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Friday, May 30, 2014

It’s “Gull Season” on Anacapa!



The month of May finds Western gulls busy incubating eggs in their nests dotted all over Anacapa—nests that the parents fiercely defend in the presence of island visitors.  Because working around nesting gulls in their native habitat is extremely disruptive to the birds, CIR volunteers are taking a pause from the Anacapa restoration project so that this seasonal rite of passage can play out.  Work will resume in late summer after the new generation of chicks go from egg, to hatchling, to fledgling!  Before gulls began sitting on nests, CIR accomplished a succession of self-funded volunteer group trips this spring.  Utilizing Island Packers for transportation, volunteers helped cover their trip costs for the opportunity to be of service.
These volunteer groups included students from the UCSB Community Affairs Board (CAB) and a group of corporate employees from Teradyne, Inc. of Agoura Hills.  We also worked with a student group from California Lutheran University.  Their trip was preceded by classroom presentations given by CIR Executive Director, Ken Owen, who visited two ethics classes at their Thousand Oaks campus.  Ken offered his beautifully illustrated PowerPoint slideshow and a talk featuring the ethics of removing invasive species—a sensitive topic.  Both classes were fully engaged and inspired to volunteer.  Following each volunteer group this spring, the CIR Administrative office thoroughly enjoyed receiving volunteer trip reports filled with positive feedback about island experiences, and the personal satisfaction achieved in restoring Anacapa!

Despite this year’s drought, seedlings did pop up all across Anacapa, with iceplant sprouting amongst natives, and plant identification became a job for skilled volunteers.  With much of the mature iceplant already removed, some aspects of the restoration project are now requiring more detail-oriented work and are best suited to volunteers with more experience.  A select few were enlisted to help NPS Restoration Ecologist, Sarah Chaney, as members of the newly designated “Anacapa Field Team.”  This is a group of experienced, specially-trained volunteers to tackle sensitive restoration tasks and oversee the volunteer groups that visited the island this spring.

CIR continues to partner with NPS, and to help accomplish restoration goals, we’ve written and have been awarded grant funding from the UCSB CAB Foundation and REI, the outdoor company.  With this backing, we will coordinate a series of volunteer group trips after gull season for these organizations.  CIR will also begin planning trips that will extend opportunities to experienced volunteers as well as new volunteers who wish to participate on the Anacapa Island restoration project.  Weekend trip dates will be available, and with a reasonable fee to help offset trip costs, these self-funded outings will offer individuals the chance to volunteer on Anacapa—now a rare opportunity! The Park’s intention to declare Anacapa “iceplant free by 2016,” is clearly manifesting, with so much of it already gone, and the revegetation of native plants so fruitful.  Under the guidance of Sarah Chaney, the project has progressed and relies on her continual assessments to ensure that no harm is done in the recovery process of native plants. The evolution of this project is indicative of its success, as the alien red-flowered iceplant from South Africa is no longer the clear and obvious threat it once was to the island’s native plant communities.  Overall, the Anacapa project has triumphed, due to the diligence of NPS staff, the contributions of CIR, and the many years of service provided by thousands of volunteer hands. 



Monday, February 24, 2014

Anacapa in the New Year: 2014 Changes and Challenges





Since last summer, in the wake of a tragic accident, the number of volunteers who can be accommodated on the National Park Service boats has been greatly reduced, for safety. These volunteers generally need to have had some previous experience boarding and debarking small boats, and must be able to demonstrate the motor skills, balance and physical confidence needed to do this safely.  As a result of the reduction in passenger capacity, CIR’s volunteer program on Anacapa has needed to transition to smaller groups and less-frequent trips, with priority given to experienced volunteers.  We are planning to offer alternate transportation options to accommodate more volunteers in the future.


