Wednesday, August 15 , 2018, 1:16 am | Fair 68º


Local News

Restoration Project In the Works for Santa Cruz Island Harbor

The National Park Service proposes removing fill from the historic coastal wetland and associated stream channel at Prisoners Harbor.

For more than 150 years, Prisoners Harbor has been the jumping off point to Santa Cruz Island’s central valley. (Chuck Graham photo)

The lagoon at Prisoners Harbor on Santa Cruz Island, once the largest coastal wetland in what is now Channel Islands National Park, has been nothing more than a muddy bog of tangled crab grass for more than 120 years, but now it’s about to undergo a major facelift.

Since the 1850s, Prisoners Harbor has been the gateway into the central valley on the largest of the Channel Islands. In the 1880s and into the 1890s, the lagoon was filled in to allow for mass transport of goods to the mainland. Canada del Puerto creek feeds what’s left of the lagoon, and it, too, was rechanneled and diverted during the ranching era.

The National Park Service is proposing to restore a portion of the historic wetland and associated stream channel at Prisoners Harbor. It would be the first restoration project of a coastal wetland in the national park, and is significant because coastal wetlands in California are increasingly rare — more than 90 percent have been eliminated.

“One of the objectives is to remove the fill and restore the wetland,” said Paula Power, an NPS ecologist. “It will also benefit the ecosystem function, biodiversity and habitat for migratory birds from the Pacific Flyway.”

Prisoners Harbor has an extensive legacy of human occupation beginning with centuries of Chumash Indian habitation, fishing and ranching. In the 1800s, island landowners rerouted and channelized the year-round creek, filled in the adjacent wetland with gravel from the surrounding hills and creek bed and introduced non-native trees such as eucalyptus and stone pines.

A warehouse on the lagoon is still in use and won’t be removed. (Chuck Graham photo)
Such actions reduced the ecological balance of the wetland and creek, resulting in diminished habitat for island species such as the endangered island barberry, the Santa Cruz Island silver lotus, the island scrub jay and the island fox.

The park is seeking public input to assist with identifying environmental issues and developing a suitable range of alternative actions. Other goals of the project involve protecting archaeological sites, preserving the integrity of the historic landscape and providing a compatible visitor experience.

The NPS will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the project proposal in accordance with the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The lagoon region is 12 acres. Five acres would be restored and the creek would be reconnected to the floodplain, which also would restore the hydrology of the wetland.

“Wetlands are rare on the island,” said Kate Faulkner, chief of natural resources with the NPS. “Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands have no wetlands. San Miguel only has little stream channels. Only Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa have significant wetlands.”

The island scrub jay is found only on Santa Cruz Island. (Chuck Graham photo)
Several of the larger eucalyptus trees would be removed out of the 45-acre stream corridor along the lower Canada del Puerto leading to the lagoon. The NPS also hopes the creek will heal itself once the non-native trees are removed.

“We’ll have to look at how much planting we’ll have to do and how much will come back naturally,” Faulkner said. “Once we remove the eucalyptus, probably what we’ll see is instead of the water being channeled, it’s going to go where it wants to. It should be a much more productive habitat for wildlife.”

Of Santa Cruz Island, the NPS owns 24 percent and The Nature Conservancy owns 76 percent. They have similar mandates of conservation and would collaborate on any proposed actions on the island.

Comments on this project may be submitted in writing to Prisoners Harbor Coastal Wetland Restoration Project, 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura 93001, or online at the NPS planning Web site,

Local freelance writer Chuck Graham is editor of Deep magazine.

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