UCSB went native this month with efforts to grow more indigenous plants on the West Storke Campus and Lagoon Island.
The West Storke Wetland Restoration Project, located around the intersection of Los Carneros and Mesa Roads near the Storke Family Housing complex, will focus on improving trails and reintroducing native plants to the area. Meanwhile, as part of the lagoon project, researchers burned an area on Lagoon Island on Aug. 30 to eliminate unwanted weeds and non-native plants.
Lisa Stratton, Natural Areas Director for the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration, said the majority of trail improvements in the West Storke area will consist of new educational signs telling the history of the wetland.
“The intersection of Los Carneros and Mesa Roads near the tip of the Santa Barbara Airport used to be a wetland until it got developed over,” Stratton said. “The project’s goal is to reintroduce native plants to the side of the roads where only exotic plants exist today.”
Environmental studies professor Carla D’Antonio said the addition of native plants will improve the wetland’s diversity and make it easier to visit the area. The removal of the exotic species Rip Gut will be most satisfying, D’Antonio said. The plant got its name from its prickly awns, needle-like appendages that can tear up the stomachs of cows that eat them.
“These native species will make [the area] more aesthetically pleasing and dogs will not get awns stuck on their paws and ears,” D’Antonio said. “If you never experienced awns in your socks, you should walk around there during spring and you will hate the weed like everyone else.”
Stratton said the California Coastal Commission, the government agency that regulates the coast, approved the West Storke Project in their Sept. 13 meeting.
Restoration on the area began after $24,000 in funding was awarded to them on Sept. 19. Stratton said she helped get the funding for the West Storke Wetland Restoration Project from the Wetland Recovery Program, which is funded by State Bond Measures for coastal protection and clean water.
“We originally asked for $30,000 but we will have to do as much as we can with the $24,000 they provided us,” Stratton said.
Alice Levine, a graduate student in Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology organized a controlled burn on parts of Lagoon Island for a research experiment. Levine’s goal was to do high and low intensity burns of small plots of land on the lagoon to facilitate the growth of native species while eliminating the exotic weeds of mostly European origin that have sprung up due to human development.
Levine received help from the Santa Barbara Fire Department to control the fire. Stratton said the burn was successful.
“Twenty firefighters of the ‘Hot Shot Team’ from the Santa Barbara fire department came out there to supervise the fire and they did a great job,” Stratton said. “We dug fire lines around the targeted plots to control the fire.”
Levine said her experiment will compare the results of the high and low-intensity burns. High-intensity burns utilize extra fuel to aid the fire, while low-intensity burns simply eliminate the weeds.
“I wanted to destroy the seeds that had fallen from the weeds to the ground, and to do that I needed to have a high-intensity burn,” Levine said. “So before the fire, I had a lot of volunteers help me cut scrubs around the lagoon and we let them dry out to be used as extra fuel for the burn.”
D’Antonio said the woody scrub used for the burn is a fast-growing native species called the Coyote Bush.
“Most of the Coyote Bush cut has already regenerated,” D’Antonio said.
Without killing the seeds, the weeds would likely grow back, Levine said.
“The majority of exotic weeds only have a life span of one year,” Levine said, “So it would have been futile to only burn the weed and not the seeds – it would be like killing something that was already dead.”
Levine said the results from her experiment are not yet available because she must wait and see what grows back in the burned areas, which have been a weed patch for the last thirty years. Levine said she plans to have another burn next summer to further continue her research.
“I want to test if higher frequencies of burns will yield better results,” Levine said. “I will compare these burns to the plots that were only burned once, and in total I plan to have three burns over the span of three years.”
Allowing native species to return will attract more creatures, including birds and admiring humans, Levine said.
“We want to have more native plants because more native plants allow for more biodiversity, which means more insects and birds,” Levine said. “And it’s desirable in a sense that humans like to preserve the native species.”