After three years of concerted effort, restoration and recovery of East Anacapa Island has progressed very well, in spite of the continuing drought.  There are no more acres of dense iceplant to pull and haul away!  Instead, we are now doing more specialized work, concentrating on eradicating multitudes of small iceplant seedlings, while also observing and sparing seedlings of native plants emerging from carpets of dead iceplant. We continue to produce native plants in the island nursery, and plant them in place of iceplant, limited only, again, by lack of water.  From November 2012-October 2013, we planted over 11,000 plants!  So far, our nursery production has focused primarily on native plants that grow quickly to produce cover, and that tolerate exposed, salty conditions.  Now we are able to add nectar and larval food plants to the palette, as we broaden our restoration goals to re-establish natural habitat structure and food webs. 

On December 8th, CIR volunteers from REI spent a day helping with the Anacapa restoration project.  Employees from both the Santa Barbara and Oxnard stores put nearly 300 plants in the ground!  Their trip was, surprisingly, CIR’s only Anacapa volunteer trip throughout December into January, as adverse marine conditions, park operations, and the holiday season precluded additional trips.  To prepare for their arrival, CIR field staff Aaron Echols and volunteer John Reyes worked on Anacapa for several days, joined briefly by volunteer work leader, Mike Buratti.  Together they planted, watered, and repaired damage to the shade house, caused by high winds.  Aaron and John continued by scouting areas for additional plantings, and auguring and staking hundreds of holes to facilitate the volunteer planting day.


California brown pelicans nesting on Anacapa Island
(Photo taken by permission, by a monitoring biologist)
Aaron remains heavily involved in the island’s habitat restoration.  He directs volunteer field leaders, and oversees occasional NPS volunteer groups.  He keeps the irrigation system maintained and operational, makes repairs, assembles shade screens, and continues to keep invasive species at bay.  In late January, Aaron even discovered a new weed species Urtica urens on the North side of the Anacapa lighthouse trail, taking a herbarium sample for the Park’s assessment.

Meanwhile, CIR’s volunteer trips to Anacapa on the park boat resumed in February.  In 2014, we will now recruit handfuls of experienced volunteers for the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month.  Additionally, CIR has received numerous trip requests from volunteer groups.  There are already a few calendared this Spring, with a few more in the works!  Student groups, Rotary groups, and corporate groups are all interested in helping to restore Anacapa, and volunteer trips are being planned with Island Packers transportation.

CIR also plans to offer Anacapa restoration trips on Island Packers!  While involving a trip fee, these trips would be open to our ever-growing volunteer list, and they would occur on weekends—something our volunteers have been requesting for years!  Weekend trips would allow more volunteers the opportunity to experience the satisfaction and fulfillment in helping restore Anacapa’s precious, unique natural habitat.



Saturday, November 23, 2013

CIR Continues to Conserve Anacapa Island – Planting, Weeding, Watering!



CIR Continues to Conserve Anacapa
Island – Planting, Weeding, Watering!
By Linda Benedik

2013 was another busy year of habitat restoration on Anacapa Island!  As in prior years, CIR volunteer workdays typically occurred on Wednesdays, when Channel Islands National Park (NPS) regularly transports supplies and personnel to the island and provides volunteers with round-trip transportation.  CIR administrative staff recruits individuals and groups for the workdays, and then meets volunteers before departure at the Channel Islands National Park (NPS) headquarters to ensure paperwork is complete, and that everyone is prepared for boarding the park boat.

In late Summer, NPS initiated a pre-requisite briefing presented by Park Superintendent, Russell Galipeau, who discusses the purpose of self-assessment, and encourages volunteers to avoid “normalizing risk.”  This presentation is being produced by NPS into an instructional video that volunteers will be required to view before travel on the park boat. NPS boat captains continue to brief volunteers on the day’s marine conditions and to give a comprehensive safety orientation for park boat travel.  Once volunteers arrive on the island, their workday is led by CIR field staff and/or NPS personnel, assisted by volunteer work leaders, who are specially-trained to oversee the activities of less experienced volunteers.

