Paul Wellman (file)

The menace posed by the combination of fire-denuded hills and rainstorms in Santa Barbara County is being fought through five grants awarded this week by California Fish & Wildlife. Three go to County Public Works to fund planning to increase capacity in the debris basins below San Ysidro, Cold Springs, and Romero canyons, and dovetails with federal emergency funding for engineering and construction, said County Public Works engineer Jon Frye. The $400,000 state grant covers the next two to three years, during which time further inundation is expected, said Matt Wells, a grant manager at Fish & Wildlife.

A fish-passage project received $1.17 million that will add four-plus miles of access to key habitat in El Capitan Canyon. An existing culvert has been affecting swimming fish with either too shallow or too speedy water, said Nat Cox, a scientis with State Parks. Debris and sediment after 2017’s Whittier Fire further blocked steelhead from upstream areas. The culvert is being replaced with a bridge and the natural creek bottom restored. The re-engineering was completed through South Coast Habitat Restoration, and California Parks and Recreation is in charge of the second phase of the work. The bridge work in the state park should finish in 2020, and re-vegetation and monitoring of the area will go through 2024.

Last, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden received $382,000 to collect information along 390 miles of trails in the Thomas and Whittier fire watersheds. Garden staff and a hoped-for cadre of citizen volunteers will be trained to seek areas where vegetation has regrown to the extent that native seed collection might be possible and to evaluate places in need of restoration or weed control, said Executive Director Steve Windhager. Partnering in the undertaking are the Conservation Biology Institute and the Los Padres Forest Association.

The effort will create a baseline of information for 171,640 acres of the two burn scars. To be collected next spring, the data will inform a future set of projects, which could include native seed collection, weed control, mudslide or trail stabilization, or native seed/vegetation planting. For the short term, the assessment aims to improve on-the-ground surveys like this — previously conducted in the Zaca and Jesusita scars — and also describe the citizen-scientist participation, which is a growing trend.


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