Graced with ample rains this year, the Puma Ranch is blooming with new plant growth which feeds the bugs that feed the critters and the critters that eat critters. Case in point, reptiles. Santa Barbara’s foothill canyons are prime habitat for all manner of beautiful lizards and snakes that are an important part of of our coastal sage ecology in controlling rodent populations. Most are non-venomous such as the California Kingsnake and Gopher Snake featured below, but a few like the Western Pacific Rattlesnake can be deadly so take care when walking through bush or around boulders where reptiles like to sun. And never pick up a snake unless thoroughly trained in identification and handling.
Growing Solutions' staff would like to thank UCSB Coastal Service Program and the two student groups that joined us this fall in working towards a healthy environment. This quarter students from the Muslim Student Association and Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers joined us in propagating native plants for a Gaviota Coast restoration project. The students divided and repotted Disticlis spicata a.k.a. salt grass that is used in local restoration projects among the dunes in and around Isla Vista. These students are enrolled in a wide range of majors at UCSB, including some that one would assume have nothing to do with ecological restoration. The beauty of this program, however, is that young people get to experience scenarios outside of their comfort zone and get a glimpse of how connected everything is in the natural world. While propagating plants students learn the attributes of the plant species they are working with, how it fits into the habitat it belongs to, and what benefit (ecosystem service) it provides for the environment.
Here's a chance this fall to get your hands dirty, learn new skills, have fun and grow your own garden-to-table veggie dinner. GS Founder Don Hartley will be offering a three-unit class in Small-Scale Food Production at Santa Barbara City College that explores the natural and sustainable techniques and skills used to produce healthy organic produce. Soil development, composting, mulching, suitable vegetables, fruit trees and herb cultivation will also be covered. The class (EH 207) is offered through SBCC's Environmental Horticulture department to all registered SBCC students. For class and registration info contact firstname.lastname@example.org and check out the SBCC website.
Our awesome grassland continues! We now have Steelhead and Chinook salmon fingerlings thriving in one of the creeks running through the property. Due to logging damage to the creek in the early 1900's the structure of the creek wasn't optimal for fish. We are mitigating this issue by adding small shallow pools. Pool "riffles" allow small gravel to settle out, creating prime fish habitat for small fry to stay cool and hidden during long hot summers. For more info on the Eastern Oregon Grassland Project, click Here.
Jerry Sortomme, founder of Santa Barbara City College’s Environmental Horticulture Department,and Department Chairmen as well as lead instructor was honored recently for his lifetime’s work by his colleagues, former students and the community. Sortomme, whose passion is teaching sustainable horticulture, received the Local Food and Plant Hero Award at the 10th Annual Santa Barbara Community Seed Swap last January. As one of “Jerry’s Kids” Karen Flagg took classes from Jerry in the in the ‘80’s and he later hired Don. Jerry has remained their good friend and valued mentor since. As founder of the Environmental Horticulture Department at SBCC Jerry has taught and mentored hundreds of students who have found their way into the horticulture industry. Some students have started or work at nurseries, some have started nonprofits or consulting businesses, and all carry with them a love and value of plants. Currently Jerry is growing historically significant plants with the help of many volunteers for Santa Barbara’s Mission La Huerta Historic Garden.
Over the last year Growing Solutions has worked with students from UCSB’s Coastal Service Program on a variety of Santa Barbara restoration projects as part of GS's Healthy Habitat program. The Coastal Service Program is dedicated to preserve, protect, and enhance the terrestrial and marine habitats associated with the shoreline of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Hosting various clubs, sororities, fraternities and groups at UCSB gives Growing Solutions staff an opportunity to work with students outside of the restoration community. Many students we work with are majoring in areas without an environmental health emphasis and so we have a golden opportunity to show how PLANTS MATTER (happily said) to everyone. Through plant propagation and nursery work students gain an understanding of the importance of native plants and specifically plants important to our local wetlands, ocean bluffs and beaches. We’d like to thank students from Phi Sigma Pi, Lambda Theta Nu and La Escuelita de UCSB for spending time and attention with us.
In 2003, with support from former 2nd District County Supervisor Susan Rose and partially funded by the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project, we built our third nursery with the mission of propagating native plants for the benefit of Santa Barbara county residents. The nursery was sited on 30-acres of property adjacent to the County Campus Foothill Open Space. Over the last 15 years, with help from area students and volunteers, thousands of plants were grown for hundreds of projects. This enabled the region to retain the biological diversity for which the Santa Barbara area is renowned. As times have changed, so have the needs of the community and the nursery is now being decommissioned. The nursery is currently being recycled into other Santa Barbara-area projects. The hoop house is going to SBCC where it will continue to be used by students practicing their horticultural skills. The irrigation and benches will be used at our other nursery, either expanding tabletop space or replacing aging benches.
Five years after planting thousands of native-California wetland seedlings at Malibu Lagoon, Growing Solutions staff and volunteers joined the staff of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation to remove irrigation and allow Mother Nature to do the heavy lifting in ensuring the long-term health and vitality of the lagoon. Starting in 2013, Growing Solutions was part of a multi-agency effort to restore the lagoon’s natural tidal flow and ecosystem back to the historical function that existed before human pollution, sewage, and debris dumping started in the late 1800s. Misguided efforts to turn the lagoon into a jogger’s haven by building manmade islands connected by bridges choked off the natural ocean and creek flow vital to lagoon ecology. Over the last 100 years the lagoon was plagued by decreased tidal flushing, increased pollution, non-native weed infestation and massive algae blooms that turned the once-pristine wetland into a stinking cautionary tale.
However, through careful planning and wetland re-contouring—together with vigilant watering, weeding and maintenance—the 31-acre lagoon is now able to maintain itself and provide critical habitat for dozens of wetland creatures that use the lagoon for shelter, feeding and reproduction. GS’s role was to collect the surviving native plants, propagate them off-site, deliver them back to the lagoon and help with installation and maintenance over the last five years. Results: marine species (i.e. fish, snails and crabs) populations have increased which in turn have attracted the native seabirds in increasing numbers. Many threatened species such as snowy plovers are experiencing modest but significant rebounds. Park visitorship has doubled, and many local schools now use the lagoon as a living learning lab to teach the critical value of ecology and just how hard it is to restore native systems after thoughtlessly destroying them.
Over the weekend of May 26th GS staff and volunteers helped remove, haul and recycle over three miles of irrigation pipe while managing Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation volunteers for the weekend event. In between they found time to enjoy some bird watching; observing osprey, egrets, pelicans, hawks and snowy plovers scurrying among the sand dunes.
If you would like to volunteer for future Lagoon events, contact the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation.
Last summer Growing Solutions' co-founder Karen Flagg volunteered as an instructor with the UCSB Smithsonian Scholars Program for a fun and highly productive field trip out to Santa Cruz Island. Over 25 students and instructors made full use of the UC field station to learn about the incredible biodiversity across the 22-mile long island. The Scholars program provides multidisciplinary research opportunities in biodiversity conservation to first generation, low-income, and/or underrepresented minority undergraduate students from UC Santa Barbara and local community colleges. To see a slideshow click on the image below. For more information on the Scholars program click here.
Growing Solutions has been collaborating recently with Dr. Amanda Sparkman, a herpetologist researching the effects of island evolution on reptiles out on the Channel Islands, including Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and Santa Barbara Islands where GS has been doing native-plant restoration ecology for over 15 years. Amanda will be setting up research stations on GS managed property on the mainland to compare and contrast with island species. Click here to read a full account!