Creativity in Upland Restoration

SERCAL 2016 Technical Session, Tahoe

Chair: Andrew Rayburn, California Native Grasslands Association

Lead presenters in alpha order


A Monumental Task: Restoring Maritime Chaparral Habitat on Fort Ord National Monument

Thor Anderson

Burleson Consulting, Inc., 3180 Imjin Road, Suite 104, Marina, CA 93933; 831.298.7633 (o); 831.901.9394 (c);

Restoring over 60 acres of rare central coast maritime chaparral habitat is no easy task, yet it is moving forward on Fort Ord National Monument through successful collaboration between Federal, State, and local agencies, non-profit organizations, and private contractors. Since 2010, Burleson Consulting Inc. has led a comprehensive restoration team to strategically plan and implement passive and active restoration on former Fort Ord. An initial project challenge was the propagation of thousands of special-status manzanitas that had the reputation of being difficult to cultivate. To overcome this challenge, the restoration team built a native plant nursery specializing in the propagation of ‘hard-to-grow’ species. Our biologists continually improve cultivation techniques and have improved the success rate for the ‘hard-to-grow’ manzanita cuttings from an initial 10 percent to approximately 50 percent currently. At our nursery, we have also taken a proactive approach in preventing the introduction and spread of pathogens by working closely with the California Department of Food and Agriculture and implementing their recommended BMPs. We believe these BMPs have largely contributed to our success at the nursery. One of our tactics for acquiring the large quantities of native seed is by utilizing commercial seed producers. We currently have six commercial seed production plots growing Fort Ord seed. At three of the plots, we are attempting to produce seed that has never been commercially grown and we are experiencing varying levels of success. Our presentation will reflect on past and present project challenges, lessons learned, and how we plan to proceed with this decade-long endeavor.


Successful Desert Scrub Reclamation at Boron Open Pit Mine

Timothy Burke*1, Joseph Siefke2, and Richard S. Carr III3

1Principal Environmental Advisor; Rio Tinto Minerals Boron Operations, 14486 Borax Road, Boron 93516; 2Senior Geologist (Retired); Rio Tinto Minerals 3President; C-M Environmental Group, 62 Beaver Run Road, Pinedale, WY 82941

The Boron open pit is a world-class borate mine located in the western Mojave Desert of California. The climate is classified as harsh, with evaporation to precipitation at nearly a 25:1 ratio. Overburden slopes at the mine consist largely of silty arkosic sandstone soils which contain varying levels of residual boron. The threat to native plant re-establishment due to soil boron toxicity is pervasive and likely unique to this mine. Mine overburden to be stripped requires sampling scrutiny prior to placement. Final slopes are contour-tilled and seeded with a native mix whose species were selected based on test plots and early slope trials and reclamation success.


Regeneration of Degraded Coast Range Soils for Perennial Plant Habitat

Vic Claassen

Department of Land Air and Water Resources, UC Davis, Davis CA 95616; 530.902.4622;

Soils that lose their ability to infiltrate rainfall following loss of structure and compaction can cause increased runoff and surface erosion, flashier flows in receiving watersheds, and loss of moisture needed for late summer growth. This presentation identifies some typical outcomes that occur during soil degradation, with reference to different types of rain events and substrate conditions. Both human-caused and natural processes can result in reduced soil infiltration. Similarly, both mechanical treatment and amendment and more natural, gradual plant and root growth inputs can contribute to regeneration of a soil’s ability to capture rainfall and regenerate a sustainable plant-soil community. Examples are given from a habitat improvement project in California’s North Inner Coast Range. 