CIR provides a great deal of staff time to the Anacapa Project, both administratively with behind-the-scenes volunteer coordination, and out in the field with management of volunteers and their activities.  A familiar face on Anacapa is that of CIR field staff, Aaron Echols.  This year, Aaron’s work on the island has revolved around invasive plant treatment, preparing planting sites, and working with volunteers to install and care for nursery-grown native plants.
Before volunteers arrive on the scene, Aaron locates areas of high iceplant (Malephora crocea) resurgence and seedling recruitment for removal. Other species of high concern that occasionally require his attention are: Cretan Lavatera, Crystalline Iceplant, and Small-flowered iceplant.  Recently, a soil penetrant called “EZ-Wet” has been added to the planting water to enhance initial watering of the new plants, and a product called “Cloud Cover” has been applied to new plantings to reduce transpiration water loss in the first critical period after planting.

Aaron manages the island’s rudimentary but effective irrigation system to facilitate watering of remote plantings.    The system comprises a network of ¾ inch plastic tubing, plus strategically-located 55 gallon water storage drums along the lines.  Installation of the water distribution system replaced backpacking of water, and is easily extended to additional areas as plantings are expanded.
Tending to the island’s nursery is also part of the regular maintenance Aaron provides.  His work ranges from patching holes in the netting cover to prevent pesky sparrows from entering, to pricking out seedlings from flats to containers, transplanting plants to larger pots, organizing supplies and maintaining the nursery watering system.

In preparation for the arrival of volunteer groups, which have included CIR volunteers, as well as high school groups, Aaron can be found “scalping” through dead iceplant thatch, using a power weed trimmer, digging planting holes with a gas-powered soil auger, filling water storage drums, and bringing plants and tools to the worksites.  Once volunteers arrive, Aaron provides an orientation and offers instruction while supervising their activities – weeding, planting, watering – until he waves goodbye as they depart the island.  Aaron has worked with multiple volunteer groups on the same day, and may supervise several consecutive days of volunteers on the island. He is truly an asset to the various volunteer programs engaged on the island, and to the restoration of Anacapa’s natural habitat.
Ventura County Master Gardener, Kelle Green reveals that, in the past year, a total of 25,000 native plants were grown in the island’s nursery, which was constructed by CIR and the NPS in 2010. The volunteer nursery crew grows all the plants used in island restoration from seed collected on the island. As planting season resumed in late Fall 2013, volunteer groups on Anacapa are planting 150-250 plants per workday, depending on their group size.

In addition to the many individual volunteers that CIR recruits from a variety of sources, this year we were also joined by employees of several local businesses who arranged for a group volunteer workday, including REI, Deckers Outdoors, The North Face, Amgen, Citrix Online, and the Santa Barbara Zoo.  There were also student groups from Buena, Oxnard, Ventura, Rio Mesa and Pacifica High Schools , as well as UCSB, who arranged service days on the island.  In the spring of 2013, REI sponsored two very special weekend day trips to Anacapa, and volunteers signed up for these trips at the CIR booth during the REI Oxnard Grand Opening festivities.  Anacapa Island and the NPS welcomed two REI-funded volunteer groups of 30 strong, who traveled to the Park on an Island Packers boat for two great days of habitat restoration.

During the month of June, CIR volunteer trips paused while the Island’s large breeding population of Western Gulls produced and raised this year’s ‘crop’ of chicks.  We were gratified to see young chicks enjoying the all-important shade of newly-established native plants.  As CIR trips resumed in July, volunteers continued their work troweling and removing invasive plant species.  Throughout the dry summer months into early fall, watering became a huge priority.

In September, Kelle Green reports that the Master Gardeners were “really cooking” in the nursery, transplanting seedlings to 4x6 tree pots, and preparing for a productive volunteer planting season.  Suddenly, the government shutdown closed Channel Islands National Park, and restoration activities came to a halt.  The island was closed to visitors, including nursery crew and volunteers.  The shutdown threw the nursery’s plant production off-stride, and set back nursery plant production for this season. By mid-November, the nursery was just starting to recover from the disruption that had been caused by the shutdown.
 
The nursery currently has many plants to go out, including giant coreopsis, island buckwheat, seablite, alkali heath, seaside daisy, island lotus, golden yarrow, saltgrass, cliff aster and, California aster.  

