Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
SAN DIEGO NWR: Habitat Restored at a Bargain Price
California-Nevada Offices , February 15, 2008
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Eric Smith and Gordon Tamplin plant salvaged coastal cholla on the San Diego NWR February 21, 2008. (USFWS Photo by John Martin)
Eric Smith and Gordon Tamplin plant salvaged coastal cholla on the San Diego NWR February 21, 2008. (USFWS Photo by John Martin) - Photo Credit: n/a

Jill Terp, San Diego NWR

While careful planning, project budgets, and hard work are typical components of habitat projects on refuges, a recent two-acre restoration effort on San Diego National Wildlife Refuge was accomplished with no budget, but plenty of initiative, creativity and hard work by Service employees and volunteers.


Refuge Biologist John Martin, heard that several coastal cholla (Cylindropuntia prolifera) were available for salvage from a waste water project site in urban San Diego.  The refuge used the cholla to revegetate illegal off-road vehicle tracks on the refuge. Establishment of cholla will contribute to overall site restoration, deter future illegal off-road traffic, and establish nesting habitat for the cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicappillus). 


Carlsbad Ecological Services volunteers Jim Kelly, Pat Gower, Peter Beck, and Pete’s 3-year old son Aidan, joined John Martin and Refuge Manager Jill Terp, to collect cholla joints.  Cholla stems were broken off from the parent plant with tongs or large sections of mature stems were cut off with loppers.  In about 2.5 hours, we had collected 15 buckets, plus another 3 large tubs full of cholla joints – probably 200 pounds of cactus!  In addition, we pulled up two mature stems and put the roots in soil.


The collected cactus fragments rested in the buckets in the shade house at the Refuge office.  This standard practice allows exposed wounds on the cuttings to callus for a few days, preparing them to root properly.


Gordon Tamplin and Eric Smith of Fire Management joined John Martin on the refuge about a week later to plant the cactus cuttings in three major areas of illegal vehicle tracks.  On steeply sloped portions of the tracks, they chopped a small divot in the compacted soil with a hand-adze, then place a cactus cutting on the bare soil with tongs, giving it a gentle push into the soil to ensure good contact with the soil.  On less steeply sloped areas, they simply shook the cholla joints from the bucket onto the ground.  Target density was about one cholla joint per square meter but in some places it probably approached four joints per square meter.  Where conditions were especially favorable (i.e., south-facing slopes with much bare soil and some wild cholla and San Diego barrel cactus (Ferocactus viridescens), they spread cactus cuttings over a swath of about 20 meters from the road being restored.  In total about 1.9 acres (0.79 ha) were planted with cholla within 2 hours.


Refuge biologists expect that 50-75% of the cuttings will root and grow into mature plants suitable for occupation by cactus wrens.  A great return for 23.5 Service person-hours, 12 of which were volunteer!


Thanks to the thoughtful, strong, generous, and spine-tolerant people who pitched in to make it happen!  In addition to the Service staff mentioned above, thanks to Laura Ball and Jason Allen of City of San Diego Metropolitan Wastewater Department and Department of Parks and Recreation, respectively; Carrie Schneider of California Native Plant Society and Jerre Stallcup of the Conservation Biology Institute for their coordination; and Nicole McGinnis of City of San Diego Water Department, for letting us dump a few cuttings on City land where appropriate.

Contact Info: Jill Terp, 619-468-9245 x 226, jill_terp@fws.gov
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