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San Marcos Foothills

Volunteers Help Restore Native Grasslands

Volunteers Help Restore Native Grasslands

Early Sunday morning, a group of motivated volunteers met up at the trailhead of San Marcos Foothills to help restore the native habitat. The group spent around three hours pulling out the invasive weeds surrounding the native plants on the Preserve.

Restoration at the San Marcos Foothills

Restoration at the San Marcos Foothills

The San Marcos Foothills experienced an exceptionally hot and dry summer along with the rest of the region and we were concerned about the survival of the native seedlings we had just planted. Luckily, with some watering throughout the season, they survived it. Now, after the January rain, invasive plants are surging up from billions of dormant seeds. Our native plants received a head start from irrigation during the summer, but winter can be a critical time for young plants, because they can become overwhelmed by fast-growing non-native annual grasses and other weeds that compete for soil moisture and sun. 


CIR Hosts the Backyard Collective at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve

On April 15th, local members of the Conservation Alliance - All Good, Clif Bar, Deckers, Patagonia, REI, Toad&Co - helped CIR at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve. With more than 100 volunteers in attendance, it took less than a few hours to remove 10,000 square feet of invasives such as black mustard, cheese weed, and fennel and replace them with 362 native plants - some of which were supplied by SB Natives purchased with funding from Santa Barbara County - and some of which were proudly grown by volunteers in our own Camarillo nursery. The Backyard Collective has volunteered with CIR every other year for the past 6 years (on off years they volunteer their time in Ventura with our friends, the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy).

Their work in the San Marcos Foothills, along with each and every one of our volunteers that have dedicated their time in the area, has made a profound impact on this hidden tract of open space in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Since 2010, CIR has partnered with several non-profit organizations, businesses and County Parks to restore portions of the Preserve. Our restoration sites along Cieneguitas and Atascadero Creeks have been spectacular successes. In a time of drought when the hills are sunbaked golden and the annual invasives have died off, the perennial native plants we put in the ground have remained green and steadfast. These native plants continue to provide critical habitat to the native species of 130 birds, 49 mammals, 20 reptiles, six amphibians, and countless invertebrates. The sites attract butterflies that feed on nectar from the flowers, and they attract birds that collect seeds and insects from the plants. The success of the restoration sites is due to our dedicated staff and the help of more than 1,500 people who have volunteered with CIR at the San Marcos Foothills since we began our work.



CIR Stewardship of the San Marcos Foothills

Volunteers pose at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve

following a day of invasive plant removal near

a natural freshwater spring.

In addition to maintaining our current restoration projects and planning new ones for the years ahead, CIR adopted a more active stewardship role for the San Marcos Foothills Preserve. In 2015, we now provide educational programs and have produced materials that educate visitors about protecting wildlife while we all enjoy the 210-acre Preserve, located between Santa Barbara and Goleta.

This year CIR organized three educational walks at the Preserve, including two bird watching events with biologist Mark Holmgren and a plant walk with Ken Owen.

All of these events were popular and were attended by nearly 60 people.

CIR also created a web guide to the Preserve that highlights the plant and animal life, geology and history and more.

We continue to develop a docent program for the Preserve, which will train volunteers to lead educational walks.

Biologist Mark Holmgren leads a CIR bird

watching walk at the Preserve.

As CIR takes on new responsibilities at the Preserve, we’re mindful of our previous successes there.

Since 2010, CIR has partnered with several non-profit organizations, businesses and County government to restore portions of the Preserve.

Our restoration sites along Cieneguitas and Atascadero Creeks have been spectacular successes.

Even during this dry year, in the middle of the worst drought in history, many of our plants continue to bloom well into autumn.

The sites attract butterflies that feed on nectar from the flowers, and they attract birds that collect seeds and insects from the plants.

In a generally dry and brown landscape, our restoration sites are some of the only green spots in the Foothills.

The success of the restoration sites is due to our dedicated staff and the help of more than 1,000 people who have volunteered with CIR at the San Marcos Foothills since we began our work.

Common buckeye butterfly collecting nectar on California

buckwheat plants installed by Channel Islands

Restoration at the San Marcos Foothills


Thanks to a grant from outdoor retailer REI this year, CIR also removed invasive plants along trails and at a freshwater spring, where several species of wetland plants grow.

The REI grant paid for the cost of a staff person to lead the 16 volunteer days and for the cost of recruiting the 278 volunteers who participated.

Thanks to REI and to the Volunteers!



San Marcos Foothills Preserve Keeping CIR Busy!

Plantings at Cieneguitas Creek.

Since 2010, in partnership with the San Marcos Foothills Coalition and the County of Santa Barbara, CIR has been proud to work on several restoration projects at the 200-acre San Marcos Foothills Preserve in Santa Barbara, one of the most ecologically significant open public spaces in the county.

