The UCSB Fire Department, in conjunction with the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, has tentatively scheduled a controlled burn on the university’s lagoon island for later this morning. The burn is part of an effort to restore biodiversity to and remove the nonnative grasses from this area of campus.
Due to the recent unpredictable weather, the date was not originally announced in the June 15 press release detailing the burn. However, Lisa Stratton, the Cheadle Center’s director of ecosystem management, said today’s forecast looks promising. She said the crew is hoping that after Monday’s brief rain, it will have dried up enough to make for perfect conditions for an effective burn. In addition, UCSB specifically scheduled the burn for this week as few students are on campus during the off week between graduation and the start of summer school.
Although colloquially referred to as an island, the area is only inaccessible by foot during very high tides. The nonnative grasses – specifically a plant known as ripgut brome – have created a monoculture on the island, limiting the diversity in the area, and excluding any native plants. The grasses, which are native to the Mediterranean region, are remnants from when the area was used agriculturally in the 1800s. Currently, the only native grasses are in the patches where controlled burning was successful in the past two years. Crews will take precautions to ensure that the areas of native grasses are protected during the burn. This year, the Cheadle Center hopes to take the fragmented patches of past experimental burns and make them into larger, more cohesive areas of native growth.
“We want to restore the California coast that has been lost due to development and disturbance,” Stratton said. “The places where we have done restoration have gone from being about one-species dominated to having about 30 species.”
This is the third year that UCSB has held the burn. Stratton described the first two years as being very experimental, but also successful. Last year, crews used additional fuel, such as dried brush, and found that the addition helped eliminate the nonnative brush by almost a thousand-fold.
The Cheadle Center has arranged an agreement with the County Fire Department that in exchange for helping with the burn they will donate chainsaws and weed whackers to the crew. UCSB’s Coastal Fund will provide additional money, specifically for planting native plants in the fall. The Coastal Fund is a student organization on campus that works to enhance and restore the campus’ coastline. Undergraduate students are charged $5.25 per quarter, which adds up to more than $350,000 yearly for restoration projects. The Cheadle Center has five interns to assist with the planting.
In light of the Jesusita Fire, crews are being especially cautious this year. The fire department initially thought they would need to reschedule the burn for later in the summer, but have now deemed this week to be safe. Stratton said there will multiple fire engines present, as well as a strong crew of experienced firefighters. Additionally, UCSB administrators sent an email to students to let them know about today’s burn.
Stratton has high hopes for the exercise, and is excited to see the joint effort between UCSB students, faculty, and the community. “It’s a great example of how the campus is using its natural areas for science and management and how everyone is coming together,” Stratton said. “That’s the main thing I see special about it. The students are really invested here.”