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Controlled Burn Takes Aim at Invasive Grass on UCSB’s Lagoon Island

The area's non-native ripgut grass will be replaced by more than 20 species, including a native coastal sage

As the sun burned away the morning fog near UCSB on Monday, fire crews and ecologists used that window of sunshine to get a controlled burn under way on a small lagoon island to help burn away non-native vegetation making its home there.

Black smoke lifted into the air as Santa Barbara County firefighters took their torches to a quarter-acre of the campus' lagoon island, burning an area covered in invasive grasses. 

The grass is that of the bromus diandrus plant, or ripgut grass, and is notoriously hard to destroy. Scientists at the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration have been experimenting for years on how to best get rid of the grass and are working to replace it with native plants on the island.

The group found that the ground must get to 400 degrees to destroy the seed bank of the grass.

"Essentially what we're trying to do is control this invasion of European annual grass," said Darwin Richardson, a natural area steward with the Cheadle Center. 

The ripgut grass is one of the most invasive species they see in the sandy coastal mesa areas, he said.

They prepared a quarter-acre area on the lagoon island and cleared brush from other parts of the island to create more fuel for Monday's controlled burn.

They expect to plant more than 20 species, including a native coastal sage, in the area once the grass is destroyed, he said. 

"It will provide flowers and resources for wildlife throughout the year, versus grasses which produce all their good seed in one short window, similar to the other non-native species we see," Richardson said.

Because they are making the burn in smaller areas at a time, it could be a few years before the entire island is restored.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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