The major priorities within our chapter are education, habitat preservation,
and habitat restoration. These priorities are consistent with those of the
National Audubon Society and are at the core of our Chapter’s
National Audubon employs a powerful combination of science, education
and policy expertise in our efforts to protect and restore local habitats
and to implement policies that safeguard birds, other wildlife and the
resources that sustain us all – locally, in the state, and across the U.S.
Ventura Audubon’s mission statement: to promote at the local level, by education and action, the protection and restoration of bird populations and wildlife habitat for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biodiversity.
The following outlines the many ways in which we support our mission statement:
Conducting volunteer research on bird distribution and populations. Our ongoing work to monitor and document the nesting of Western Snowy Plovers and California Least Terns on the beaches of Ventura County is the main expression of that effort. We also conduct annually the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Working to restore natural areas through removal of non-native plants and re-vegetation with native plants.
We have long supported the restoration work at Hedrick Ranch Nature Area in Santa Paula and continue to schedule monthly work days there and on the adjacent Nature Conservancy land undergoing restoration. We have also undertaken to restore a population of the endangered Least Bell’s Vireo to the lower Ventura River, supporting the land acquisition and restoration efforts of Ventura Hillsides Conservancy.
Education about natural habitats and the species that use them and Audubon activities through monthly programs and newsletters.
Our monthly newsletter (September through May) includes David Pereksta’s Notes from the Field highlighting sightings by observers throughout the area. We occasionally reprint articles from other sources that might be of interest. Our Constant Contact email list reaches more than 700 people and we use it to keep members informed of events that might be of interest and to invite action when needed. We also publish informative brochures on nesting shorebird habitat and dogs on the beach. We participate in Oxnard’s Earth Day each year in April and at other events where we can engage the public with our message.
Education of children to be good stewards of the earth through supporting Audubon Adventures programs in local classrooms.
Perhaps our most important endeavor, our children are the future! Audubon Adventures costs about $40 per classroom. We partner with USFWS and others to bring programs into classrooms primarily in elementary and middle schools. We also partner with CSUCI and its Environmental Science and Resource Management program to bring sophomores to Ormond Beach for 15 hours each spring.
Working to preserve natural habitats by reviewing and commenting on environmental documents for land use projects to the various government agencies involved in planning and, where necessary, supporting legal action to ensure protection of environmental quality and diversity.
We are on the email list for the County of Ventura Planning Division which notifies us of upcoming projects. We are also alert for projects that are proposed within the cities. Often, we partner with other organizations to respond to proposals that they flag as having potential to affect birds or habitat. We depend upon California Audubon to inform us of state legislative and regulatory activity in Sacramento.
Creating an appreciation of various habitats and their wildlife and plant resources by conducting field trips.
VAS sponsors bird walks nearly every week to local birding spots and, once a year, to a more distant location offering different habitat and/or different species. Information on local birding areas is also available
on this website.
Local Planning Issues that Affect Birds and their Habitats
By Debra Barringer, VAS Board Member
Santa Clara and Ventura River Levees
Santa Clara River (SCR)-1 Levee Improvements
Per new federal (FEMA) mapping efforts additional homes and businesses near local rivers are now considered within 100-yr floodplains and therefore levees need to be strengthened and in some areas heightened. The alternative chosen for a portion of the Santa Clara River (SCR) includes the addition of soil cement (hardscape) to the river side of dirt levees. VAS members who participated as stakeholders at SCR-1 meetings were concerned about the hardening of the south riverbank for potentially 5 miles north of Hwy 101, the additional difficulty for wildlife species to access the river, and the loss of riparian vegetation that will be cleared from around levees.
The stakeholders are still negotiating to add bike paths, benches, fences, interpretive signs, and new river access. Although VAS loves getting people into nature, we still have concerns about more people being introduced into a portion of the river that was fairly isolated and is near the endangered least Bell’s vireo and other sensitive birds’ territories, especially during nesting seasons. Although VAS loves getting people into nature, we still have concerns about more people being introduced into a portion of the river that was fairly isolated and is near the endangered least Bell’s vireo and other sensitive birds’ territories, especially during nesting seasons.
SCR-3 Levee Improvements EIR
VAS members were disappointed that the County Watershed Protection District decided on the addition of a 968-ft long, 6-ft high block wall along the SCR next to Ventura Road. As with the SCR-1 river reach, our concerns include limiting wildlife access to the river corridor, and the additional native vegetation losses to be cleared along levees, which reduces nesting opportunities for riparian birds and good habitat for other species.
Ventura River (VR)-1 Levee Rehabilitation
Similar to the issues for the SCR remapped floodplains, updated FEMA regulations have added many more homes to the flood-prone areas near the Ventura River. Still in its pre-scoping process, several stretches along the Ventura River are being looked at to strengthen and raise levees and to add hardening material. In addition to the armored riverbanks, VAS members are concerned about vegetation, especially in the estuary, near levees that will be cut back. We hope they will do bird surveys before and during this removal and include habitat replacement.
Santa Clara River Estuary Special Studies Working Group
The City of Ventura and stakeholders met over a couple of years to determine how to adjust the tertiary treated water that Ventura Water should divert for reuse and how much discharge (if any) is needed to benefit the estuary and protect its native species. Wildlife interests voiced that a reduction in discharge is not always adverse for every species as assumed. For example, many migratory birds use the estuary when mudflats form during low water conditions. In addition, if sandbars increased or formed they may become good nesting habitat for species such as snowy plovers. The resulting management plan will be adaptable to ensure there are no negative impacts to sensitive species.
Ventura County General and Local Coastal Plan (LCP) Updates, (Unincorporated Ventura County)
Local Coastal Plan update topics:
– Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA) (County Board of Supervisor’s Hearing Dec. 4, 2018 was postponed)
The issue most related to VAS work is new ESHA protections for beaches and dunes. The late snowy plover mentor Reed Smith convinced the Hollywood Beach Harbor Department to avoid beach grooming near the dunes where nesting occurs and only working outside the breeding season. During writing of the updated Draft LCP, Debra coordinated with the County Biologist to craft language to codify and strengthen these protections. She has also presented the idea of nonnative plant removal from dunes that have grown unnaturally high. This could provide more suitable nesting habitat for beach-nesting birds. The County and Coastal Commission agree with the idea, permitting and funding are pending issues.
Another LCP ESHA issue that may affect native birds, other wildlife and their habitats involves homeowners in the Santa Monica Mountains (SMM) portion of the County. Currently, these homes are required to clear a 100-ft vegetation radius around structures as “fuel modification” for fire safety. Clearing done before 2003 did not have to pay mitigation for removing what is now known as ESHA, which in the proposed LCP changes is more clearly defined to include native coastal sage scrub/chaparral (CSS/chap). Mitigation is required per the California Coastal Act. CSS/chap habitat is unique to southern California, supports many sensitive species, and is quickly disappearing or becoming fragmented to render remaining patches insufficient for many species. Under the current LCP, mitigation for new ESHA removal is very expensive and time consuming and often involves buying land. In the LCP update, the County wants to add a fee option to provide another way to mitigate new CSS/chap losses, similar to what LA County does in the SMM. Still expensive, no open land would have to be found/bought but fees would be pooled for the County to buy or improve similar habitats in protected areas.
A group of current SMM residents that have already cleared land are concerned about the threat of fire and some that spoke at the August 23, 2018 County Planning Commission Hearing believe that cutting more native vegetation (up to 200 ft radius of structures) will make them safer. They do not believe they should have to mitigate or pay for this additional ESHA habitat loss that is the equivalent of clearing 6 acres (vs. 2 acres for the 100-ft buffer around a typical dwelling). That extra 4 acres is a large loss of resources and territories for many small animals and birds for each home that clears more.
A Ventura County Fire official spoke at the Planning Hearing stating that while in some cases more vegetation removal may be a good idea, he believes making the structures “harder” is more important. This includes fire-resistant roofing and siding, and no wood decks, wood furniture, fences, or firewood piles near structures, or dried leaves/needles in gutters that can catch and spread embers. Information is available explaining why clearing more than 100 ft from homes has no advantage and may have negative consequences (e.g., allowing fire-prone grasses to fill in, increased land erosion potential) at: https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/By-topic/Wildfire/Preparing-homes-for-wildfire and on the valuable and unique yet often-maligned chaparral habitat we are surrounded by at: http://www.californiachaparral.org/bprotectingyourhome.html.
Sea Level Rise (SLR) Working Group
Threats to natural coastal areas include increased erosion, higher tidal inundation and flooding, reduced sediment (sand) supply, and increased pressure from human development and recreational activities on coasts. Debra participated on a natural resource specialists team who selected the most vulnerable species for beaches, dunes, freshwater and estuarine habitats. A long-time favorite of VAS, the snowy plover, was chosen for dunes. Keeping an eye on these indicators will help the County develop adaptation strategies to affect future policies and ordinances to deal with SLR.
In areas where open lands still exist, the County is considering ways to keep and enhance the open space to allow natural habitat migration away from eroding coastlines. They are also considering sediment management plans for all vulnerable beaches.
General Plan amendment - Wildlife Corridors/Habitat Connectivity Working Group
Major landscape connections that link natural habitats on a large scale through the County were determined by an independent scientific research group (South Coast Wildlands partnering with many NGOs and agencies). For development considered ministerial, the County has no influence. For discretionary permits, the County wants to steer development away from blocking/narrowing these crucial corridors for wildlife travel, dispersal, and access to breeding partners and habitats. Stakeholders who weighed in included ranchers, farmers, and rural landowners as well as agencies and wildlife interests. We discussed clustering development, types of fencing, lighting, and riparian areas’ importance.
City of Oxnard - Parks Focus Group
Oxnard is working on a Parks and Recreation Master Plan. At this first focus group meeting (September 27, 2018) they were gathering general ideas about parks improvements in the city. The group agreed that more parks in urban areas are needed, more bike trails to access them, more trees and native plants, and Debra submitted the idea for more dog-friendly parks away from beaches (where dogs can disturb breeding and migrating birds).