Restoring landscapes is not always easy, but when they are restored, the benefits to the surrounding ecosystem can be highly measurable. At Channel Islands National Park off California's coast, restoring Prisoners Harbor will bring back a particularly rare landscape -- a coastal wetland.
Helping the Park Service with the massive restoration project on Santa Cruz Island will be The Nature Conservancy. According to a release from the national park, "coastal wetlands in California are increasingly rare-over 90 percent have been eliminated. Prisoners Harbor, once the largest coastal wetland on the Channel Islands, was important habitat for wildlife and native plants.
"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," the release adds. "Additionally, non-native eucalyptus have proliferated and replaced oak woodlands, willows, and other native plants. These changes degraded the wetland ecology and compromised its effectiveness as a natural floodplain."
Expected to benefit from the restoration work are a variety of species, from the Santa Cruz Island fox and migratory waterfowl, which will benefit from more habitat.
To restore the natural function and ecology of the wetland, an engineering firm, Erik Ammon from Anderson, California, 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 that will allow it to flood naturally. This stream, Cañada del Puerto, is the largest on the island and drains 13 square miles of island's interior including the Central Valley.
"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," said Dr. Lotus Vermeer, who is overseeing the project for The Nature Conservancy. "It is so exciting to see our restoration vision become a reality, and this wetlands project is another important step forward."
The project will involve nearly 60 acres of land owned by the Park Service and The Nature Conservancy. That expanse 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, eucalyptus removal, site preparation, logistics, and environmental compliance.
According to park officials, 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 be carefully relocated, and archaeological resources will be protected. You can learn more about the project on this page.