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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anacapa Volunteer Trips Heat Things Up This Fall!

As summer 2014 started to fade, things began heating up for CIR on Anacapa Island.  With word from the Park Service that Anacapa’s Western Gull breeding season was over, we started planning a series of grant-sponsored volunteer trips to the island.  With funding we received and reported on earlier this year—$9,000 from outdoor retailer REI and $4,900 from the UC Santa Barbara Community Affairs Board (CAB) Foundation—we scheduled a series of weekend fall trips, with the final CAB trip slated for February 2015.  At this time, there are still two REI trips to fulfill, but by the end of November, CIR will have taken a combined total of 130 volunteers to Anacapa to restore habitat.  For many of these volunteers, this was their first experience on Anacapa Island, as well as their first visit to the Channel Islands National Park.  CIR is thrilled each time we are able to facilitate an island introduction through our amazing volunteer opportunities!

REI Trips: To kick-start recruiting, CIR staff, along with a Board Member, tabled at the Santa Barbara REI store over Labor Day Weekend where customers were encouraged to sign-up!  Trips were also promoted by Sylvia Schnopp, REI Outdoor Programs and Outreach Market Coordinator, who put notices in stores alerting employees, customers, and members to the volunteer opportunities.  Additionally, REI sent out member emails and used social media to spread the word.  As pledged in our grant application, CIR recruited volunteers from a variety of outdoor groups, including the Santa Barbara Audubon Society, the Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, and the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council.  With this widespread effort, we had a tremendous response from the community, and trip rosters quickly filled.  We also built a waiting list of around 50 individuals, which is still growing, although many fortunate standby volunteers have been called to participate!

REI trips were comprised of 9 outdoor-loving volunteers and an experienced NPS volunteer work leader.  Heading up each crew was CIR staff, Aaron Echols, a knowledgeable trip leader with ample field experience on Anacapa.  Beginning on the last day of August, our first REI volunteer group set out to restore sensitive habitat by removing invasive crystalline iceplant and small-flowered iceplant.  With 9 total trips in the series, our REI volunteer program will conclude in November.  It has been a great success in that the island’s habitat has been enhanced, CIR has increased recognition and respect throughout the community for the work we are doing, and volunteers have had profound experiences while participating on the Anacapa Island Restoration Project.

The CAB Foundation grant is affording three wonderful opportunities for UCSB students to volunteer with CIR on Anacapa Island.  Each trip was designed for 20 student volunteers, and the first trip took place in October during Fall Quarter after the first week of classes.  Prior to the trip, Lisa Stratton, of the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration, offered her classroom as a venue for CIR’s pre-trip volunteer meeting.  Executive Director, Ken Owen, gave his PowerPoint presentation to a core group of dedicated students who were about to embark with CIR to Anacapa for field work. His presentation helped to prepare students for the experience, while emphasizing the importance of habitat restoration, the history of the Anacapa Restoration Project, and the work that has been accomplished over the years by CIR, the Channel Islands National Park, and other partners.

Students were recruited for Trip #2 when CIR staff scheduled a tabling event on-campus at the Arbor.  By setting up in a busy, high-traffic area at UCSB, many more students were educated and engaged.  The tabling event succeeded at filling the next trip roster of 20 UCSB volunteers, who enjoyed their volunteering on Anacapa in early November.  There were also enough sign-ups from the tabling event that we have a huge head-start on recruiting volunteers for the final February CAB trip.

It was no surprise that the majority of UCSB volunteers went out with us to the Channel Islands National Park for the very first time and enjoyed their first visit to Anacapa.  Enthusiastic, strong, and able the UCSB volunteers enjoyed learning about the island’s ecosystems, and removing invasive iceplant was a satisfying way for them to participate in the restoration of this unique island.

Friday, August 15, 2014

CIR Receives Two Grants For Anacapa Restoration

CIR is pleased to announce that we recently received two grant awards as part of CIR’s work on
the Anacapa Island Restoration Project in partnership with the National Park Service.  Recreational retailer REI awarded an outstanding $9,000 which will allow us to take at least 70 volunteers to Anacapa Island on a series of restoration trips this fall.  REI employees and members,  plus customers of the Santa Barbara and Oxnard stores will be amongst those invited to participate.  We will also recruit volunteers from outdoor recreational groups like the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Audubon Society, and the trail councils of Santa Barbara and the Santa Monica Mountains.

Additionally, the UC Santa Barbara Community Affairs Board (CAB) Foundation awarded $4,900 which will be used to engage 60 UCSB students on a series of volunteer trips to Anacapa Island that will take place during the fall and winter of 2014-2015.  CIR will recruit volunteers from the UCSB student body through on-campus promotions and educational programs, complete with PowerPoint presentations followed by island field work.

Through our partnership with REI and The CAB Foundation, we intend to build a greater awareness of our combined efforts to care for Anacapa Island—part of the Channel Islands National Park, and a recreational paradise enjoyed by hikers, paddlers, birders, and campers.  We are proud to partner with these sponsors and excited to share the news of their investment in our organization and mission.

With this grant funding, volunteers will be afforded with round-trip boat transportation on Island Packers and knowledgeable trip leaders.  CIR places great emphasis on education and volunteers will receive training on the identification of native and non-native plants and on proper techniques before work begins.  CIR will also present volunteers with information on the impacts of non-native species in natural areas and the history of the introduction of invasive iceplant to Anacapa Island.  Additional topics include the biology of the Channel Islands and the unique plants and animals that live there, and how community volunteers and CIR sponsors continue to collaborate to restore the native plant communities on Anacapa Island.

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.