Help prevent the mowing of our native plant reserve

What is about a mile from the Pacific Ocean, less than a ½ mile from San Juan Creek, and along Del Obispo Drive in Dana Point? That’s right! It is Back to Natives’ very own Native Plant Reserve – and it’s in jeopardy! First, a bit of background on the reserve…

The Native Plant Reserve is 2.5 acres of undeveloped land that was donated from the Kato family in December of 2015.

“We are extremely grateful to have received such an amazing and openly generous gift, and we look forward to being able restore the land,” said Back to Natives Executive Director Reginald Durant.

Initially a part of Kato Properties, the native plant reserve is now referred to as Cuesta Kato, meaning Kato Hillside.

“Properties like this one – on a slope – are not ideal for development, but are ideal habitat areas,” Durant explains, “…wild open spaces like this, while small, provide waystations for wildlife like birds and butterflies in urban Orange County where development has limited the amount of habitat available.”

Habitat restoration at Cuesta Kato began in 2016, performed by community volunteers and staff.  Over 30 pounds of native seed has been sown, and thousands of native plants are either coming up or are already in seed. In addition, countless invasive plants have been removed making room for the awesome native plants that are currently thriving on the land such as wildflowers, lemonadeberry, ambrosia, California everlasting, prickly pear, California buckwheat, goldenbush, California sagebrush, even Coast Live Oak. A number of native animals have also been documented using the site, including trapdoor spiders, Cottontail, and western fence & alligator lizards!  Cuesta Kato is becoming a flourishing native habitat thanks to the community for all their past and present assistance, but unfortunately, that could all change, and here’s why…

Native tarplant growing at Cuesta Kato!
Our Board President poses in front of a giant Bladderpod bush at Cuesta Kato.

Last winter’s heavy rains increased the spread of mustard at Cuesta Kato. Not only is mustard a non-native & highly invasive plant, it’s also considered a fire hazard by the city of Dana Point. They want it gone and now. The city warned if the mustard is not removed soon, they will completely mow the reserve! If this were to occur, all the new emerging native plants – and the animals that have made their home there – would be destroyed and everyone’s efforts to save this habitat, will have been in vain. We need your help to save the habitat, and here is how. You can volunteer to assist us in removing the mustard at Cuesta Kato on any (every, if you like!) Friday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, now through the end of July. The mustard is currently still green so if cleared before it dries up from the summer heat soon to come, we can prevent the mowing of our native plant reserve. Sign up here today to help and contribute to saving the environment, one habitat at a time. Nature thanks you!

– Cassandra Winston, BTN Communications Intern, II

Farewell Fountain Grass

by Cassandra Winston, ENC Communications Intern

The rainy season is upon us, and the aftermath is perfect for some weed pulling. Saturday January 14th, Back to Natives and roughly 20 volunteers took part in a habitat restoration effort at Santiago Creek. Santiago Creek is overpopulated with Pennisetum setaceum, also known as fountain grass, and this grass is not native to Orange County.  Back to Natives’ Board President Mark Sugars explains in depth, how this effects the ecosystem below:

Biodiversity is crucial for our environment, and to maintain it in this particular region, the fountain grass must be pulled up. It multiplies much faster than the native plants – it outcompetes them – hence throwing off the balance needed for a healthy ecosystem. The weeding of the pennisetum is the main focus of the ongoing restoration program at Santiago Park Nature Reserve. During the event, BTN staff, Green Shirts (volunteer leaders) and volunteers alike work together to remove as much of the fountain grass as possible from the roots to the seed fronds, replacing them with willow and mulefat saplings.

A few volunteers even shared their experience with us! Here’s what Winston, a loyal Back to Natives Volunteer, had to say:

“I am an environment lover, and Back to Natives is a perfect organization to help make the environment a better place and to save it…(the restoration)’s a very fun and interesting way to develop one’s ability and also to learn more about plants and the environment.”

Other volunteers, new and old had similar experiences! Cindy, a volunteer who attended a Restoration event once prior and returned for more, was more motivated by the joy of the work, but shared the same outlook on the event as Winston.

