TreePeople’s Ecological Restoration Team to the Rescue

Forty-five-acre Coldwater Canyon Park is home to TreePeople’s hilltop headquarters and the state-of-the-art Center for Community Forestry. Known to locals as a great hiking and dog-walking area, it’s one of the city’s valuable open spaces, and therefore home also to a myriad species of native plants and animals. As in other urban parks, though, its ecosystem is fragile and needs to be maintained.

TreePeople restores the park grounds with the help of a trained volunteer Ecological Restoration Team (ERT) that has evolved out of earlier teams of Americorps volunteers. ERT members are educated about both active and passive restoration—that is, propagating native plant species from existing specimens on site as well as removing nonnative invasive species. At the park site they conduct restoration projects that prepare them to go into the field for wildland restoration focused on the Santa Monica Mountains. The team plants beneficial natives and flags those that sprout voluntarily to keep track of where the park’s landscape is healing itself.

Wildland Restoration Manager Cody Chappel supervises the ERT. “We are planting trailside as well as reducing disturbance of the pristine edge of the woodlands, chapparal, and coastal sage scrub,” he says. “The native California brome has begun to propagate by seed from the original plantings—a very exciting development because it is easily competing with the invasive Bromus deandrus or ‘ripgut’ brome.”

Many invasive nonnative species we’re accustomed to seeing, like mustard and periwinkle, are highly flammable, deplete soil, and cause erosion. Reintroducing the plants that belong here preserves the type of vegetation and habitat likeliest to reduce the chance of major wildfire and other environmental disasters, like the disappearance of native pollinators. As Chappel explains, “Our park was planted 100 years ago with many species not native to this area (eucalyptus, redwood, etc). Biodiversity is lacking.”

Among the natural greens and browns that grow in abundance, Chappel and the ERT have planted colorful native flowers to create a “botanic display corridor” to inspire as well as educate park visitors about the diversity of local flora, like bush sunflower, wild morning glory, hummingbird sage, and creek monkeyflower. “Showing the pollinators at work is an amazing thing,” he says. “Many of the species planted from February till the end of May are spreading and stretching out, taking away real estate from nonnative invasive species. Bees have found the blossoms and are regularly seen raiding the nectar with big gobs of pollen on their legs. We have yet to lose a plant, though a couple are on my watch list. This could be a long hot summer so we need a major dose of June Gloom, which often provides the only drink plants get before the first fall rains.”

Among the four current ERT members—Kaydee McKinney, Kevin Kidd, Elise Hanson, and Talisa Barancik—two have already trained as TreePeople Restoration Supervisors so they can lead volunteer events to restore habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains, where, with partner Mountain Restoration Trust, TreePeople has been leading scores of volunteers since 2008.

Chappel has already prepped his ERT trainees with site visits to areas of Topanga Canyon so that they can get out into the mountains to lead their own teams. Coldwater Canyon Park, meanwhile, benefits from the literal groundwork the team has laid and thrives as a wildland “demonstration garden” in the middle of the city.

Concerned about wildfire season? Check out our Emergency Response Calls to Action:

Above: ERT volunteer Elise Hanson (photo Caryn Bosson) flanked by foothill penstemon, left, and coastal tidy tips (photos Donellla Anderson).

By Carolyn Gray Anderson

Carolyn Gray Anderson is an editor, writer, and nonprofit communications professional in Los Angeles. She volunteers regularly with Good Karma Gardens and at the Learning Garden at Venice High School, enjoying many a meal straight from the earth. She loves TreePeople almost as much as she loves trees.