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Middle Stewart Canyon Creek Restoration Project
The Middle Stewart Canyon Creek Restoration Project is underway! The project is rehabilitating a 10-acre riparian corridor overrun by invasive non-native species. Non-native plants allow fires to spread in areas that historically did not burn as frequently by inhibiting native plant growth. These invasive plants also consume more water which reduces water availability for native plants, wildlife, and people. Non-native trees such as eucalyptus drop a thick layer of oil-containing leaf and bark that inhibit native plant growth and can be toxic to aquatic life.
This project will enhance an existing native oak woodland, increase stream flow, reduce fire risk, and benefit habitat value for sensitive species while providing environmentally oriented jobs for local youth to work with the Concerned Resource Environmental Workers (CREW) and California Conservation Corps (CCC). The project area will be restored and maintained through a collaboration of community partners (City of Ojai, CREW, Pax Environmental, Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, and Once Upon a Watershed) who have worked together for many years on several restoration projects throughout the Ojai Valley.
Middle Stewart Canyon Creek is one of many community restoration projects within the Ventura River Watershed and is contiguous with previously restored sites up and down stream.
Restoration of the project area will improve habitat for special-status species including southern California steelhead trout, California red-legged frog, arroyo chub, two-striped garter snake, and southwestern pond turtle. Non-native periwinkle (Vinca major), Mexican fan palm (Washingtonia robusta), and Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.) will be replaced with native Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), California sycamore (Platanus racemose), Valley oak (Q. lobata), Black walnut (Juglans californica), and several other species of plants within the understory.
Phase I – Southern Project Area
Invasive plant removal for the Southern Project Area has been mostly completed and the area is being prepped for upcoming native planting efforts. To ensure the most locally adapted plants are reintroduced to Stewart Canyon, only plant materials collected within the Ventura River Watershed will be utilized for the project.
Native Plant Species for Spring 2021 Planting
- Coast live oak
- Valley oaks
- California buckwheat (seeds)
- Coyote brush (seeds)
- Black walnut (seeds)
- Creeping wild rye
- Giant wild rye
- Hummingbird sage
- Purple sage
- Mountain mahogany
- Willow (cuttings)
- Mulefat (cuttings)
Additionally, cuttings will be grown from old-growth sycamores to ensure genetic integrity threatened by the introduction of the London planetree. Hybridization with non-local plant genetics can have negative consequences for generations to come. By adhering to these considerations Stewart Canyon can provide a high-quality habitat for our native plants and animals into perpetuity.
Phase II – Northern Project Area
Invasive plant removal for the Northern Project Area will begin outside of the nesting bird season in late fall of 2021. A variety of California natives will be planted in Winter and Spring of 2022. A complete project schedule for the Phase II will be released in Fall 2021.
2/13/21: Inaugural volunteer event began with the help of PAX Environmental, the C.R.E.W., and community members. Work included the removal of invasive grasses and planting of native California black walnut seeds in the northern area.
2/27/21: Restoration efforts focused on substantial weeding of grasses and sedges in the northern end. Approximately 6 cubic yards were removed.
3/13/21: The event was supported by students from Summit School, OUSD educators, Girl Scouts and other community members. Volunteers planted Hummingbird sage, Purple sage, Mountain mahogany, Snowberry, creeping rye and giant rye, Purple needle grass, and Valley oak trees. Efforts were focused on the southern area.
3/27/21: We battled smilo grass and planted willow and mulefat stakes to help secure the banks of Stewart Creek. These plantings will eventually shade the creek.
Much of our restoration efforts are dependent on saturated soils to maximize the ability of new plants to thrive. This year we are experiencing historically low rainfall levels and as a result, re-introduction of some mulefat and willow cuttings will be delayed until soil conditions improve. Restoration of the southernmost portion is still on track for completion this year. Outside of the Saturday events, we’ve also solarized large areas that will be ready for planting in the future. Solarization will subdue the current invasive vegetation as well as any invasive offspring, creating a more hospitable environment for native plants and increasing the survival rate of those future plantings. Watering and weeding around the newly planted areas will continue until 2024, tapering off as plants become established and self-sufficient.
Interested in helping us with this project? We have the following upcoming Volunteer dates. Click on the desired date to sign up.
Saturday February 13, 2021, 9 am – noon Saturday February 27, 2021, 9 am – noon Saturday March 13, 2021, 9 am – noon Saturday March 27, 2021, 9 am – noon Saturday April 17, 2021, 9 am – noon
MEET: City Parking Lot across from City Hall (W. Santa Ana Street).
WEAR: Garden/Work clothes, closed toe shoes
BRING: Face covering, water, & gloves
CONTACT: Jennifer Berry: email@example.com 805-649-8847
- Enhance an existing native oak woodland to a functioning riparian ecosystem that supports a diversity of fish, wildlife, and plant species.
- Decrease fire hazards associated with invasive, non-native species.