Back to Natives has plenty more restoration projects and volunteer opportunities to come! Join us in Orange County’s Cleveland National Forest in our efforts to restore the San Mateo Wilderness! You’ll get to play a part in saving the environment while getting a one-on-one experience with nature. For more information or to register, check our website. Don’t forget to bring a friend (they need to register too)! Unable to participate? Leave your mark with a donation to keep the earth moving. Every dollar makes a difference and what you put into the world, you will get out of it. Nature thanks you!

9th year of habitat restoration training scheduled!

A student learning how to use a weed wrench, which is used to remove larger invasive plants like Scotch Broom. Photo by Mark Bowler
A student learning how to use a weed wrench, which is used to remove larger invasive plants like Scotch Broom. Photo by Mark Bowler

Back to Natives Restoration, in a cooperative agreement with the United States Forest Service in the Cleveland National Forest, will lead a hands-on training course for restoration volunteers from January 19 to March 4, 2017. This successful program is now in its ninth year.

Participants will learn how to remove invasive non-native plant species using tools rather than herbicides.  They will learn how to keep themselves and others safe in the field, how to manage restoration volunteers, and how to identify native and non-native plants.

Graduates are eligible to lead volunteer groups in the National Forest. Volunteers and staff from all wild land agencies, organizations and non-profits are welcome to participate, and then share their new knowledge and skills with others.

ScotchBroomRemoval_smallIndividuals interested in attending the series of classes can visit https://www.backtonatives.org/education

Ecological restoration is a means of sustaining the diversity of life on Earth and reestablishing healthy ecosystems.  Successful habitat restoration ensures that native species are protected while non-native species are removed with minimal impact.  Nationwide, invasive plants cost us an estimated $33 billion per year. Invasive plants degrade wildlife habitat – they are the second-greatest threat to endangered species, after habitat destruction.

Back to Natives strives to involve the community in the process of ecological restoration and conservation because it believes that a little “ecological enlightenment” and a chance to “get your hands dirty” is the best way to improve relations between people and nature.

Saving the Earth, one Habitat at a Time

By Andrew Soto, BTN Communications Intern

Elsinore PeakAccording to the latest news from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, California’s drought is not likely to ease any time soon.

“La Niña is favored to develop during the Northern Hemisphere summer 2016, with about a 75% chance of La Nina during the fall and winter 2016-17”.

La Niña and El Niño are recurring and fluctuating weather patterns in the tropical region of the Pacific Ocean. These warming phases (El Niño) and cooling phases (La Niña) have an enormous impact on weather systems that make landfall. El Niño’s warming effects has not lasted as long as it used to in years past. As a result, cooling of ocean surface temperature exacerbates the draught problem worldwide.

This news comes at a time when California residents are living through their fifth year of consistent drought conditions. On January 17, 2014 Governor Brown proclaimed a state of emergency due to persistent and prolonged drought conditions.

Centaurea solstitialisCalifornia residents know firsthand the effects dramatic climate change can have on the local flora and fauna, including the increased risks of wildfires. The devastating effects of wildfires are exacerbated by invasive plant species such as Yellow Star Thistle (Centaurea solstitialis), which rapidly colonize and replace native plant life after a fire or other disturbance. A Yellow Star Thistle infestation decimates biodiversity; it quickly colonizes and forms dense patches which out-compete surrounding plants for water and space. Native plants are starved and die, only to be replaced by more Yellow Starthistle.

With wildfire season on the way, it is important to ensure any and all burn sites are closely monitored for infestation. The soil conditions after a fire are the perfect environment for Yellow Star Thistle to take hold and replace all the native plant life. When invasive plant species take hold, they create a plant monoculture which drive out all native plants. This also drives out the animal life dependent on this vegetation for survival.

As the first week of June comes to an end, Back to Natives Restoration is hard at work fighting against this noxious weed. Back to Natives will be hosting events at Elsinore Peak in the Cleveland National Forrest giving the public hands-on experience in dealing with Yellow Starthistle infestations.

In 2015, 29 Back to Natives volunteers logged 353 hours on Elisnore Peak removing the infestation from the area completely before going to seed. Yellow Star Thistle seeds remain viable in the soil for years after removal creating a need for constant maintenance. Back to Natives Executive Director Reginald Durant makes it clear what his organization’s mission is.

“We want to save the Earth. We do it by restoring habitat.”

