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Local News

Goleta Residents Cluster at City Hall With Questions on Ellwood Grove Closures

City unsure of its plan to remove dead and dying trees from the grove, where monarch butterflies spend months during their migration journeys

Goleta residents packed City Hall Wednesday night to hear about the city’s plan to close trails at the Ellwood Mesa grove and butterfly preserve and remove hundreds of dead and dying trees. Click to view larger
Goleta residents packed City Hall Wednesday night to hear about the city’s plan to close trails at the Ellwood Mesa grove and butterfly preserve and remove hundreds of dead and dying trees.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

More than 150 people packed Goleta City Hall Wednesday night to hear about the city’s plan for removing hundreds of dead trees in the Ellwood Mesa Grove.

They didn’t get a lot of answers.

“We have not developed a definitive plan,” said Advance Planning Manager Anne Wells. “We don’t know how it is going to roll out. We have to take it one step at a time.”

The city does have a timeline to remove the trees, however. Wells said at the meeting that the city must take action before Sept. 30, when bird nesting and butterfly migration begins.

Already, the city rushed to put up signs closing trails after a City Council meeting a week ago.

Many residents in attendance who asked questions wanted Goleta to slow down and develop a long-term restoration plan before jumping to remove the dead and dying trees.

“You should not start one thing until a restoration plan is in place,” said Christina Lange, president of the Friends of the Ellwood Coast. “You can’t take 800 trees out by Oct. 1. Forget it.”

Lange called on the city to work in phases and to take a section of the grove to experiment rather than trying to do everything all at once. She also questioned whether removing the eucalyptus trees and replacing them with something native to the area was the best idea.

“The monarchs told us what they want,” Lange said. “They chose the eucalyptus.”

Goleta decided to close the trails around the Ellwood Mesa grove and butterfly grove and remove dead and dying trees in the area. Click to view larger
Goleta decided to close the trails around the Ellwood Mesa grove and butterfly grove and remove dead and dying trees in the area.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Goleta staff have identified 511 dead trees in the forest. They speculate that another 100 are dead and another 222 need a “safety trim.”

The city is concerned about liability if one of the dead branches falls on someone, or if a fire breaks out. Wells said homeless encampments exists in the grove and people have been known to start camp fires.

The Ellwood Forest has been home to generations of families who strolled along the many trails on the bluffs above the beach. City officials say that the drought has devastated the forest, and beetles and other pests have further eroded the grove.

Dan Meade, a consultant with Althouse and Meade, and Cory Meyer, an arborist, outlined the state of the situation.

“There’s a lot of dead trees in the area,” Meade said. “It’s a disaster right now”

The butterfly population in the groves have dropped dramatically because of the condition of the trees, according to the city.

In January, Goleta marked the path leading to the Ellwood butterfly grove. The monarch butterfly population tends to peak near the end of December. Click to view larger
In January, Goleta marked the path leading to the Ellwood butterfly grove. The monarch butterfly population tends to peak near the end of December.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk file photo)

The butterfly population in 2016 was less than half of what it was in 1998 and all the visiting monarchs were gone by February of this year, far earlier than previous years.

The lack of leaves and vegetation in the Ellwood grove prevents the butterflies from clustering in the numbers that they used to, the city said.

Butterflies like the leaves because they block the sunlight and the wind. Although the city at least week’s meeting said it wanted to first remove the dead trees and then develop a restoration plan, it seemed to backpedal from that stance at the meeting.

Meade said they weren’t going to remove 800 trees, but instead they would first remove “specific trees” that are most hazardous.

The city will also need to find funding for the tree removal and work with the California Coastal Commission and Department of Fish & Wildlife.

It’s too early to know, Wells said, whether replacement trees would be saplings or partially mature ones.

“We don’t know, but we will know eventually,” Wells said.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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