GIS Analysis Using Drones to Map Invasive Weeds in Endangered Species Habitat

Sundaran Gillespie*1 and Geoff Smick*2

WRA, Inc., 2169-G East Francisco Blvd. San Rafael, CA 94901 1GIS Analyst; 415.524.7274; 2President; 415.524.7535;

The explosion of commercially available, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV; i.e., ‘drones’) in the marketplace provides a novel tool to the ecologist. With both fixed-wing and copter-style drones large enough to carry high-resolution cameras that can produce geo-referenced, ortho-rectified mosaic imagery, new approaches to habitat mapping are available at a relatively inexpensive cost. Traditionally, conducting field surveys for invasive plant mapping over large areas requires substantial person hours at a relatively high cost. Before the advent of UAV aerial photography, high-resolution aerial photographs were only available from manned, fixed-wing aircraft at extremely high costs. For one of our wildlife conservation bank projects, we use a combination of inexpensive, high-resolution aerial imagery from drones in conjunction with limited field ground-truthing to create accurate maps of weed infestations in endangered species habitat. The aerial imagery is imported into GIS where polygons are digitized around clearly visible areas of target weed species (i.e., artichoke thistle). The resulting polygons are categorized into various classes based on percent cover. Once the distribution and density of target weed species has been mapped, an annual treatment program is identified and implemented. Since high-resolution aerial imagery can be produced so inexpensively, it can be flown multiple times over the year to capture the appropriate subject matter (phenology, hydrology, colors, etc.). For this project, we fly the site bi-annually: once in the spring to map the plants during their vegetative growth to plan for treatment ahead of seed set, and once in the fall to gauge post-treatment efficacy.


Choose Your Own Restoration Adventure

Matt Kedziora1 and  Glen Kinoshita2

ICF International, 525 B Street, Suite 1700, San Diego, CA 92102

Upland restoration presents a variety of planning challenges and directions, and each decision affects the next during your management period. Decisions are made considering ecological integrity, success standards, and client concerns. We highlight a series of restoration choices, their pros and cons, and how each decision could affect future restoration performance. Pre-determined results, related to pros and cons of the decision tree, will be identified. Considerations of cost drivers, climate, and restoration site prescriptions will be incorporated into an adventurous restoration storyline. A collaborative approach (creativity in collaboration!) to this presentation will mimic the children’s book series “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Two audience teams will decide and vote at each decision stage, allowing each team to complete the storyline. One team will be awarded sign off if they are closest to final success standards.


Creative Strategies for Implementation of Weed Control Plans

Cecilia Meyer Lovell1, Robert Hobbs2, Marc Doalson3, and Linda Robb4.  

1AECOM, 401 West A Street, Suite 1200, San Diego, CA 92101; 2RECON Environmental, Inc., 1927 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 3San Diego Gas & Electric, 83153 Century Park Court, CP21E San Diego, CA 92123 4Southern California Edison, 6 Pointe Drive, Brea, CA 92821

Many large infrastructure projects under the regulatory guidance of the California Public Utilities Commission require implementation of Weed Control Plans during and post-construction. The intent of these programs is to reduce the introduction of new weed species and/or prevent an increase in existing weed populations so as to protect native habitat adjacent to the project. This is especially important for large linear projects. These programs can be conducted alongside restoration programs for temporary impacts, include the permanent impact areas or even the entire right-of-way, and range from 3 to 50 years. Over the last 5 years, we have had the opportunity to implement several of these programs over more than 250 linear miles in California and Nevada and will share observations and lessons learned for creatively implementing these programs for the highest ecological benefit. These include a range of approaches from implementing the program alongside the companion restoration program to refocusing the program into an Adaptive Weed Control Strategy (AWCS) that targets source populations (within and outside the right-of-way) of the most problematic weed species. The AWCS is a creative adaption of the required weed control program that requires extensive collaboration with agencies and landowners to utilize weed control funds for the best benefit of the entire ecosystem, not just the project area. We’ll provide details of these programs, as well as thoughts on preparing plans unique to a specific project and creatively collaborating to implement these plans to the best benefit of the surrounding habitat areas. 


