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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
VENTURA FWO: Service Active in Marine and Coastal Conservation Activities in the Santa Barbara Channel
Region 8, August 1, 2008

Compiled by the Ventura Fish and Wildlfie Office
As part of a request from the Departmnet of the Interior's Oceans Communications Team, the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office recently completed a sumary of oceans and coastal conservation activties taking place in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of California.

Habitat Restoration Activities on Santa Cruz Island 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (Partners Program) supports a number of invasive species removal projects that occur on private lands associated with Santa Cruz Island.  Santa Cruz Island is the largest of the northern Channel Islands off the Santa Barbara Coast in California.  It is home to 10 Federal and/or State listed plant species and one endemic Federal and State listed animal, the Santa Cruz Island fox.  All of these species are potentially impacted by invasive non-native vegetation which comprises about 26 percent of the island’s flora.  Removal of invasive plant species will assist the re-establishment of native plant communities throughout the island as well as support the recovery of numerous imperiled species.


In 2003, the Partners Program supported a project to remove invasive trees from within the Cañada del Puerto watershed, including Eucalyptus sp., Acacia melanoxylon, and Tamarix sp.  The project encompassed approximately 400 acres and removed more than 20,000 invasive trees.  In 2006, another project began efforts to remove other invasive plants in locations that occur throughout the island including Vinca major (periwinkle), Pennisetum clandestinum (kikuyu grass), and Conium maculatum (poison hemlock).  Both projects have been implemented in close collaboration with numerous partners including the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), University of California Reserve System, and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.  In addition, Channel Island Restoration (a local nonprofit organization) organizes hundreds of volunteers who have been an essential workforce in making the invasive tree removal project a success. 


The Service’s Partners Program and Endangered Species Program also participate in the Santa Cruz Island Weed Control Coordination Group (Weed Group), spearheaded and led by TNC.  The Weed Group coordinates weed control efforts on the island.  The Partners Program projects and the collaborative efforts of the Weed Group illustrate the importance of partnerships between private landowners; Federal, State and local agencies; private organizations; and volunteers to benefit native species and their habitats within the Northern Channel Islands complex.


Future collaborative projects on Santa Cruz Island include the proposed wetland restoration and enhancement at the mouth of Cañada del Puerto watershed at Prisoner’s Harbor.  The NPS is currently evaluating the project pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Service’s Partners Program and Endangered Species Program will provide technical assistance on the proposed wetland restoration and enhancement plan developed for Prisoner’s Harbor.  The future project will expand the existing Partners Program work on private lands to remove invasive plants in the Cañada del Puerto watershed.  The proposed project will ultimately increase the extent and enhance the quality of coastal wetlands on the island and within the State, where more than 90 percent of California’s historical coastal wetlands have been lost.


Southern Sea Otter Conservation 

1)  Southern sea otters extended their range further into the Santa Barbara Channel this year, and a fairly large seasonal group was present at Coal Oil Point this spring.  The Service is working to protect southern sea otters in the Santa Barbara Channel in two ways:  by supporting studies that investigate effects of different habitat factors in this new area, and by re-evaluating the southern sea otter translocation program under the National Environmental Policy Act. 


            a)  The Service has written a letter of support and is providing technical assistance for a pilot study proposed by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the California Department of Fish and Game, to be funded by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, investigating the consequences of exposure to natural oil seeps on sea otters.  The project will also provide an opportunity to field-test state-of-the-art imaging technology to detect the oiling of sea otters.


            b)  The Service is re-evaluating the southern sea otter translocation program under NEPA.  The proposed action identified in the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is to terminate the program and allow sea otters to remain at San Nicolas Island.  If the program is terminated, natural range expansion could continue to occur.  The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be published this fiscal year. 


2)  The Service participated in a USGS/Department of Interior Santa Barbara Channel Workshop, held on March 26-27, 2008, in Santa Cruz, California.  Workshop participants provided updates on current research efforts in the Channel, discussed science needs, shared information on coastal zone management, and discussed expanded collaboration opportunities. 


3)  In the future we will likely be more involved with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s abalone conservation efforts (by monitoring the effect of sea otter predation).


 Torch/Platform Irene Oil Spill Restoration 

The Torch/Platform Irene oil spill occurred along the Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) coastline, just north of the Santa Barbara Channel area.  The restoration projects resulting from the settlement may affect resources beyond the VAFB coast, such as seabird restoration and rocky intertidal outreach efforts.  The Trustee Council is in the beginning stages of restoration project implementation, so there are not yet specific projects “on the ground” underway.  The Torch restoration plan that outlines the various projects is on the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office’s web site with a link to the California Department of Fish and Game's website that provides more complete project descriptions.  The projects being developed include public education efforts, mussel bed restoration, rocky intertidal habitat protection, sandy beach and dune habitat restoration, and seabird colony enhancement.  Seabird restoration projects will benefit many species of birds that occur in the Santa Barbara Channel.  The Trustee Council is presently working with the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) California Coastal National Monument to establish an agreement with BLM for the transfer of settlement funds to BLM for the seabird work, which will largely focus on disturbance reduction through various educational activities.

Technical Assistance to Minerals Management Service 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (Partners Program) in California provided technical assistance to the Minerals Management Service (MMS) in Camarillo, California, as the local MMS office developed strategies for managing the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) in Fiscal Year 2008.  Opportunities exist for the local Partners Program and MMS staff to create a formal partnership (e.g., an Interagency Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding) that would enhance the Partners Program’s ability to provide technical assistance to MMS staff working on habitat restoration projects associated with the Coastal Impact Assistance Program in southern and central California.  Depending on the scope and nature of the potential partnership, the Partners Program could provide biological expertise and staff time to review initial project proposals for consistency with CIAP’s coastal conservation objectives and for subsequent project monitoring and evaluation.  Potential collaborative efforts such as this could help to extend and leverage the Department of Interior’s efforts to manage and conserve the lands and waters of California to better protect native species and their habitats along this stretch of coastline - a high priority conservation area, where native habitat restoration and protection are vital for conserving over 85 federally listed species on the central and southern coasts of California. 


Other Activities


§                     Coordination and development of the Administrative Draft Recovery Plan for Four Subspecies of Island Fox.  To date, this effort has required more than 5 years of close coordination with many public and private entities, including the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Catalina Island Conservancy.


§                     Western Snowy Plover and California Least Tern Protection.  For the last 3 years, the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office has coordinated and implemented the installation of fencing and signage to seasonally delineate and protect several of the most important breeding areas in Ventura County for these federally listed species.


Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov