From brussels sprouts field to coastal prairie

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Younger Lagoon Reserve is making Santa Cruz a friendlier place for native wildlife. Its namesake waterway has long been a haven for bobcats and stickleback fish, great blue herons and cormorants to the north of this university town.

Not so for the coastal terrace next door. Planted years before in brussels sprouts, the field had since devolved into a collection of invasive plants. Where the terrace ended, in cliffs overlooking the ocean, grew a thick carpet of South African iceplant.

In 2008, the reserve was expanded to include the 42 acres of the terrace. The addition was part of UC Santa Cruz’s project to develop a Coastal Biology building.

The UC Santa Cruz Natural Reserve System seized the opportunity to expand its longstanding ecological restoration efforts. The goal: to resurrect the coastal prairie that once flourished on the terrace and its fringing cliffs.

Led by reserve director Beth Howard, the restoration effort enlists UC Santa Cruz student interns. Students learn how to clear out nonnative plants, grow native plant seedlings, and revegetate the terrace and bluffs with the makings of a healthy ecosystem.

“Each year we plant out between 20 and 40,000 plants,” Howard says. “It’s quite an endeavor.”

Along the way, students gain practical skills they can use to apply for positions in fields such as nursery management and landscape restoration. The experience guides many toward careers in land management and environmental research. 

The restoration also offers a prime opportunity to advance the science of restoration. Together with reserve director Howard and reserve steward Tim Brown, UC Santa Cruz environmental studies professor Karen Holl studies the best ways to eradicate invasive plants and encourage natives to take hold. They test how effective methods such as tarping and spraying are at eliminating weed seeds. Their published findings are now used by other land managers seeking to restore grasslands and shrublands to their original ecological diversity.

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