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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

SAN DIEGO NWR: Volunteers Work to Save Rare Vernal Pools and Cactus Wrens

Region 8, February 11, 2012
Removing invasive mustard
Removing invasive mustard - Photo Credit: n/a
Volunteers weeding invasives from around transplanted snake cholla cactus
Volunteers weeding invasives from around transplanted snake cholla cactus - Photo Credit: n/a

By Lisa Cox, San Diego NWR

On February 11, twelve volunteers ventured out to the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge to learn about and help save two imperiled San Diego County habitats that support several threatened and endangered species. The opportunity to help restore rare vernal pool and cactus scrub habitat was not passed up by the willing volunteers.

Escorted by John Martin, the refuge wildlife biologist,  the group hiked through the Shinohara Vernal Pool restoration area near Sweetwater reservoir, where the endangered San Diego fairy shrimp lay dormant in association with these unique seasonal pools. The fairy shrimp were not active yet, so  the volunteers were able to weed the area with the least impact. Other species the volunteers were working to save in the vernal pool area included plants such as the Otay tar plant, San Diego button celery, and San Diego mesa mint. The group even caught a view of a resident Burrowing owl; another struggling species the Fish and Wildlife Service, refuges, and its many partners, are working together to prevent from becoming a listed.

Later that day, the volunteer group moved to the adjacent hills of Miguel Mountain to meet up with Refuge Specialist Jim Kelly at one of several cactus scrub habitat restoration plots. These plots were transplanted in order to rebuild populations of Coastal Cactus wrens decimated by the Harris wildfire in 2007. The crew had to move carefully between transplanted cacti to remove non-native mustard plants growing in head-high in places, without getting poked. Removing the stubborn mustard is hard work, but the volunteers persevered and worked together, looking forward to a future for the Cactus wrens to reestablish at their once-pristine habitat.

Only a bit of drizzle dampened the day which was coordinated by Vicky Bonnett and Cathy Chadwick of the Earth Discovery Institute, a non-profit organization working to support conservation between local agencies, and environmental education in San Diego County.

Contact Info: Lisa Cox, 619.476.9150 ext. 106, lisa_cox@fws.gov