CIR Restoration Work on San Clemente Island Takes Root
By Jodi Simpson



CIR staff Kevin Thompson remove fennel from
remote canyons on San Clemente Island.  

Channel Islands Restoration is extremely gratified by the results of work begun three years ago on San Clemente Island. Working with both the Navy and San Diego State University’s Soil Ecology and Restoration Group (SERG), volunteers and staff from CIR traveled three times since October 2012 to San Clemente Island to continue hand-removal of several pernicious non-native plants. CIR not only removed iceplant from approximately 55 acres of sensitive habitat, but also removed fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) from several remote cactus-covered canyons and watershed areas.

The fennel removal is a particularly tricky but exciting aspect of our work on San Clemente.  CIR staff used ropes and specialized climbing gear to rappel down cliffs into canyons that were as much as 100 feet deep.  The plants were located, then eradicated, and any seeds were bagged and

CIR staff Kevin Thompson and Aaron
Echols uses climbing gear and great skill
to remove fennel from remote
canyons on San Clemente Island. 
removed from the canyons.  Volunteers also worked with SERG staff to locate fennel plants in more accessible areas, where staff removed them.

With the removal of these non-native plants has come a wonderful re-emergence of multiple island endemic and endangered plant species, those previously crowded out by the exotics. With iceplant on its way out, we now see native species such as boxthorn (Lycium sp.) beginning to thrive. Boxthorn is an example of an important native plant on San Clemente, as it provides a primary nesting habitat and cover for several threatened and vulnerable fauna including the San Clemente Island sage sparrow (Amphispiza belli clementeae) and the island night lizard (Xantusia riversiana reticulata).

Additional endemic plant species have sprouted where the iceplant was removed, including San Clemente Island lotus (Acmispon dendroideus var. traskiae), Cryptantha traskiae (a threatened plant in the Borage family), and the San Clemente Island evening primrose (Camissoniopsis guadalupensis ssp. clementina.

San Clemente Island is an important Naval base with several hundred duty personnel and civilian workers regularly posted to the island.  The island provides an important auxiliary landing field for the Navy which is used extensively for training.  Navy Seals train on San Clemente, and the southern part of the island is used for ship board gunnery practice. 


San Clemente has 14 plants unique to the island, plus several species of endemic animals. CIR arranges habitat restoration work trips for volunteers and staff of CIR. Funding for this kind of habitat restoration is limited, so CIR donates much of the staff time for the trips.  SERG also reimburses CIR from some of our staff costs, and volunteers pay for their own housing and meals.

CIR volunteers remove iceplant on San Clemente Island
Volunteers first travel 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 are no charge for volunteers.  Once on the island, the group checks in at one of the base guest housing complexes, reminiscent of a Motel 6.   Low-cost meals are provided at the base commissary, and the evening isn’t complete without a visit to “The Salty Crab” for drinks, pool, and swapping stories of life on the island.

The Navy has been so impressed with CIR’s work, particularly in helping to remove invasive non-native plants in areas difficult to access, that they have invited CIR to play an even larger role in native plant and habitat restoration on San Clemente Island in 2014.   CIR will hold an iceplant removal trip to the island at the end of November 2013, and more volunteer trips are planned for the coming years.  These kinds of trips are very rare, so San Clemente Island remains a very sought after volunteer opportunity.  Experienced volunteers have been given priority on the trips that we have held so far.  With our increasing role in the restoration program in 2014, we hope that more opportunities to volunteer on this remote Navy island will be offered to all CIR volunteers.

CIR volunteers remove iceplant on San Clemente Island


CIR staff and volunteers remove iceplant from around the endangered San Clemente Island lotus


San Clemente Island evening primrose sprouting where iceplant was removed by CIR staff and volunteers.