Native Grassland Restoration on California’s Lost Coast, a Collaborative Approach

Cassie Pinnell

Mattole Restoration Council, PO Box 160, Petrolia, CA 95558; 707.629.3514;

California’s native grasslands have been heavily impacted, and are often considered too challenging, time consuming, or expensive to restore. However, coastal prairie stands have managed to maintain a foothold along Humboldt County’s Lost Coast and have been a restoration focus of a local community, non-profit, and agency partnership for over 30 years. These prairies support over 10 native grass species, but have been heavily encroached by coyote brush, followed closely by thick Douglas fir forests, and have been declining rapidly. Efforts to maintain these coastal prairies have been fueled by wildfire risk management, interest in species and habitat preservation, and goals to promote climate resiliency. We present here a collaborative approach to preserve and restore this important ecosystem, and to promote the ecological processes to maintain the extent of the Lost Coast coastal prairie. Methods to manage encroaching vegetation over time have included hand treatments, mastication, and removal with heavy equipment. Re-vegetation of native grasses has relied on hand collection of native seeds, cultivation in our local native plant nursery, broadcast and plug planting, and the creation of a native grass farm to increase local seed stock. Through a long-lasting collaboration of community volunteers, agency staff, hunting groups, landowners, local restoration practitioners, and students, we have managed to keep these grasslands from disappearing into forests. After many years of efforts, we can offer both qualitative and quantitative results and costs, as well as many lessons learned.


Seed Bank—Vegetation Relationships in Restored and Degraded Annual California Grasslands

Andrew P. Rayburn*1, Craig Schriefer2, Aubrianne Zamora2, and Emilio A. Laca2

1Independent Ecological Consultant; 2Department of Plant Sciences, University of California Davis, One Shields Ave, Davis, CA 96616

Soil seed banks represent the pool of seeds of different species at a site that could potentially germinate and recruit into the above-ground community. Seed banks also serve as reservoirs of biodiversity and help maintain desirable native species. Analysis of seed banks and seed bank—vegetation relationships has direct applications for habitat restoration and management. In California’s Great Central Valley, grasslands are increasingly restored to improve habitat and enhance ecosystem services. Studies of seed banks and seed bank—vegetation relationships in California grasslands are rare, and extent to which restoration efforts lead to native species recruitment into seed banks has rarely been assessed. More information is needed, especially since observations suggest there are significant challenges in retaining native grasses in the years following initial planting. We analyzed seed banks and vegetation in paired restored and degraded annual grasslands in the northern Central Valley. Our objectives were to examine seed bank composition, seed bank similarity within and between restored and unrestored fields; and seed bank similarity to standing vegetation. We found a high degree of variation in seed bank composition and seed bank-vegetation relationships, suggesting patchy distributions of species. We also found that relatively few native grasses persisted in both seed banks and vegetation in the years following restoration, likely due to competition with exotic species and management practices. We also found no native grasses in seed banks within unrestored fields, strongly suggesting that passive restoration will be ineffective on these and similarly degraded sites. Through our approach, we demonstrate the utility of seed bank analysis for optimizing restoration implementation, monitoring restoration trajectories, and guiding adaptive management.


Revegetating Rock: Restoration of Sites with Disturbed or Limited Soil

Joan Schwan*1, Doug Loudon*1 Matt Brown2, and Shannon Johnson3

1Prunuske Chatham, Inc., 400 Morris Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472;, 2Pacific Gas and Electric, 1455 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno, CA 93710; 3Pacific Gas and Electric, 3401 Crow Canyon Road, Room 151H, San Ramon, CA 94583;

Healthy soil is essential to the development of vegetation, but restoration practitioners are often called upon to revegetate land with disturbed or missing soil layers. Prunuske Chatham, Inc., has worked in a number of settings that required establishing native vegetation in soil-limited substrates—from quarry sites to rock spoils piles to rock revetments. We will describe our strategies for work in these environments, summarize our results, and identify lessons learned, using three examples from our work with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). Our first example is revegetation of steep, unconsolidated rock spoils piles along the Pit River. This work began in 2009 with planning, local seed collection, and study of suitable reference sites to develop appropriate success targets. Other key project elements included using cardboard concrete forms to minimize slope disturbance during planting and provide plantings with relative stability and access to soil; use of a diverse species palette; and ongoing drip irrigation through drought conditions. Our second example is restoration of a southern Sierra mixed conifer forest at a site quarried for rock. In this project, extensive planning and effort went into careful removal and stockpiling of native soils for later replacement. Soil testing, development of appropriate target conditions, methods and oversight for soil handling, and targeted soil treatments were other strategies for ensuring that soil conditions would support native vegetation. Our third example involved addition of river run fines and gravels to the interstices of existing rock slope protection adjacent to a river to support willow establishment.


