Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 11:02 am | Fair 58º


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Goleta to Shut Down Ellwood Mesa Eucalyptus Grove For Urgent Tree Removal

People and migrating monarch butterflies are now threatened by hundreds of dead and dying trees in the area, city officials said

A jogger heads out near the Ellwood Mesa eucalyptus grove.
The city of Goleta will temporarily close trails in the popular butterfly preserve area due to the hundreds of dead and dying trees. Click to view larger
A jogger heads out near the Ellwood Mesa eucalyptus grove. The city of Goleta will temporarily close trails in the popular butterfly preserve area due to the hundreds of dead and dying trees.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The city of Goleta plans to immediately close trails in the Ellwood eucalyptus groves because hundreds of dead trees are threatening public safety and the future of monarch butterflies in the area.

Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte called the news “devastating.”

“The possibility of the butterfly not being part of our community is hard to grasp,” added Valerie Kushnerov, a spokeswoman for the city of Goleta.

The monarch butterfly is part of the city’s logo and the Goleta Butterfly Grove has been a trail and recreation destination for generations of Goleta families.

The grove is also an international tourist destination, a place for field trips and tour bus visits, to watch the fantastic, colorful clustering of the monarch butterflies as they complete their migration journeys.

Goleta staff members presented findings on the health of the grove at Tuesday night’s Goleta City Council meeting: The study showed that the forest is filled with more than 500 dead trees and another 300 that are in bad shape and close to death.

The drought wrecked the health of the grove, weakening the trees and leading to an infestation of pests that have further damaged the eucalyptus trees.

Up to 25 percent of eucalyptus trees in Southern California have died because of the drought, Goleta officials said.

So many of the leaves in the Ellwood grove have died that the butterflies cannot cluster in the numbers that they used to.

The lack of leaves and vegetation allows more sunlight to penetrate the grove, but the butterflies enjoy the shade when they cluster.

Many of the trees are also infested by the tortoise beetle and the longhorned borer.

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

The city says it needs to remove the trees immediately to avoid a fire hazard and the spread of pests to the healthy trees that remain.

Once the several hundred trees are removed, the city will embark on a longer-term plan for repopulating the grove with native trees, in hopes of bringing the monarchs back.

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

Advance Planning Manager Anne Wells said “we still have a long way to go,” regarding the long-term plan for the forest.

“A lot of the trees were planted in the late 1880s,” Wells said. “ Even if they are OK now, they won’t last forever.”

Wells said even though it may be difficult for the community to accept the change, because the Ellwood Mesa is “the heart of the community,” it needs to happen.

“We don’t have a choice as far as shutting down the canopy,” Wells said. “It has to happen.”

Goleta plans to re-open the trails eventually, but it is unclear on when that time will come.

Goleta Councilman Roger Aceves said the situation is very serious and he has noticed dying trees all over Goleta, including Stow Grove Park.

“Our whole city is suffering,” Aceves 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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