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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 11:45 pm | Fair 52º

 
 
 
 

Goleta Prepares for Ellwood Mesa’s Future with Habitat Management Plan

Draft document suggests replacing removed trees and implementing actions to protect habitat for monarch butterflies, other wildlife and public access

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Goleta is developing a habitat management plan for the Ellwood Mesa on the western end of town, where dead and dying trees have prompted removals and the city decision to close forest trails in the area.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

A plan to manage drought-stricken eucalyptus trees throughout Goleta’s Ellwood Mesa illustrates a less-is-more approach.

Ellwood Mesa is 230 acres, from Hollister Avenue south to the ocean bluffs and from UC Santa Barbara west to the Sandpiper Golf Course. The plan focuses on 78 acres of eucalyptus grove and aging windrow habitat.

The city published the draft Ellwood Mesa Habitat Management Plan and Implementation Plan in July, with details on how to manage and improve the area’s eucalyptus forest to benefit the habitat for migrating monarch butterflies, other wildlife and the public’s use.

Goleta shut down the wooded trails in the area last summer for urgent tree removal, and they remain closed as members of the public have pushed back on city plans to cut down more trees.

Trees in Ellwood Mesa’s eucalyptus forest have died after years of intense drought, creating a reduction in canopy and cover that has degraded the habitat value for monarch butterflies, birds and other wildlife, according to the habitat management plan. 

In September 2017, 1,260 trees counted on the city-owned property were dead. Of that number, 59 dead trees were in monarch butterfly aggregation sites, 247 were within falling distance of trails designated for walking, and the city removed 28 trees last year and additional trees this year.

The management plan suggests replacing the trees that were or are going to be removed. Planting locations and species will be verified by the monarch butterfly specialist and certified arborist, according to the document.

City staff held a public workshop Thursday to review the proposed plan, which will need to go through environmental review and be approved by the public tree advisory committee and City Council before being adopted. 

“We are very sensitive to public input, very thoughtful, (and) we’ve had a lot of public input about ‘less is more,’ so we are being responsive,” Goleta planning manager Wells said. “It’s a plan that forecasts many different scenarios and needs.”

According to Wells, actions in the plan are directed toward protection and improvement of individual trees, as well as restoration of areas where trees have died.

“There are areas where it’s doing well, but a lot of areas where it’s doing poorly,” Wells said of the grove.

Something new to the Ellwood Mesa Habitat Management Plan and Implementation Plan is the “Catastrophic Event Response Program,” a section to respond to fire, drought, pest, diseases on trees and strong winds in the grove area.

“An event causing great ecological distress and damage, either sudden or gradual, across a significant portion of the monarch butterfly habitat within the Ellwood Mesa plan area” defines a catastrophic environmental event, Wells said.

A significant disaster could negatively impact a large portion of the eucalyptus grove within the Ellwood Mesa or possibly cause substantial damage to the overwintering monarch population, Wells said.

“We are not just looking about this moment or yesterday,” Wells told more than 30 residents at Thursday’s meeting. “We are thinking about the evolution of the habitat in multiple years because it is so important to all of us in this room.”

The state budget this year included $3.9 million to help Goleta restore the Ellwood Mesa butterfly preserve, including funding for for the habitat management plan, coastal permits, and public access signage and benches. 

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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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