For more information about this program and other events aimed at native ecological restoration, please visit backtonatives.org/volunteers.html

Learning to Lead

Back to Natives and USFS offer hands-on training courses in Habitat Restoration and Volunteer Management

Successful habitat restoration program provides training for volunteers and agency staff for an eighth year.

A student learning how to use a weed wrench, which is used to remove larger invasive plants like Scotch Broom. Photo by Mark Bowler
A student learning how to use a weed wrench, which is used to remove larger invasive plants like Scotch Broom. Photo by Mark Bowler

Back to Natives Restoration, in a cooperative agreement with the United States Forest Service in the Cleveland National Forest, will lead a hands-on training course for restoration volunteers. This successful program is now in its eighth year. A new Volunteer Leader Training class will also be offered for those interested in improving their leadership skills, and helping others improve local wildlands.

Participants in the USFS Training class will learn how to remove invasive non-native plants using tools rather than herbicides. They will learn how to keep themselves and others safe in the field, how to manage restoration volunteers, and how to identify native and non-native plants. After passing a final exam, they will become a BTN “Green Shirt”. Once they fulfill a yearlong volunteer commitment they will be certified to lead groups of volunteers in the Cleveland National Forest.

Participants in the Volunteer Leader Training class will learn to lead groups of volunteers while learning a little more about native plants and how to protect their habitats. Successful students will attend at least five of ten scheduled Sunday volunteer events with Back to Natives in the San Mateo Wilderness in the Cleveland National Forest. After passing a volunteer leadership test, they will receive a certificate and become a BTN “Dirt Shirt”.

Students gathered for a safety meeting before beginning hands-on training in the USFS BTN Restoration Training class.
Students gathered for a safety meeting before beginning hands-on training in the USFS BTN Restoration Training class.

Individuals interested in attending either of these series of classes, which begin on January 24, 2016, can visit backtonatives.org/education for more information and to register.

Ecological restoration is a means of sustaining the diversity of life on Earth and reestablishing healthy ecosystems. Successful habitat restoration ensures that native species are protected while non-native species are removed with minimal impact. Nationwide, invasive plants cost us an estimated $33 billion per year. Invasive plants degrade wildlife habitat – they are the second-greatest threat to endangered species, after habitat destruction.

Back to Natives strives to involve the community in the process of ecological restoration and conservation because it believes that a little “ecological enlightenment” and a chance to “get your hands dirty” is the best way to improve relations between people and nature.

BTN Receives Donation of Land!

IMG_3954 Back to Natives just received a donation of land! The 2.5 acres of land along Del Obispo Drive in Dana Point are about a mile from the Pacific Ocean, less than a ½ mile from San Juan Creek, and less than 2 miles from the Dana Point State Marine Conservation Area. It is undeveloped and will remain so to provide habitat for birds and butterflies.

Check out more photos HERE.

Wild open spaces like this, while small, provide way stations for wildlife like birds and butterflies in urban Orange County where development has limited the amount of habitat available. We are extremely grateful to have received such an amazing and openly generous gift from Kato Properties, and we look forward to being able restore the land.

Restoration of the land will begin in 2016. Back to Natives will recruit volunteers from the community to remove invasive non-native species and plant Cuesta Kato seed dispersalnative plants. Restoration events will occur twice a month on Sundays. Volunteers will have the ability to register for events on the Back to Natives Website, backtonatives.org, in late December.

It is our hope that this is the first of many land donations to Back to Natives. Properties like this one – on a slope – are not ideal for development, but are ideal habitat areas. Now we need your help to raise funds to help restore the land. We have our work cut out for us, but we know our amazing supporters are ready for the challenge.

If you’re like me your inbox is filled with donation requests from dozens of great non-profits. You wish you could give to them all, but you must decide where your dollars will make the greatest impact. Donating to local, grassroots organizations like Back to Natives is a great place to start. Back to Natives works to restore habitat and provide environmental education here in Orange County were you live.

Cuesta Kato_goldenbush and prickly pearWe are so grateful for your support, and for sharing our mission of connecting the community to habitat restoration through service learning and native plant education. Your financial contribution – of any amount – will help support our programs, and make a real impact on our local environment. We hope you will partner with us so we can continue to promote native plants and improve habitat in Orange County. – Reginald Durant, BTN Executive Director