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CIR Restoration Work on San Clemente Island Takes Root

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.

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Over 6,000 Volunteer for CIR since 2002

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

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CIR Works with Navy and SDSU on San Clemente Island

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.

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CIR Completes Successful Restoration Trip to San Clemente Island

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: 

https://picasaweb.google.com/112400012955619504088/20111013_SanClemente

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

https://picasaweb.google.com/112400012955619504088/20110407_ClementeEdits

Volunteers enjoy the view during a lunch break

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