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Karen Telleen-Lawton: Channel Islands Restoration Fights Vegetative Alien Invaders

Native plants and wildlife making a comeback.

Do you remember “The Blob”? In the 1958 alien invasion film, the blob consumes everything in its path. Its origin is never identified, and the movie ends with the audience questioning the fate of the world.

Channel Islands Restoration volunteers finish up restoration work at San Marcos Preserve. Click to view larger
Channel Islands Restoration volunteers finish up restoration work at San Marcos Preserve. (Karen Telleen-Lawton / Noozhawk)

Fighting alien invaders is never easy, but a local nonprofit, Channel Islands Restoration, performs heroic work removing vegetative alien invaders from our offshore islands.

Native plants and wildlife took a huge hit in the 150-odd years of ranching on the islands. Evolving free from leaf munchers, hoof trampling and most predators, island natives were long subjected to ranch animals and stowaway black rats. The result was large-scale erosion and endangerment and extinction of numerous species.

In the few years since exotic animals were removed and restoration projects begun, the effects on native plants and wildlife has been phenomenal. The islands’ natural restorative qualities have done the lion’s share, but key restoration efforts in sensitive areas have helped re-establish endangered plants, foxes and birds.

Across the eight islands, researchers have documented 67 new island-specific bird-breeding records and 59 new island-specific bird-breeding status changes. The Channel Islands are returning to life.

The islands themselves aren’t the only ones benefiting from CIR’s work. In the past 15 years, more than 9,000 children and adults have enjoyed volunteering in the restoration efforts.

CIR has helped students from Santa Barbara and Ventura connect with nature and give back through volunteer service. For many, it is their first time on the islands or even on a boat.

Ken Owen, executive director, finds these youth trips most rewarding. “It’s very gratifying to watch kids literally jump with joy at their first dolphin or whale sighting, and when they enjoy a hike on an island,” he said.

Funding for these trips comes from a variety of sources, including state and federal programs as well as individual donors and philanthropic groups.

High school students have participated in ongoing restoration work on Anacapa Island, planting several thousand native plants grown in the on-island nursery from seed collected there. The plants provide needed habitat for endangered seabird populations including Scripps murrelets, Ashy Storm-Petrels and Cassin’s Auklets.

On Santa Rosa Island, volunteers are installing erosion control (wattles) to restore the cloud forest, the main source of water on the island.

A volunteer-built nursery on San Nicolas Island grows boxthorn and other plants to stabilize dune habitat and benefit endemic species such as the island night lizard. A mainland nursery in Camarillo, all volunteer-built, provides native plants for ongoing projects at places like Pt. Mugu.

Closer to town, CIR is active at San Marcos Foothills Preserve. They host large volunteer groups to weed castor bean, fennel and tamarisk, restoring habitat for burrowing owls, breeding grasshopper sparrows, breeding white-tailed kites, and raptors.

They've also begun a project with the Chumash to help them reconnect with their ancestry through harvesting plants at the Preserve.

Despite their wide geographic and educational focus, CIR is a small nonprofit. It was organized in 2000 by Owen and Duke McPherson, and supports a staff of about a half dozen. The bulk of the work is done by volunteers who appreciate the opportunity to get outdoors and contribute something positive for the environment.

“The Blob” ends on a prescient note. The Blob has been frozen: stopped for “as long as the Arctic stays cold.” Climate change is bombarding the Arctic and Santa Barbara’s ecological balance with unknown variables. But with the good effort of CIR and their volunteers, alien invaders may be kept at bay.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor (www.DecisivePath.com) and a freelance writer (www.CanyonVoices.com). Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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