A group of volunteers got their hands dirty this past Saturday doing restoration work at UCSB’s Coal Oil Point Reserve.

Hosted by the Santa Barbara Audubon Society, the monthly event aims to increase the abundance of native flora by planting indigenous grasses in place of evasive species at the west-campus nature reserve. Once home to a wealthy estate, the land surrounding Devereux Slough was purchased by the University of California in 1970 and has been the site of restoration work ever since.

According to Santa Barbara Audubon Society President Darlene Chirman, the restoration work is important to stem the growing loss of native species.

“California has lost roughly 95 percent of native grasslands,” Chirman said. “The displacement in the area is due to human uses such as agriculture and the building of towns, as well as the introduction of Mediterranean annual grasses.”

Moreover, the Coal Oil Point Reserve doubles as a protected habitat for the protected Snowy Plover, which have been listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1993. A major accomplishment of the reserve, said Chirman, has been the Plover’s recovery.

“In 2001 we had one baby [Snowy Plover] chick that survived,” Chirman said. “Last year we had almost 60 chicks that fledged, a record year. The combination of the education program and removal of non-native acacia shrubs has done a lot to help with their resurgence.”

The monthly event is funded in part by UCSB, as well as the Goleta Valley Land Trust and the Audubon Society. The university contributes nearly $7,000 annually for maintenance of the area, while the land trust recently donated $34,050 for coastal work through June 2011.

In addition to financial backing, Coal Oil Point Reserve Director Cristina Sandoval said volunteer work is critical the project.

“The volunteer work is essential,” Sandoval said. “There’s no way we would be able to do this with contractors, they are just too expensive. Last year we had 900 volunteers helping us, and by putting in just three hours of their time, that adds up to a lot of help.”

Third-year environmental studies major Mark Pollack said he volunteered because he is concerned about the loss of wildlife habitat, both in Santa Barbara and elsewhere.

“If we want our children to be able to appreciate the world’s natural beauty,” he said, “the time to act is now.”