Squaw Valley Ski Resort: The Environmental Paradigm Shift from Enforcement to Prototype

Katrina D. Smolen

Hydro Restoration, PO Box 3196, Olympic Valley, CA 96146; 775.772.9764;

An environmental paradigm shift has transpired at Squaw Valley Resort which utilizes an adaptive management framework for the protection of water quality and in-stream habitat to contribute to watershed health. Protection, restoration, and enhancement minimize the impacts of roads and recreational use, which have developed over 150 years of cumulative anthropogenic impact. Hydro Restoration integrates an iterative design, restoration, and monitoring process, utilizing Best Management Practices, to successfully guide Squaw’s Environmental Program. This multi-tier program involves the use of source protection, sediment control, and native plant vegetation to reach watershed sustainability goals. Squaw’s 4,000 acres of terrain have been inventoried and are monitored annually to identify and restore erosive areas. To evaluate the success of improvement efforts, Squaw Valley has implemented substantial water quality monitoring regime. Squaw Valley Resort’s Environmental Improvement Program has implemented over 50 restoration and revegetation projects in the past decade at a cost of approximately $2,000,000 — prioritized by a Facility Assessment and achieved through the Water Quality Improvement Program and Critical Water Quality Improvement Program. Dozens of new construction activities have also been achieved with minimal environmental impact and 100% compliance of water quality regulations. Hydro Restoration ensures impeccable standards are maintained through communication, collaboration, and education between staff and contractors to enable Squaw Valley Resort to apply solution-based project management and meet upper watershed restoration goals of slope sustainability, thereby reducing sediment loads to benefit watershed health. Hydro Restoration ensures strict adherence to regulatory guidelines and mitigation measures, and coordinates closely with all local, state, and federal regulatory agencies and stakeholders. Squaw Valley’s efforts to improve and sustain the mountain’s natural vegetation and riparian areas all contribute positively to the Squaw Creek watershed. The success of these efforts is witness in the green of the mountains, the clarity of the water, and the results of the TMDL Bioassessment surveys.


Wildlife Abundance Lower in Restored Native Perennial than Annual Grasslands

Kristina M. Wolf*1, Matt Whalen2, Ryan P. Bourbour3, and Roger A. Baldwin4 

1Corresponding Author; Department of Plant Sciences & Ecology Graduate Group, University of California, Davis, 1 Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616; 2Department of Evolution and Ecology & Ecology Graduate Group, University of California, Davis, 1 Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616; 3Department of Animal Science and Avian Sciences Graduate Group, University of California, Davis, 1 Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA; 4Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, University of California, Davis, 1 Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616;

In California, >98% of native grasslands have been destroyed or degraded due to invasion and land-use change. Restoration is assumed to provide improved wildlife habitat, increasing wildlife abundance and diversity relative to exotic annual grasslands. We compared relative wildlife abundance at paired restored and unrestored grasslands treatments at four locations in the Central Valley using live trapping and surveys in four seasons from 2014-2015. Restored treatments were planted with native perennial grasses 12 to 24 years ago but are now invaded by exotic annual species. Unrestored treatments contained similar non-native plant species assemblages but did not have any native grasses. Rodent and snake abundance was significantly higher in unrestored treatments by 28% and 90%, respectively. The non-native Mus musculus was the only rodent species with significantly higher abundance in unrestored treatments, while native species’ abundance was not significantly different between treatments; differences in total rodent abundance were therefore plausibly driven by exotic rodent species’ abundance. Structural equation modeling indicated that rodent species responded significantly differently to physical vegetation structure, rather than to differences in plant species. Raptor surveys in three seasons showed 36% higher abundance — with more time spent foraging, greater attack rates, and higher prey capture success rates — in unrestored treatments. Greater native raptor and snake abundance in unrestored treatments are likely supported by greater abundance of non-native rodents in unrestored grasslands. Native grassland restoration may not automatically confer increased wildlife abundance, suggesting a more nuanced approach could be required for the restoration of desired biodiversity and wildlife abundance.


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