Volunteer Work Leader, Ron Nichols, has made many trips to Anacapa Island throughout the year.  He has supervised volunteers in the winter rainy season, when planting was the focus, and worked with volunteers during the dry summer season, when watering and removing invasives like crystalline iceplant were the primary tasks.  On a personal level, he’s enjoyed seeing Anacapa’s Western Gulls go through their annual island nesting rituals, as chicks hatch and scurry around their renovated native habitat, and then fledge.  In describing his volunteer experiences, the most valuable benefit Ron receives from his frequent service on Anacapa Island is that he can keep his eye on the plants that he’s put into the ground himself, and watch them mature.  This gives him a feeling that he has become a part of these plants, and subsequently, “a part of the island.” This gives him a sense of great personal satisfaction and “ownership,” which are rewards shared by other volunteers, as well.

Frequent CIR volunteer and recently trained Work Leader, Mike Buratti, echoed Ron’s feelings of pride for his work on Anacapa and is grateful to have participated in the island’s habitat restoration.  As we enter the fall season, Mike reports he’s been doing a lot more planting than pulling – which is a good thing, he says, as there is simply a lot less iceplant to pull!  With volunteer watering efforts increasing, he believes that native plantings are having a much better rate of success presently.  When asked what keeps bringing him back to Anacapa, Mike heartily responded, “Progress!”   To work in an area previously covered with an iceplant carpet, which he helped to pull with his own hands, and to see that area now thriving with natives that he planted, Mike describes it a personally gratifying experience, to be able to witness such progress.


Through inspired partnerships, and a great deal of combined effort, the NPS, CIR and many, many volunteers have been a part of this progress that continues to change the face of East Anacapa Island, and return the island habitat to its natural state.



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

REI Volunteers with Channel Islands Restoration on Anacapa



Employees from the new REI store in Oxnard volunteered for Channel Islands Restoration and the Park Service on Anacapa Island in March REI purchased passage on Island Packers for nearly 30 volunteers and help up plant natives and remove invasive iceplant.  The photo above shows Middle and West Anacapa Island with Santa Cruz Island in the distance.  This photo was our most popular post ever on Facebook with around 3900 views and nearly 160 "likes."


REI volunteers on the Vanguard prior to departure.


The Vanguard after dropping off passengers at East Anacapa Island.


REI volunteers carry plants and other supplies to the restoration site on Anacapa





Giant Coreopsis (Leptosyne gigantea) in bloom on Anacapa Island (with REI volunteers in the background)


Native goldfields (Lasthenia gracilis) in bloom on Anacapa (with REI volunteers in the background)

Close up of goldfields (Lasthenia gracilis)


Looking west toward West Anacapa with Santa Cruz Island in the distance


REI volunteers on a hike on Anacapa after volunteering




REI supports CIR with grant funding and volunteer help. Join them at their three-day grand opening event for their new store in Oxnard March 22-24. CIR and other environmental non-profits will have information booths, and REI will provide breakfast and great giveaways! For more information, follow this link: http://www.rei.com/stores/oxnard.html

Friday, November 16, 2012

20,000 Native Plants Grown on Anacapa Island!



Over 20,000 native plants of 30 species, were grown on East Anacapa Island since CIR and the National Park Service (NPS) constructed a nursery there in 2010.  During 2011-12, NPS and CIR staff eradicated 25 acres of non-native iceplant, and volunteers hand-cleared a further 4 acres of iceplant.  Native plants have been planted on approximately x39 acres of the islet.  Nearly 1,400 CIR volunteers contributed over 11,000 hours to this effort.  Conservative amounts of water are being applied to the plantings through a system of ¾” black irrigation tubing which now delivers water to far flung locations on the island, including to Inspiration Point.  With this system, we no longer use valuable volunteers hours backpacking water to planting sites. This tremendous effort has been accomplished with the help of individual volunteers, school groups, corporations and community groups.


