Habitat Restoration Day Recap! What Have We Accomplished So Far?

With funding from the Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance, we launched a project that will help us maintain and revegetate the Oracle Road wildlife crossing structures. This project will remove invasive species from the wildlife crossings; enhance wildlife habitat on these wildlife crossings with additional native plants and seed mixes; and provide public education and outreach through a series of 12 volunteer workdays, educational videos, and permanent interpretive signage.

With the help of the Desert Wildlife Crossing Crew, we have completed five Habitat Restoration Days, and we look forward to continuing our work to restore and conserve the native habitat on the wildlife crossing structures.

On the first day, our mission was to scout the wildlife crossing bridge for invasive plant species and begin removing them. We discovered invasive and non-native species such as buffelgrass, Layman’s love grass, tick-grass and Russian thistle. However, our largest priority was to remove buffelgrass patches because it was not only the most prevalent invasive species, but it is also the most dangerous for our crossing structures.

Flagging buffelgrass on the Oracle Road wildlife crossing bridge.

Buffelgrass, (Cenchrus ciliaris) in addition to decreasing available space for native plants to grow and diversify this habitat, is a serious fire hazard. This invasive grass is adapted to fire and can burn at and survive temperatures of 1300-1400⁰ F! The Sonoran Desert has not evolved resilience to these extreme fires and will have a hard time recovering from the damage, if at all. Meanwhile, as the native vegetation struggles to re-establish, buffelgrass will continue to thrive and suffocate the landscape.

With this in mind, on the second Habitat Restoration Day in October, our focus was to knock out the buffelgrass and other invasive species at both wildlife crossings structures, the wildlife bridge on Oracle Road and the underpass. We split our volunteers into two teams, one for each wildlife crossing structure. In addition to buffelgrass treatment, the team that was placed at the wildlife bridge planted several native trees, including paloverdes, mesquites and ironwoods.

It was hard work, but together, the Desert Wildlife Crossing Crew managed to remove 48 bags of buffelgrass from the crossing structures!

Desert Wildlife Crossing Crew with CSDP staff Jessica Moreno and Jonni Zeman.
Sonoran Desert tortoise using the Oracle Road wildlife crossing bridge.

On our third project day, more trees were planted and watered and a native seed mix was spread on the bridge. This seed mix contains native shrub and grass seeds that we hope to see establish during the next rainy season.

While working on the wildlife bridge, we also encountered a very special visitor! This was the first recording of a Sonoran Desert tortoise using our wildlife crossing bridge. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch our efforts make a difference in the lives of wildlife.

On December 2nd, our focus was to plant shrubs at both wildlife crossing structures and finish invasive species removal. We planted 15 shrubs, including five graythorns and 10 triangleleaf bursages. These plants were already found throughout the wildlife crossing structures, so we knew they’d make great additions to the habitat. In addition to planting, we spread native seeds at the underpass, focusing some seeds on a slope that is beginning to erode. Our hope is that these plants will help secure the soil and aid in erosion control. We further improved the underpass habitat by doing some pruning of large shrubs growing in the entrance of the underpass. When passing through a tunnel, mule deer feel more comfortable when they can see the other side, so pruning back some vegetation will help more deer use this crossing structure.

January and February were shorter workdays due to the chilly weather, but we still did the important work of planting more vegetation on the wildlife bridge- including soaptree yuccas, ocotillos and penstemons. In February, we planted 20 globe mallows and 20 Parry penstemons. We are grateful for the winter rains that made planting much easier, and we know all the new plants have appreciated the extra water. The soft soil also made removing invasive plants a breeze- there were a few stragglers and in total we removed 3 more bags of buffelgrass!

This project is just getting started and we would love for you to join the effort! RSVP here!

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