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, Southwestern willow flycatcher and Western yellow-billed cuckoo and other sensitive species such as Least bittern, Yellow rail, Northern harrier, and Tricolored blackbird. In addition, the federally-listed Southern California steelhead should benefit from the removal of Arundo donax on the property. 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 to its natural and historical functions 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; identification of data gaps; hydrologic analysis; vegetation surveys; listed, special status and sensitive species surveys; identification of restoration opportunities and constraints; attendance at public meetings and events to conduct outreach; development of conceptual restoration and public access alternatives, and selection of a preferred alternative; identification of permitting and environmental review requirements; and 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; the surrounding communities are currently isolated from the river.
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 focus of the restoration will be the removal of giant reed Arundo donax within the project area. The project 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, Taylor, Best and USC properties. The project will consist of developing a restoration plan for, and the subsequent implementation of, restoration on 250 acres of riparian habitat, including the removal and retreatment of invasive vegetation, the maintaining of the restoration, and the biological monitoring of vegetation and wildlife.
SCRC has contributed to the development of a Restoration Plan by supporting data collection including the documentation of relative cover of native and invasive plant species prior to construction. SCRC has been coordinating with the Research Biologist for the Project to fulfill additional needs including, but not limited to, mapping access scenarios for the site, preparation of technical reports, listed species monitoring, and submission of data to cooperating agencies or other data collection. Additionally, SCRC is contributing to the implementation of the Restoration Plan including advising the approach of active restoration, developing access scenarios, and interfacing with contractors, sub-contractors, and adjacent landowners.
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 in Partnership with UCSB’s RIVR Lab
This project will remove 175 acres of Arundo donax (giant reed) 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 native riparian woodlands and dependent wildlife from decline and loss owing to dominance by this destructive invasive plant. 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 is severely impacted by direct competition and water depletion by Arundo, and faces risk of catastrophic loss from Arundo-fueled wildfire that could eliminate fire-intolerant native forest species, as well as be carried into adjacent agricultural lands and coastal sage scrub.
Arundo removal is the first phase of implementation that will re-create a fully functioning riparian ecosystem necessary for native species, while decreasing the risk of detrimental fires. Arundo removal will also allow native vegetation to recover and sequester excessive nutrients discharged from the fish hatchery, thereby improving water quality before it enters the main channel of the Santa Clara River. Arundo removal will also save significant water resources resulting in increased water availability for sensitive terrestrial and aquatic species, as preliminary data from a nearby site indicated Arundo uses approx. 3-4 times the amount of water for evapotranspiration (Dudley and Cole 2010, Giessow et al. 2011). These changes will be long lasting and will contribute to the resilience of the ecosystem along the Santa Clara River in the face of potential climate change and natural disturbances.
Photos of the project site, which include the active river
channel and the remaining watercress beds from the
previous property owners.
Native black walnut, Juglans californica
Native bush poppy, Dendromecon rigida
Proposition 84 – Arundo Removal with California Trout
SCRC has partnered with California Trout to remove 30 acres of Arundo donax from within the riverbed and floodplain. Our work area is between Sespe Creek and Santa Paula Creek in Ventura County. Removing Arundo from the riverbed and floodplain conserves water, reduces risk of fire and flood, and improves riparian habitat for California sensitive species and federally listed species. SCRC works with contractors to physically and mechanically remove Arundo via cutting and mowing. Biological monitoring occurs throughout the project to guarantee protection of listed species, like the Least Bells Vireo.
Year 1: SCRC conducted pre-construction surveys to document all the flora and fauna, particularly endangered species, in the project site. We hired Mike Burns with Burns Equipment Services to mow the first 10 acres of Arundo in the project site. Mowing is ideal for Arundo removal because stands are often very dense and tall (sometimes over 15 feet tall). When mowed, Arundo will re-sprout stalks with big, broad leaves. Once the resprouts reach about 4-5 ft, they are sprayed with herbicide. The herbicide is transported into the rhizome and kills the plant. This is the most effective way to treat Arundo.
Photo of Arundo being mowed in project
Volunteers cutting and daubing Arundo in the project
Volunteers carrying cut Arundo out of project site.
Year 2: We have contracted R.A. Atmore and Sons to hand remove 11 acres of Arundo in an active river channel by using cut and daub and spraying methods. We have also hired Mike Burns with Burns Equipment Services to mow a total of 25 acres of Arundo. The mowed Arundo will grow back and be sprayed with herbicide. SCRC staff has completed 15 acres of cut and daub around native vegetation to ensure it is not harmed by future spraying. Our biological monitors are on site making sure our riparian resources are protected. As needed, SCRC revegetates areas by installing native pole cuttings and potted plants to areas where Arundo has been removed.
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 (Photo by Hannah Garcia).
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.