P.O. Box 789, Santa Paula, CA 93061 contact@santaclarariver.org


Sespe Cienega Restoration and Public Access Planning Project

Historically, artesian flows along the Santa Clara River near the City of Fillmore supported one of the most extensive freshwater wetland complexes in the lower watershed referred to as the “Cienega”, or “Sespe Cienega”.  By 2005, the majority of the wetland area had been converted to farmland.  Since 2017, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has owned a majority of the Sespe Cienega, consisting of the California Watercress property and the Fillmore Fish Hatchery.  The goal of this planning effort at Sespe Cienega is to develop working plans to restore riparian and wetland habitats and natural river function to this property under permanent protection by CDFW, and to provide public access to the river for the communities of Fillmore, Santa Paula, and Piru. Restoration of riparian habitat at the project site will include willow, cottonwood, and other wetland vegetation that have largely been lost on the property. The restoration will benefit wildlife, including federally-listed species such as least Bell’s vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus), southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus), western yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus occidentalis), and other sensitive species such as white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus), northern harrier (Circus hudsonius), southwestern pond turtle (Actinemys pallida), two-striped garter snake (Thamnophis hammondii), and southern black walnut (Juglans californica).  In addition, the federally-listed Southern California steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) should benefit from the removal of invasive species on the property, including giant reed (Arundo donax). The 2012 Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan identifies the Santa Clara River watershed as a Core I or highest priority watershed for recovery of the steelhead population.
Restoring the river has additional benefits to the surrounding area by supporting sustainable agriculture, land conservation, and climate resilience. The planning process will be a joint effort among the Santa Clara River Conservancy, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State Coastal Conservancy, and the University of California, Santa Barbara.  The restoration and public access plan will include:
  • development of baseline environmental conditions and identification of data gaps
  • hydrologic analysis
  • biological surveys including vegetation and wildlife communities
  • identification of restoration opportunities and constraints
  • attendance at public meetings and events to conduct outreach
  • development of conceptual restoration and public access options
  • identification of permitting and environmental review requirements
  • completion of engineering design and specifications
The plans for public access improvements will include design of interpretative displays and walking trails that will allow for public access to and along the Santa Clara River which is currently limited.

Proposition 1 Riparian Restoration Project at Santa Paula

The Nature Conservancy has teamed with the Santa Clara River Conservancy and the University of California, Santa Barbara, to implement 250 acres of habitat restoration and enhancement on the Santa Clara River floodplain near the city of Santa Paula. The project involves developing and implementing a plan for restoring these riparian habitats, with a focus on the removal of invasive giant reed (Arundo donax).  The site is located on the The Nature Conservancy and the Friends of the Santa Clara River respective properties, described as the Hedrick Ranch Natural Area (HRNA), Taylor, Best and USC properties. SCRC’s primary role, working with project partners, is to ensure environmental compliance with all restoration efforts, monitor biological resources across the project area and within all work activities, and conduct  strategic restoration treatments.
Overlooking HRNA towards the Santa Clara River channel. Note verdant riparian woodland interspersed with dense giant reed.
Looking upstream along the Santa Clara River floodplain, dominated by giant reed.

Department of Conservation – Land Trust Capacity and Project Development Grant

Under the planning grant, SCRC will develop a draft agricultural lands conservation strategic plan for consideration by SCRC’s Board of Directors. Plan development would include review of existing agricultural land conservation studies and plans for the Santa Clara River watershed and identification and outreach to agricultural land stakeholders, including the Department of Conservation, State Coastal Conservancy, the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, local farmers and agricultural interests, the Nature Conservancy, Resource Conservation Districts, Friends of the Santa Clara River (holder of the Hedrick Ranch Natura Area) and community representatives, including from the disadvantaged communities of Santa Paula, Fillmore, Piru and on the Oxnard plain. This effort will identify the general needs and opportunities in the watershed for conducting agricultural conservation work, and develop a strategic plan for SCRC to address these needs and opportunities, such as research, organizational, outreach and development goals and objectives to achieve increased agricultural land conservation in collaboration with management partners such as DOC, the Coastal Conservancy, Farm Bureau, TNC, and the counties of Los Angeles and Ventura.

Santa Clara River Trustees Council – River Education for Elementary School Children

In August 2019, SCRC was awarded a second round of funding from the Trustees Council to provide education programs and field trips to third and fourth grade students in Ventura County. SCRC has partnered with US Fish and Wildlife Service to deliver these programs. Currently, SCRC has been working with students from Mountain Vista Elementary, Rio Real Elementary, Isbell Middle School, Rio Vista Elementary, the Earth Keepers group, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Paula. Students receive an in-class presentation to provide an introduction to the Santa Clara River. Later, students visit a major tributary of the Santa Clara River to participate in hands-on activities led by biologists who study subjects in the river.

Proposition 1 – Arundo Removal at the Sespe Cienega

Working with University of California, Santa Barbara, this project will remove 175 acres of giant reed (Arundo donax) from an extremely important portion of the Santa Clara River in Fillmore, initiating the restoration of a native ecosystem at the site of a critical historic wetland. The primary objective of this project is to protect and enhance native riparian woodlands and associated wildlife through restoration efforts. This area of mature cottonwood-willow forest is part of a larger property owned by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, for long-term protection and enhancement of regionally-threatened habitat and wildlife species, including multiple listed and candidate species. The woodland has been severely degraded by dense infestation of giant reed, and faces risk of catastrophic loss from giant reed-fueled wildfire that could eliminate fire-intolerant native forest species, as well as be carried into adjacent agricultural lands and coastal sage scrub.

Giant reed removal is the first phase of implementation that will re-create a fully functioning riparian ecosystem necessary for native species, while decreasing the risk from detrimental fires. Removal will also allow native vegetation to recover and sequester excessive nutrients discharged from the neighboring Fillmore Fish Hatchery and nearby agricultural areas, thereby improving water quality before it enters the main channel of the Santa Clara River. Increased water availability for sensitive terrestrial and aquatic species is expected, as research indicates giant reed uses approximately 3-4 times more water than native species. These changes will be long lasting and will contribute to resilience of the ecosystem along the Santa Clara River in the face of potential climate change and natural disturbances.

An overview of the Sespe Cienaga project site, including historic channelized watercress growing beds, the Fillmore Fish Hatchery (photo right), neighboring agricultural fields, very dense monotypic giant reed growth (photo center left), and river scrub habitats (photo left).

Proposition 84 – Arundo Removal with California Trout

SCRC has partnered with California Trout to remove 41 acres of giant reed (Arundo donax) from riparian areas adjacent to the Santa Clara River on Hedrick Ranch Nature Area (HRNA) and Hedrick Ranch Property (HRP), adjacent to Santa Paula, CA. Starting in 2017, this project has included volunteers, the California Conservation Corps, numerous contractors, and in-house staff to perform initial giant reed removal and follow up treatments and vegetation monitoring to evaluate success metrics and inform adaptive management.

Masticating or mowing of dense giant reed on HRNA.


Young, diverse, native vegetation growing in previously mowed and retreated dense giant reed dominated area.

Wetlands Recovery Project – Sespe Cienega Habitat Restoration Project

SCRC has been contracted by Friends of the Santa Clara River to restore 7 – 8 acres of riparian habitat outside of the entrance of the Fillmore Fish Hatchery, which is owned by California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Project elements include: controlling non-native plants, revegetation with native riparian plants, community engagement, creating an interpretive trail, and biological monitoring. SCRC has worked with students from Briggs School in Santa Paula, Girl Scout Troop 60532, and has hosted several volunteer events.

A student from Briggs School planting sedges in the project area (Photo by Sebastian Walton).

Volunteers working together to install plants in the project area (Photo by Sergio Flores).

A student from Briggs School watering the plants in the interpretive garden.

The interpretive garden is open to the public. California native plants line the trail and give visitors a chance to observe their beauty up-close. Brochures are available at the kiosk, both in English and Spanish, so that visitors can learn about the native plants as they stroll through the garden.

The beginning stages of the nature trail and garden built by volunteers and students (Photo by Sebastian Walton).
A year later, the garden is filling in and the native plants are thriving.

Girls Scouts from Troop 60532 constructed a kiosk for the interpretive garden (Photo by Olivia Long).

Photos from a volunteer event. Volunteers finished installing native plants and weeded the garden.

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