Major Project Begins to Restore Coastal Wetland on Santa Cruz Island.The National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy recently announced the ground-breaking for a large-scale project to restore the coastal wetland at Prisoners Harbor on the north side of Santa Cruz Island. Coastal wetlands in California are increasingly rare—over 90% have been destroyed and transformed into housing tracks and harbors. Prisoners Harbor, once the largest coastal wetland on the Channel Islands, was important habitat for wildlife and native flora found nowhere else on earth. The wetland habitat was reduced by 50 percent in the late 1800s and early 1900s when former island owners filled the wetland with rock and gravel and channelized the creek during the ranching era. Additionally, nonnative eucalyptus have proliferated and replaced island oak woodlands, willows, and other native plants. Over time, these changes degraded the wetland ecology and compromised its effectiveness as a natural floodplain.Consequences included diminished habitat for island species, such as the Santa Cruz Island fox, island scrub-jay, and migratory waterfowl, as well as reduction in the native riparian woodlands. To restore the natural function and ecology of the wetland, an engineering firm, Erik Ammon from Anderson, CA, has been contracted to remove fill from the wetland and reshape the landscape to its former condition. A crew of six using heavy equipment will remove 250 feet of artificial berm that had been built up next to the stream which will allow it to flood naturally. This stream, Cañada del Puerto, is the largest on the island and drains 13 square miles through the island’s interior including the Central Valley.Dr. Lotus Vermeer, Santa Cruz Island Project Director for The Nature Conservancy, said,
The Conservancy and the National Park Service have been actively restoring the Island’s unique flora and fauna and reversing the legacy of 150 years of habitat degradation. We are seeing the island come alive. It is so exciting to see our restoration vision become a reality, and this wetlands project is another important step forward.The project, which extends over nearly 60 acres of land owned by the NPS and The Nature Conservancy, includes approximately four acres near the shore and nearly one mile of stream habitat in the valley. The project includes the earthmoving contract, planting of wetland vegetation, the removal of eucalyptus trees, site preparation, logistics, and environmental compliance. Prisoners Harbor has an extensive legacy of human occupation from Chumash habitation to historic fishing and ranching. Ranching structures in the project area including a scale house, squeeze chute, and water trough will all be carefully relocated, and archaeological resources will be protected.