The Preserve is located in the foothills between Santa Barbara and Goleta, and is a County open space.

Funding in recent years for these projects was provided by REI and the San Marcos Foothills Coalition.

These projects were designed to improve the native plant communities that provide resources to the native animal species, as well as enhance the public experience along trails.

Volunteers at the Spring near the Antone Road entrance.

In the last six months at the Preserve, CIR has held 12 volunteer events and over 250 volunteers have donated their time and energy on this public trail enhancement project.

CIR staff, board members, and volunteers have removed several invasive plant species at the Spring, a natural fresh water source, and at restoration sites along Atascadero and Cieneguitas Creeks.

Over 50 native Purple Needlegrass plants have also been planted by CIR and volunteers by the Preserve trailhead at Via Gaitero Road.

Four UC Santa Barbara organizations: Alpha Phi Omega Psi Chapter, Wildlife Society, Naked Voices, and the Hermanas Unidas brought groups of energetic and diligent students to battle these non-native plants.

Groups from Stanford Alumni, the SB Rotaract Club, San Marcos High School AAPLE Program, and SB School of Squash have also joined in restoring this beautiful Preserve.

REI provided free REI Stewardship 2015 t-shirts and REI store coupons to volunteers who participated in these habitat restoration events.

In the near future, we will be spreading mulch in preparation for winter rains.

Lupinus succulentus (Arroyo lupine) at the Preserve.

CIR has also held 3 educational tours since January.

Biologist Mark Holmgren led two bird walks in January and February of 2015, and gave participants an opportunity to view resident and migratory birds and other wildlife, and how they use the land we are working to preserve.

CIR’s Executive Director Ken Owen led a plant walk in March of 2015, and participants experienced the many plant species of California native wildflowers in bloom.

Wayne Ferren, CIR’s Principal Ecologist, also led a walk for the California Naturalist program in November of 2014.

These fun educational tours were offered free as a part of a developing docent program, and CIR hopes to offer more educational walks in the future!

Upcoming volunteer opportunities at the San Marcos Foothills

Preserve from 9AM—12:30PM:

Saturday, August 22


Saturday, September 26

Volunteers pose at the Via Gaitero Road entrance.



CIR Teams with Local Companies to Restore Mainland and Island Sites

Employees from outdoor corporations volunteer for

CIR at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve

More than 150 people from six local companies volunteered for Channel Islands Restoration on a single day in April at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve.

Taking part in an annual corporate volunteer day, employees from Deckers, Patagonia, REI, Horny Toad, Vapur and Channel Islands Outfitters planted natives and pulled weeds at the Preserve located between Santa Barbara and Goleta.

CIR is promoting partnerships with local companies, particularly those with an outdoor focus, to raise money for restoration projects and to recruit volunteers.

Employees from many of these same companies, plus Amgen and Citrix Online, have also volunteered for CIR on many island trips.

All of these companies encourage their employees to volunteer, and some even pay their employee’s wages while volunteering.

In addition to volunteer help, Patagonia, REI (Santa Barbara store and the new Oxnard store) and Citrix Online have all contributed grant funding to CIR.

This funding will support a new project in the San Marcos Foothills, help pay for school field trips to the Channel Islands and more.

With public sector budgets continuing to tighten, CIR seeks to diversify our funding base, and we are very grateful for the support of our corporate partners.



CIR Teams with Local Companies to Restore Mainland Sites

Restoration plantings installed by CIR volunteers

at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve

CIR will start a third restoration project in December at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve, an open space located between Santa Barbara and Goleta.

Funding for the project will be provided by the REI Santa Barbara store, the Ventura Patagonia store and the San Marcos Foothills Coalition.

We will focus on removing invasive plants along in the most sensitive habitats, and we will plant several species of natives at the main entrance to the Preserve.

This project will rely heavily on the support of volunteers!

The San Marcos Foothills is one of the most ecologically valuable sites on the South Coast, with hundreds of acres of grasslands, oak woodlands, and permanently flowing creeks.

There are nearly 50 mammals found and the Preserve and 126 bird species.

The Preserve has miles of hiking trails that provide spectacular 360 degree views of Santa Barbara, Goleta, and the Santa Barbara Channel.

For the last three years CIR has been working with project partners and volunteers to restore habitat along Atascadero and Cieneguitas on the Preserve.

We will be doing some additional planting at those sites as well, so there is ample opportunity for the public to get involved in these highly successful restoration projects.



This Week in CIR

Things typically slow down a bit for CIR in midsummer.  Weed growth slows and planting time at our restoration sites finishes, but several projects still keep us busy:

We continue to make trips to Anacapa Island at least twice a month with volunteers from our email list and with support from corporate partners like Citrix Online.  Check out our Anacapa blog for details:

We started a new project at the Conejo open space near Thousand Oaks.  They have a great volunteer program, and they asked CIR to help with some specialty weed eradication and we also recruited some of our volunteers to help.  We should announce some other volunteer days in the near future.

CIR also began a project at More Mesa in Goleta, as part of the replacement of the large staircase from the mesa top to the beach.  The County of Santa Barbara required that the invasive iceplant and Myoporum trees at the site be replaced by natives, and CIR has been hired to assist with this aspect of the project.

Rein Teen Tours joined us at our San Marcos Foothills and Lake Los Carneros projects last week.  Rein is a tour group, consisting of mostly high school aged kids from the East Coast.  They spend several weeks in California doing many activities, including service work for non-profits.  This is the fourth year CIR has worked with them.

Work continues at the San Marcos Foothills sites.  Although planting is finished for this season, we continue to irrigate our native plantings.  Weeds tend to sprout up where we apply water, so we will still be calling on volunteers for help providing love and care to the great native plants now growing in what used to be weed patches!  Watch your email for announcements about volunteer days.  Starting around November, we will do a second round of planting at both sites in the Foothills.

For more information about this projects or to learn about volunteering, please contact:

More than 25 people came to our presentation on the White Mountains in Ventura earlier this week.  Dr. Tanya Atwater provided a super PowerPoint on the plate tectonic history of Southern California and the geology of the White Mountains.  Ken Owen showed a presentation on "ecological islands" (ecosystems surrounded by unlike ecosystems) like high mountains surrounded by desert.  Twenty eight people have signed up for our White Mountains trip that will start on Thursday.



Busy Spring for CIR

Channel Islands Restoration has been kept very busy this spring:


We are working with our project partners on two restoration sites on the San Marcos Foothills with funding from the Goleta Valley Land Trust.  We've plant several thousand plants at both locations and made war on some very tenacious invasive weeds.  To see some details on both of the projects (including lots of photos) check out the following links:

San Marcos Foothills Atascadero Creek Restoration Project

San Marcos Foothills Cieneguitas Creek Restoration Project

We finished up the iceplant removal project at Carpinteria State Beach, in partnership with South Coast Habitat Restoration and the Southern California Wetland Recovery Project.  We "solarized" the iceplant (killed it without the use of herbicide) and planting nearly 3000 native plants.  If you have not visited this site at the Mouth of Carpinteria Creek, we highly recommend that you check it out!  For more information including some photos detailing our work, follow this link:

Carpinteria State Beach Iceplant Removal and Native Species Re-vegetation

Our project at the Santa Barbara Zoo along the Andree Clark Bird Refuge has been a wonderful success!  This project is also funded by the Southern California Wetland Recovery Project, and it has involved removing Myoporum trees (and other invasives) and planting of several hundred natives.  We put up some amazing "before and after" photos on our web page which you can check out at this link:

Andree Clark Bird Refuge/ SB Zoo Invasive Plant Eradication and Re-vegetation

CIR continues to work on a major dune restoration project along Harbor Blvd. in Oxnard.  We are working with Arcadis US. on the North Shore/McGrath project, which is large is scope.  We control invasives at the site and have helped install plantings.  We have posted photos of the project here:

McGrath/North Shore Dune and Wetland Restoration

CIR has partnered with Bio Resource Consultants to restore 3.25 acres of habitat, including approximately 2 acres of giant reed (

Arundo donax)

and 1.25 acres of disturbed southern willow scrub on the Santa Clara River near Santa Paula.  The goal of the project is to create and restore/enhance riparian habitat to increase wildlife diversity, including creation and/or enhancement of southwestern pond turtle habitat.  This project is meant to mitigate impacts of the City's new waste water treatment facility.   Work began in late spring of 2011.


On the islands, CIR took nine elementary school classes to Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands to learn about conservation ecology and to help with invasive plant removal.  We did this with funding from several grant sources and we plan some more trips this fall.  Holy Cross School in Ventura contracted with us to take them on a four day volunteer trip to the Nature Conservancy side of Santa Cruz Island.

We led several volunteer trips for adults to Anacapa Island as part of a program we have with Channel Islands National Park to restore the native plant communities of that island.  The island nursery is now up and running, and volunteers are now helping to grow plants for the project.  Check out some photos of this project here:

East Anacapa Island Restoration Project

CIR is helping the U.S. Navy in a program to eradicate Sahara Mustard on San Nicolas Island.  We would love to provide volunteer trips there in the future, and also to San Clemente island, perhaps as early as this fall.  Stay tuned!!

Some photos of recent trips to San Nicolas and San Clemente can be found here: