California Envirothon, 2016
College of the Canyon, Valencia, CA
Current Issue Scenario
“Invasive Species: A Challenge to the Environment, the Economy and Society”
A southern California county contains a coastal watershed, Willow Creek, that is home to several federally endangered species: the least Bell’s vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus), the southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax trailii extimus), the southern steelhead trout (Oncorrhynchus mykiss), and the arroyo toad (Anaxyrus californicus). Also present in the creek is the California Special Concern species the California newt (Taricha torosa). The county owns and operates the 500-acre Willow Creek Regional Park in the lower watershed with over two miles of frontage on Willow Creek The park is mostly undisturbed riparian, woodland and chaparral habitat. Park facilities consist of a picnic area, restrooms, a dirt parking lot, and several miles of hiking trails. The watershed upstream of the park is rural in nature, with private properties ranging in size from two to forty acres. The watershed residents are a mixture of original homesteading families, upscale professionals, artists and craftsmen, weekend vacationers, and retirees. The residents all share a love of the land, and are highly sensitive to any activity they perceive as a threat to it. Many consider themselves environmentalists, while others have a dim view of “newcomer” environmental activists.
Several years ago, a developer purchased 25 acres of land immediately upstream of the regional park. His plan was to build a large private campground along Willow Creek with spaces for recreational vehicles, ball fields, and conference facilities. His marketing strategy was to feature the availability of the nearby 500-acre regional park for additional recreation for his visitors. A private campground is consistent with the land use element of the county’s general plan.
The Willow Creek Watershed Alliance, a private non-profit organization formed by watershed residents, was opposed to the campground project, and began to monitor the planning and permitting process very closely. They felt the project would harm the sensitive species in the watershed, but also disliked the notion of camping and conferences in the area. Many feared an enhanced fire danger.
The developer was eager to perform investigations for geological stability and leach field suitability so he could begin his project design. Without the required permits, his contractor bulldozed a road across the creek, removing over two acres of willow and cottonwood trees, and creating large erosion gullies that began channeling sediment into the creek.
The vigilant Willow Creek Watershed Alliance notified authorities from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the local regional water quality control board (State Water Resources Control Board). After several years of investigations and hearings, the agencies found the developer to be in violation of the Federal Endangered Species Act, the Federal Clean Water Act, and the California Fish and Game Code, because of the impacts to the endangered species listed above and their habitats, including to the eggs and juveniles of the steelhead trout. The developer’s fines and legal fees amounted to over $1 million. Rather than continue with his project, he decided to sell his property.
The Willow Creek Watershed Alliance mounted a fund-raising campaign, and with matching funds from the county, was able to purchase the property for addition to Willow Creek Regional Park. The Alliance and the county also jointly applied for funds from the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund to restore the area damaged by the developer.
While the agencies were administering the enforcement case against the developer, the highly invasive giant cane (Arundo donax) became established in the bulldozed stream channel and has rapidly spread downstream into the regional park, creating a huge problem for park management because it is so difficult to remove. Arundo competes with willow and cottonwood for space and water and reduces the overall quantity of water in the creek.
Arundo had been growing in a few locations in the upper watershed on private property, but had not previously become established in the park. Some residents in the upper watershed are extremely protective of their privacy and prize the ability of the Arundo to screen them from their neighbors. Others are philosophically opposed to the eradication of any plant, native or non-native. Some are also opposed to the use of chemicals.
Willow Creek is also being colonized by the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii). This native of the southern United States is a voracious consumer of plants and animals, notably of amphibian and fish eggs and juveniles. It can alter the entire food web and physical structure of riparian systems. A single resident of the upper watershed was known to be proud of introducing this species into the creek.
The Alliance and the county quickly realized that their $500,000 grant would not be well spent if the Arundo and the crayfish continued to thrive in the upper watershed. Both species would continue to invade the park and the new addition to it. The county is also concerned that the spread of Arundo throughout the watershed will result in increased fire danger and associated costs to the county for fire suppression.
Your team is a consulting firm that has been retained by the Alliance and the county to assist in the restoration of the bulldozer damage on the developer’s former property and the eradication of Arundo and the crayfish from the entire watershed. You are tasked with creation of a plan that will:
- Describe a strategy for management of the two invasive species, taking into account their life-cycle stages.
- Organize outreach and education efforts and conduct community meetings to inform the residents about the detrimental impacts to the environment of the Arundo and the crayfish, and what their role as citizens is in the management of invasive species
- Achieve community consensus on eradication of the two species, and the reasoning for a preferred eradication method.
- Identify government agencies or organizations who can provide needed technical or financial assistance for restoration and invasive species management.
- List all required permits from regulatory agencies and what they cover.
- Identify models and tools used to monitor invasive species.
- Recommend ways to carefully manage and supplement the available funding to accomplish the project and to monitor and treat future re-invasions by these species, including prevention and detection
- Outline a timeline or schedule for the implementation of the eradication and restoration