- Provide ongoing stewardship of Middle Stewart Canyon Creek and develop outreach and networking that will help to continue project funding from a variety of community-based sources.
- Adjacent homeowner education program on runoff management, native landscaping practices, and other practices that will support the immediate and long-term health of this local riparian habitat.
- Provide environmentally oriented jobs for local youth working for The Concerned Resource Environmental Workers (CREW) and California Conservation Corps (CCC).
Project Schedule: Restoration work began in October 2020 and is expected to run through March 2024:
- Fall/Winter 2020/2021: Begin removal of eucalyptus and Mexican fan palm trees.
- Spring 2021: Begin planting of native trees and herbaceous plants and shrubs in coordination with tree removal schedule. Community education including planting days with OVLC, and workshops by OUW on practices that support healthy riparian habitat and water flow.
- Summer 2021: Begin regular watering schedule, as well as weeding, on a weekly to monthly basis depending on the time of year and rainfall.
- Fall/Winter 2021/2022: Continue and finish removal of eucalyptus and Mexican fan palm trees.
- Spring 2022: Continue planting of native trees and herbaceous plants and shrubs in coordination with tree removal schedule.
- Spring 2022 – Winter 2023: Community education including planting days with OVLC, and workshops by OUW on practices that support healthy riparian habitat and water flow.
- Summer 2022 – Spring 2024: Continue regular watering as well as weeding and re-sprouting prevention, on a weekly to monthly basis depending on the time of season, heat and rainfall.
- March 2024: CDFW reimbursable work ends. Community volunteers begin providing ongoing annual invasive weed and tree control.
- For an interesting quick look at the project, please watch the STORY MAP.
- Stewart Creek Infographic
- Stewart Canyon Restoration Project featured on NBC’s “First Look”
- Data will be collected prior to restoration activities to establish a baseline for evaluating the restoration success.
- Aquatic, Nesting Bird, and Pre-construction surveys will be conducted prior to restoration activities.
- Native American monitoring will be conducted during any excavation activity.
- A local volunteer effort with multiple planting days in cooperation with the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.
- Established native plants will be maintained by the CREW and volunteers.
- Data collection and analysis of restoration efforts for annual and post project reporting as required by the grant.
Flexibility: The priority is to restore the entire area, but the City has flexibility to leave invasive trees that it deems critical. Many invasive trees, especially eucalyptus, will inhibit restoration of native vegetation and can be toxic to aquatic life. It should be noted that leaving eucalyptus trees within the project area will compromise the integrity of the habitat restoration.
- For example, the plan is to start from the south end of the project while reaching out to adjacent residents, prioritizing restoration removal closer to the stream and providing flexibility as far from the stream as possible.
Outreach: City staff and consulting biologist will reach out to adjacent property owners prior and during the work to assure their understanding of the project, providing a project review and contact information, and discuss potential impacts to the removal of invasive trees and other vegetation. Additionally, the City’s webpage for this project is being enhanced to include photo renderings of before and after restoration, and a StoryMap (click here to view). The extensive outreach that has already taken place has resulted in the following cooperation and commitments with adjacent residents:
- Concerns with maintaining visual blocking of neighbors’:
- Minimizing the time between tree removal and planting to assure the landscape and any visual blocking returns as fast as possible.
- Planting on hillsides, with frequent watering, so trees gain total height as rapidly as possible.
- Increasing the planting ratio and new plant in areas where visual blocking is a concern, as project funds or contributions allow. Assuring fast growing natives are planted, such as Sycamore and Willow trees.
- Working with the Ventura County Watershed Protection District to see what plantings will be allowed in the rip-rapped and other concreted areas.
Environmental Protections and Monitoring:
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) requires the following before they issue a Notice to Proceed with the work:
- Primary Document: CDFW Approved Planting and Restoration Plan (including a plant palette with thousands of native plantings).
- Biological Assessment
- Streambed Alteration Permit
- Tree Protection Plan
City staff and a consulting environmental firm with biologist and arborist will ensure that all activities are in compliance with permit conditions. A qualified biologist/arborist will conduct pre-construction surveys (3-5 days prior to tree removal), coordinate species relocations, flag sensitive resources to avoid, conduct WEAP trainings and site checks, and complete weekly/annual reporting to ensure environmental compliance with applicable permits during restoration activities. The work plan is reviewed each day before starting work, with a plan for which trees/vegetation will be removed and a review of necessary restrictions. Then work is monitored to ensure compliance. Qualified Native American monitors will monitor any native soil disturbance.
Invasive Resprouting Control:
- City staff will work with Transition to Organics to implement certain non-chemical resprouting control such as solarization and cardboard covering, where feasible
- Hand pulling of invasive plants will be maximized.
- The use of chemical herbicides will be minimized, applied under the supervision of licensed applicators, and will only be by hand painting or spot application, where feasible.
- Note this project is beneficial to monarch butterflies as it increases their native foraging habitat.