Written by: Jalia Carlton-Carew Writer and Publicity Coordinator UCSB Sustainability Program

The Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER) at UC Santa Barbara works on ecological projects that help restore areas in Santa Barbara back to their natural state. One of their projects is the 136 acre North Campus Open Space (NCOS). Just three years ago, the site was a golf course called “Ocean Meadows.” This time next year, NCOS will be in the process of becoming a wetland for native species, habitat for wildlife, and an educational open space for the local community.

Dr. Lisa Stratton, Director of Ecosystem Management at CCBER, works with a team of campus faculty, staff and students to ensure that North Campus Open Space is restored to its natural state. The project has a $13 million budget. “With half of that money we’re going to be excavating out the fill that was placed in the golf course and with the other half we’re going to be planting native plants and restoring the landscape,” Stratton explains. Even though NCOS is not yet finished, people have already begun to use it for recreational activities, reflecting the value that the space has for Santa Barbara residents.

Still, there is a lot of work to be done. The restoration of NCOS requires extensive clearing to remove invasive species that may pose a threat to the developing habitat. Stratton plans to reuse natural resources to strengthen its environment. “We’re looking at using storm water to support wetlands and woody material for a variety of habitat features,” Stratton states. “We have a drought going on so one of the things we’re doing is planting native plants that are adapted to our natural cycles of wet and dry,” Stratton adds. The ecosystem of NCOS is influenced by the environment around it. Stratton hopes to protect the area by implementing “sustainable landscapes that are integrated with the development that’s happening while also protecting and enhancing the diverse and relatively rare plant and animal communities that surround campus.”

Stratton has involved various departments at UCSB in this project to utilize their research skills. Stratton is collaborating with the Marine Science Institute (MSI), BREN, Environmental studies, the Geography department and EEMB. Jennifer King, Associate Professor in Geography, helps Stratton measure greenhouse gas sequestration in relation to the salt marsh that NCOS is restoring. Carla D’Antonio, Professor in EEMB, mentors students who measure and analyze the soils and seed banks. Environmental studies students and BREN students have participated in active restoration and helped with a variety of studies in support of the project. MSI analytical lab performs wetland water quality analysis. Stratton has, also, collaborated with the Anthropology department to classify edible plants.

“We’re also looking at the impact of urban development on some of our natural resources like water quality and impacts to wildlife,” Stratton explains.  The “main impacts of urban development are people, dogs, and run-off that is high in nutrients, creating eutrophication problems in downstream wetlands.” CCBER will use the space to educate people about the area’s natural history and the important ecosystem functions and services that wetlands and open space perform for people such as reducing flooding, enhancing water quality in the downstream oceans, supporting threatened and endangered species, sequestering carbon and providing a natural buffer between developed lands vulnerable to sea level rise.

Stratton provides opportunities for students who want to get involved with NCOS. From classes that go in-depth on the topic of ecological restoration (Environmental Studies 95) to volunteer programs that allow students to get hands-on experience with planting and working in the field. CCBER will begin to hire students in the late winter and spring to help out. Stratton hopes to have the project fully completed by 2020.