Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Land Conservancy Removing Trees

By Nao Braverman
Some Ojai residents who enjoy the shade provided by the eucalyptus grove on the outskirts of the Ojai Meadows Preserve were shocked to find 90 of the area’s tallest trees marked for removal.
But Rich Handley, preserve manager for the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, assures concerned residents that most of the eucalyptuses will be left alone and at least 100 native tree seedlings and cuttings will be planted for every one that is removed.
The eucalyptuses are being sacrificed for a good cause, or at least an environmentally sound one, Handley explains. They are being removed so that the Land Conservancy can restore eight acres of wetlands that existed before 1929 adjacent to the Nordhoff High School playing field.
Once a thriving freshwater marsh, the 57-acre plot alongside Maricopa Highway gradually degraded to a dry grassy field after settlers cleared the oak woodlands for cattle grazing in the early 1900s and neighboring residential developments caused it to fill with sediment.
By restoring the wetlands to the meadow preserve, the Land Conservancy hopes to re-establish native habitat conditions, and bring back plant and wildlife that were once part of a self-sustaining ecosystem, rejuvenating natural water sources and preventing floods.
Wetlands function as sponges that trap and absorb rain, filter and slowly release water, while improving water quality and recharge, said Handley. Their return is intended to enable the meadow and stream courses to restore themselves over time and prevent flooding.
Such wetlands are particularly suited to urban areas because they absorb and purify water, counteracting the increased surface-water runoff and pollutants from pavement and buildings, according to an Ojai Valley Land Conservancy report.
Already a forest of cattails has sprung up from Nordhoff High School’s surface drainage runoff which has been redirected to irrigate the meadow plants. Passersby now hear the fluttering wings of meadow larks, sparrows and red-winged blackbirds.
But as part of the project, the drainage channel needs to be graded and re-contoured to correct the hydrology that is causing the flooding, said Handley.
That involves removing eucalyptuses within the drainage channel swath.
The eucalyptus trees, originally planted by a Meiners Oaks Elementary School teacher in the 1960s as an experiment, consume 10 times more water than native trees and make it difficult for other tree species to survive, according to the Land Conservancy report.
However not all the 90 trees initially marked for removal will be cut down, said Handley. All trees were examined for nesting and those known to provide habitat for birds will be protected, he assured.
In addition to the restoration, the Land Conservancy will build 780 feet of raised boardwalk, as well as an overlook area for visitors.
The public review period for the Mitigated Negative Declaration for the wetlands project is open until July 17 at 5 p.m.
A public hearing is to be held on Aug. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the City Hall Council Chambers.

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