Major Hedrick Ranch Nature Area Restoration Completed
Restoration work on 50 acres of the 220-acre Hedrick Ranch Nature Area, which is under the stewardship of Friends of the Santa Clara River, is now essentially complete except for weed control and a small arundo donax removal effort. HRNA is now the largest green patch on the lower Santa Clara River and has seen visits in 2014 and in 2011 by a yellow-billed cuckoo, the first sightings of this bird species in many years. This has opened up the exciting possibility that this species, which requires a broad swath of thick riparian vegetation, may resume nesting on the river - something they have not done in decades.
Overall restoration at HRNA has been carried out under several grants. The success of these projects is due, in large measure, to our volunteer effort led by Jackie Worden, which has included notably several members of the Ventura Audubon Society. FSCR board members, Sandy Hedrick and Richard Sweet, deserve great credit for their countless hours of work on the project, as do our Coastal Restoration Consultants team of Dave Hubbard and Matt James.
The major part of this effort was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The funds became available to FWS from settlement claims for damages from an ARCO oil spill into the river in 1994. Work under this grant began in December 2004 and was completed in May 2011.
The goal of the restoration project was to restore natural function to riparian and wetland habitats historically found along the Santa Clara River. The project included removal of invasive, non-native plants and re-vegetation with native plants. The project focused on 48 acres of the approximately 220 total in HRNA, which was placed under FSCR stewardship after being acquired by the State Coastal Conservancy in 1999 as part of the Conservancy's River Parkway Project.
Historic uses at HRNA included cattle and horse grazing as well as production of orchard and row crops. Once livestock was removed, however, the pastures became choked with a number of weed species, necessitating hand-removal. This work was initially carried out by Sandy Hedrick and a small group of volunteers. After this, grant funding became available from several sources, allowing the expansion of the volunteer effort, hiring of professional restoration consultants and the establishment of an onsite nursery.
Thirty-one species of native plants were installed to improve habitat diversity. These plants included yerba mansa, mugwort, field sedge, saltgrass, western goldenrod, and California blackberry. Shrub species planted included quailbush, Mexican elderberry, giant ryegrass, and sandbar willow. Tree species comprised southern California black walnut, black cottonwood, western sycamore, coast live oak, and arroyo willow.
Prior to restoration, wildlife on the property was restricted to common species tolerant of existing land uses. All of this has now changed as a result of restoration activities (see attached photographs comparing the west pasture restored area in 2009, 2010, and 2011). Professional wildlife and botanical surveys have documented qualitatively the many species now utilizing the habitat at HRNA for foraging, roosting and nesting. Over 190 species of birds have now been identified, including a very exciting record of the federally-endangered yellow-billed cuckoo in June 2011. An amazing 74 occupied least Bells vireo nest sites were recorded in 2010 – with six pairs that were tracked by biologists producing 23 fledglings! There are now 69 species breeding at HRNA, compared with only 35 species breeding in 2002.
At least 14 mammal species are known to utilize the property, including mountain lion, deer and bobcat. We are still looking for our first black bear, but no doubt one will show up some day. Other species observed include 19 species of amphibians and reptiles, including rattlesnake, gopher snake and king snake.
The full report, "Restoration at the Hedrick Ranch Nature Area" under FWS Agreement Number 811440-05-G-016 is listed in the Documents section, along with the 2014 Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology report on bird counts in adjacent areas..