volunteer groups and grant funding, CIR was still very much the “Duke and Ken Show,” as some people began calling it.  It would be several years before CIR needed to hire employees, because Duke and Ken could rely on the help of hundreds of volunteers a year.  This made for a very economical operation, and the grant funding that was supposed to pay for twelve trips, lasting just a year, actually paid for almost double that.

In 2005, the first of many school groups began working with CIR on Santa Cruz Island.  That same year, David Chang from the County of Santa Barbara, hired CIR to work on two important invasive plant removal projects.  One was on Santa Rosa Island, where CIR led volunteer groups surveying for, and removing a thistle listed as a “noxious weed” by the State of California.  This multi-year project marked the first time CIR worked outside of Santa Cruz Island.  In later years, CIR led volunteers to plant natives on Santa Rosa and to install fencing around sensitive plants to protect them from grazing by non-native deer and elk.  Recently, CIR has been removing this fencing now that the non-native animals are gone.  We also work in the island nursery, and we continue to plant natives.

With funding arranged by David Chang, CIR began a large project to supervise the removal of giant reed (“Arundo”) from three miles of the Carpinteria Creek watershed with the California Conservation Corps.  This was the first time that CIR was hired to work on a mainland project. 

In 2007, CIR was hired by the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County to remove Arundo from the Refugio Creek watershed.  The following year, CIR hired employees to help with that project, including Kevin Thompson, who later became the CIR Operations Manager.  The Arundo removal at the Carpinteria and Refugio watersheds (plus others that followed) were large-scale projects requiring equipment, paid personnel and expertise.  CIR continued to work with hundreds of volunteers each year, on projects elsewhere, but the Arundo projects were not suited to volunteers.

Oak Grove School volunteering with CIR
on Santa Cruz Island 2006
Also in 2007, CIR began taking volunteer school groups to Anacapa and East Santa Cruz Islands in partnership with the “Once Upon a Watershed” program in Ojai.  The school program (later funded solely by grants raised by CIR) targeted fourth and fifth graders from schools in low income areas.  The funding paid for the cost of bus and boat transportation, plus CIR personnel to lead the trips and to lead the volunteer work.  Most of the kids had never been on a boat, or seen marine mammals or even visited a National Park, and they did all of these things on these school trips.  Since the inception of the CIR school program, 2,137 students, accompanied by 368 adults have worked with CIR on the Channel Islands!

Around the same time, CIR held its first volunteer trip to work with the U.S. Navy on San Nicolas Island.  We took a small volunteer group to the island to remove non-native plants.  In the last two years CIR has built a nursery on the island, grown and installed native plants, and has expanded the invasive plant removal in cooperation with the Navy.

In 2008, David Chang helped CIR raise additional funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for expanded work on Santa Cruz Island.  The grant funded projects in more than twenty locations on the island and included specialized work with endangered plant species.

In 2010, CIR held our first natural history tours.  These trips, which were purely educational in nature and did not include restoration work, were immediately popular and successful.  We started with a trip to Death Valley National Park and then to the White Mountains of eastern California.  Geologist Tanya Atwater and Botanist, Steve Junak have been leading CIR trips to these locations and to other amazing locations ever since.


CIR personnel construct Anacapa Nursery 2010

That same year, CIR partnered with Channel Islands National Park (NPS) on an iceplant eradication project on East Anacapa Island.  CIR worked with the NPS to build a native plant nursery on the Island, with initial funding from the Ventura Patagonia store and from CIR Board members.  Gordon Hart (of the CIR Board) led the construction project with help from other CIR volunteers and NPS staff.  Additional funding (arranged by NPS Restoration Ecologist Sarah Chaney) enabled the nursery to be completed.

The following year, NPS received three years of funding (from highly-competitive NPS restoration project grants) and entered into a Cooperative Agreement with CIR under which CIR provided skilled staff and experienced volunteer leadership in support of  iceplant eradication and restoration of native vegetation on the island.  CIR recruited large numbers of volunteers from the general public, and also worked with established groups of volunteers recruited by NPS from local high schools.  Regular CIR volunteer trips began on Wednesdays, the normal NPS transportation day for Anacapa.  The ongoing work on the iceplant, plus the growing and installing of plants continues.


CIR removing iceplant on San Clemente Island 2011
CIR began working with the U.S. Navy on San Clemente Island in 2011.  On our first trip, twenty volunteers spent five days pulling iceplant from sensitive habitat on the island.  We removed hundreds of patches of iceplant over forty acres, which highly impressed the personnel we were working with from the U.S. Navy and San Diego State University.  Since then, CIR has returned to the island to remove iceplant and other invasive plants.  We remove some of these invasive plants where they are smothering endangered plant species.  CIR staff have also used climbing gear to rappel down steep canyons to remove invasive plants in very remote sections of the island.  We plan to increase our work on San Clemente Island in 2014 and beyond.

Also in 2011, CIR started working on three important invasive removal and planting projects on the mainland.  One was at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve (at two different sites) with funding from the Goleta Valley Land Trust and the San Marcos Foothills Coalition (SMFC).  We planted several thousand native plants at the sites, and we continue to work on this project with our volunteers.  On one workday, more than 150 people from several outdoor companies volunteered at the Preserve for CIR.  Last year we received grants from Patagonia and REI to work in other sections of the Foothills.  Recently CIR has started developing a docent program for the Foothills in partnership with the SMFC.  By Spring we will be training volunteers to lead hikes at the Foothills that will highlight the ecology and history of this important open space.

Before and after views of a portion of the CIR restoration site at the Santa Barbara Zoo:
LEFT: invasives like cape ivy, Myoporum and nasturtium block the view of the Andree Clark Bird Refuge
Middle: the same view after the invasives have been removed and soon after native plantings installed
Right: A year after restoration; native plants have matured

Another of the mainland projects CIR started in 2011 was along the Andree Clark Bird Refuge at the Santa Barbara Zoo.  CIR removed many dozens of invasive trees that were crowding out native habitat along the refuge, which is an important bird nesting area.  We also planted several thousand native plants.  This ended up being one our most popular volunteer projects, since it is a beautiful place to work and participants were offered free admission to the Zoo after volunteering.  On one Saturday, over 100 people volunteered!

The third mainland project started in 2011 was along the Santa Clara River near Santa Paula.  Working with BioResource Consultants, CIR removed Arundo from about five acres in breeding habitat for several threatened and endangered species.  We also installed native plants, spread seed and installed a large irrigation system.  CIR has removed Arundo from several locations on the Santa Clara River, but this is the largest site we have worked on there.

In 2012 and 2013, CIR continued work on many of the projects discussed above and on many others.  We held our first large volunteer trip to Catalina Island, and we plan more trips there in the coming years.  In 2014 we look forward to improving our outreach to our many friends who support CIR behind the scenes.   This article is based on a PowerPoint presentation shown to our supporters at a recent “CIR Social” designed to thank those who help CIR financially.  We present it here, so that the many thousands of people who have volunteered for CIR can also appreciate the journey we have all taken together since Duke and Ken started removing invasive trees on Santa Cruz Island, nearly thirteen years ago.

CIR mainland projects, from Orcutt in the north to San Pedro in the south