Anacapa Island provides critical habitat for seabirds, pinnipeds and several endemic plants and animals.  It is home to 16 plants endemic to the California Channel Islands, two of which are unique to Anacapa.   Anacapa’s dense vegetation was once dominated by the showy plants giant coreopsis, gumplant, island tarweed, live-forever, Santa Cruz Island buckwheat, sagebrush, saltbush, lemonade berry and island mallow, which provided shelter, perches and nesting habitat for seabirds and land birds.  Their large quantities of seeds provided abundant food for the endemic Anacapa deer mouse, and for many small birds. 

The island’s stands of giant coreopsis, as well as all the other plants of its coastal bluff community, were devastated by sheep grazing (up until the early 1900s) rabbit browsing through the 1950s and by large-scale destruction of native vegetation during construction and manning of the Coast Guard Light Station in the 1930s to 1960s.  Only small patches of native plants remained.  The United States Coast Guard planted two types of iceplant around their facilities, with the idea of erosion control and ornamentation  Iceplant is highly invasive, and spread to cover an estimated 30 acres of the islet.  

 

Small-scale eradication of iceplant in the vicinity of the buildings began in the late 1980s, done by Anacapa Ranger and Maintenance staff.  In 1993, Sarah Chaney, a restoration ecologist with Channel Islands National Park, began working with volunteers and researchers to expand iceplant removal to the rest of the island, and by 2010, about 14 acres of iceplant had been cleared.   October 2011 saw the commencement of intensive iceplant removal, with the receipt of the first of three years of National Park Service funding for iceplant eradication. At the end of 2010, Channel Islands Restoration helped fund and construct a native plant nursery on the island in partnership with the NPS.  Channel Islands National Park operation funds have supported the nursery improvements and upkeep since then. The Ventura County Master Gardeners along with many other volunteers have grown an impressive 20,000 plants in the nursery since that time.  These include giant coreopsis, California barley, purple needlegrass, gum plant, alkali-heath and many others—thirty species, to date.

Several groups helped plant the natives in areas where the iceplant has been eradicated, including nearly 1,400 CIR volunteers.  Most of the work occurs on Wednesdays, when the NPS boat makes regular visits to the island.  CIR staff recruit the volunteers, meet them at the NPS headquarters and escort them to the island and to the worksites.  Several corporations have volunteered for the project, including REI, Deckers Outdoors, Amgen, Horny Toad and Citrix Online.  Non-profit organizations also participated, including the Santa Barbara Zoo, the California Native Plant Society and Santa Barbara Audubon Society.  In addition to planting the natives, volunteers helped to remove iceplant seedlings from among native plants, collect seeds of native plants for propagation and provide precious and essential water to the plantings throughout their first year. 

The water supply for the island is delivered by NPS boat once a year, at great expense, so water conservation is vital.  To provide for watering plantings without depleting the domestic water supply, NPS staff and CIR volunteers installed rain barrels to collect rainwater from the roofs of several of the buildings.  The large concrete rainwater catchment basin installed by the Coast Guard in the 1930s is again collecting rainwater (now used for plant irrigation) thanks to the work of NPS staff.  Current rainwater storage capacity is 2100 gallons, with plan to expand this capacity this year.  A temporary system of ¾” black plastic irrigation tubing now delivers the water by gravity, assisted by a small pump, to the planting locations throughout the islet.  The strenuous and time-consuming backpacking of water to plants is no longer needed!

Through inspired partnerships and lots of combined effort, the NPS, CIR and many, many volunteers have changed the face of East Anacapa Island.  Formerly the bright red flowers of the non-native, invasive iceplant would color much of the landscape. This year, the landscape was colored bright yellow by the flowers of the native plants like giant coreopsis, gumplant and island tarweed.  Western gull chicks that were formerly exposed to predators and the elements on a low, flat, open iceplant landscape, were instead able to find refuge among  the varied structures of the taller native plants that were grown and planted by volunteers.  Volunteers of all ages obtained a new understanding of this rare island habitat and gained a valuable education of the importance of habitat restoration.  The work continues into 2013 and beyond.