The Oak Woodland Fire Fuel Reduction Project at Lake Hodges is an ongoing effort to return city lands back to a native habitat. Our project is now funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Services, a branch of the USDA. The project scope includes removing eucalyptus, stands of arundo, castor bean, palms, acacia and other emerging invasives. There was a Del Dios home owners Town Council meeting in September to let everyone know what was happening.
The local volunteer effort, now called the Del Dios Habitat Protection League, has been around since 2010 and was endorsed by the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, The San Dieguito River Park, the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department and a Del Dios-Mt Israel Town Council. Thousands of volunteer hours have been logged by people living in and beyond the community of Del Dios. We have removed tens of thousands eucalyptus. We’ve gotten a few cuts from broken glass, a turned ankle or two and some normal aches and pains from our efforts. People love coming out to Lake Hodges and helping to create a native habitat. There were no accidents in these 4+ years with chainsaws or herbicides. A lot of fun has been had by all.
When we began our volunteer effort we wanted to be conservative about our efforts and receive training. Kelly & Associates, under contract with the City of San Diego Water Dept., did an official training of volunteers in the safe use of appropriate herbicides. Mike Kelly, the principal of the firm, did so right here in our park. Kelly has come back as a volunteer to do update trainings and trainings of any new volunteers that would be using herbicides. Be assured that this project has been run with proper equipment, attire, and supervision as is required by the organizations permitting removal of non-native plants and trees.
Kelly is uniquely qualified to train and work with people such as us. Not only does he have a Pesticide Business License and a Qualified Applicators License, he is a cofounder of the California Invasive Plant Council (www dot cal-ipc dot org). This is the organization of professional land managers of open space lands/parks, wilderness areas, State and Federal and their volunteers that have to deal with invasive plants and trees. He was president of the organization for two terms, was on the board for 13 years and now is one of their Instructors for their Invasive Weed Schools. He is also an instructor for the Professional Association of Pesticide Applicators (PAPA). He was also recently an instructor for the horticultural staff at the San Diego Zoo, instructing them in different techniques for invasive plant control. His specialty is working with endangered plants, animals, and habitats.
The project began with volunteers working on trees 6" diameter or smaller. About 2 years ago, the project was approved by the City of San Diego for felling bigger trees. Last year the Del Dios/Mt Israel Town Council awarded me, Stacy McCline, the Annual Community Service for volunteer efforts removing eucalyptus around the Lake. Though early on some big trees were felled by experienced volunteer sawyers, the work was switched over to hired contractors - Cal Fire, Black Sage Environmental, Cecil Logging and Kelly and Associates once grant money came through. There are decades of experience with big trees, and with full time professionals work happens fast.
Crucial for re-establishing native oaks and sycamores is the removal all the eucs from the riparian corridors. Mature eucalyptus trees must be dead to stop seed production and subsequent seedlings. We are on schedule for planting lots of Sycamore and Oak trees (and more!) this winter. We have plants on deposit at Moosa Creek Native Plant Nursery to plant once the ground is ready. Now that we had some rain, and fire issues are low, we focused intensely on the large trees below our community. Most of the large trees earmarked for removal are now gone. Many Large Specimen Eucalyptus trees, as well as any tree with a nest, have been left untouched.
The Oak Woodland Fire Fuel Reduction Project is something all of us in Del Dios and the surrounding areas can be proud of. With the removal of the eucalyptus, the native trees and shrubs will return, since they no longer have to compete for sun and water with the canopy of thirsty eucalyptus.
Though quite a lot of outreach has been done trailside, more information needs to be shared on the DD Bull, the Campo Del Dios website and at Town Council meetings (second Wednesday monthly). Look for a January Newsletter with an article by Shea O’Keefe, NRCS biologist, on the exceptional quality of our project – this will help catch up the people who missed the September Town Council meeting. The January Town Council meeting will host Mike Kelly, so mark the date: Wednesday January 14th.
Cal Fire crews are working this week removing downed trees. Any wood on the roadside is free for the taking. There are also trail closures happening now that will temporarily impede the use of trails. We are using heavy equipment to remove dense patches of eucalyptus saplings and arundo. Please heed the signs and stay far away from the equipment – it can throw debris and hurt you if you are too close.