Watershead, Spring 2009
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HRNA Now the Largest Green Patch on the Lower Santa Clara River
By Jackie Bowland Worden*

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Matt James and Dave Hubbard of Coastal Restoration Consultants discuss plantings with Sandy Hedrick, Richard Sweet, and Ron Bottorff

Educate. Motivate. Captivate. These are some of the goals of the restoration program underway at the Hedrick Ranch Nature Area (HRNA) just east of Santa Paula on the south bank of the Santa Clara River. This 220-acre reserve, formerly part of the Valley View Ranch, has undergone a remarkable transformation since its 1999 acquisition by the State Coastal Conservancy and subsequent transfer to Friends of the Santa Clara River (FSCR). Sandy Hedrick, who manages Valley View Ranch for the Hedrick family, initially had the foresight to envision this area as restored habitat preserved in perpetuity for future generations. HRNA was the first acquisition under the Santa Clara River Parkway Project, a program begun several years ago by the Conservancy with the goal of eventually creating a 6,000-acre protected riparian corridor extending from Fillmore to the ocean. Approximately 2,500 acres have been acquired so far (see SantaClaraRiverParkway.org).

FSCR have been awarded four grants for this important restoration and research effort, including two from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and two from the State Water Resources Control Board. Total funding provided by these grants approximates $1.1 million. These monies are being used to:

  • Cultivate a conservation ethic through volunteer activities, such as workdays, informational wildlife talks, and special events planned for community groups and public service organizations.
  • Research the effectiveness of bioswales to remove agricultural chemicals from surface and groundwater flowing through the property.
  • Eradicate highly invasive non-native plants ("weeds"), particularly giant reed (Arundo donax) through both volunteer and professional efforts.
  • Research various restoration techniques, including a comparison of the cost of restoring versus creating wetland habitats.
  • Engage the public through community outreach, including participation in street fairs and environmental events.

Our restoration efforts are focused on increasing the complexity of habitat structure to provide greater ecosystem opportunities for wildlife, both between and within habitats. This is achieved in part through providing diverse vertical habitats by planting a variety of trees and shrubs, by creating both permanent and temporary surface water elements to support aquatic and wetland plants and wildlife, including shorebirds and other migratory waterfowl, and by including open habitat areas such as perennial grasslands in adjacent uplands.

"If you plant it, they will come….." And they certainly have! A wide variety of birds, butterflies and other insects, mammals, and reptiles are now utilizing the restored habitats of the HRNA. During the cattle ranching days, habitat diversity and niche availability were extremely limited, resulting in low overall species diversity of both plants and wildlife. Over 150 species of birds have been identified on HRNA, including the endangered least Bell's vireo which nests at the HRNA each year, and special-interest species such as white-tailed kite, northern harrier, and yellow-breasted chat. Mammals known to utilize the property comprise bobcat, coyote, and raccoon. Butterfly species noted are west coast sister, monarch, anise swallowtail, west coast ladies, and many others. It is a treat to watch the west coast sister defending its territory, even against wandering biologists! Gopher snakes, kingsnakes, pond turtles, and several lizard species are among the many reptiles seen on-site. Rattlesnakes are not uncommon, and although this important animal may be frightening to humans, as top predators they play a critical role in population control of potential pest species, such as mice and rats. We gently relocate all rattlesnakes found!

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Specific volunteer opportunities include:

  • Participation in monthly workdays during the first weekend of every month from October through April (see FSCR.org for specific dates and times for 2009). Workday activities may include:
    • Weeding
    • Planting native plants
    • Establishing nature trails
    • Construction of bird nest boxes, bat roosts, etc.
    • Construction of shade and wildlife blind structures out of arundo panels

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Jackie Bowland Worden, back row right.

FSCR is fortunate to have a team of dedicated professionals in addition to our devoted volunteers, working together to facilitate the restoration of the HRNA and improve water quality. Professional consultants, overseen by FSCR, are carrying out the two grants from the State Water Resources Control Board – one involving water quality research and one dedicated to native plant restoration.

The first project, under the supervision of Dr. Arturo Keller of UC Santa Barbara, entails researching two separate methods of removing or reducing agricultural chemicals in surface water through bioengineered water treatment technologies known as bioswales and bioactive trenches. Agricultural drain water from adjacent fields is pumped into both the swales and trenches. The bioswales are a series of shallow ditches separated by berms. The swales have been seeded with plants chosen for their ability to take up chemicals, such as potassium and nitrogen, and to remove sediment through settling. The biotrenches are about 6 feet deep and filled with straw. These bioactive trenches utilize bacteria to actively transform nutrients and pesticides to non-bioavailable forms.

Work under the restoration grant is being conducted by Dave Hubbard and Matt James of Coastal Restoration Consultants. The CRC team has established an on-site nursery where native plants are being grown for use in the restoration effort. Seeds, cuttings and propagules are collected from the watershed and started at the nursery. Once mature enough, these plants are planted throughout the restoration area.

There is something both soothing and invigorating about natural open spaces. As the HRNA transitions from a low-diversity, altered field to a natural, highly diverse habitat, we hope that people will visit and enjoy the beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountains, the riparian corridor along the Santa Clara River, and the many and varied habitats within the Ranch itself.

 

*Jackie Bowland Worden is a professional biologist and has for the past several years managed all volunteer work and restoration contracts, including reports and financial accounting, at the Hedrick Ranch Nature Area for Friends of the Santa Clara River.


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