Volunteer Season in Full Bloom

Our National Parks help protect America’s native plants and animals. Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Tigran Nahabedian volunteers at Channel Islands National Park in Ventura, CA, and recently helped restore Anacapa Island with classmates from the Ojai Valley School (Ojai, CA). Tigran and his fellow students helped remove the invasive red-flowered iceplant from the Island, and replanted affected areas with native plant species. Read about Tigran’s restoration project below: 

It is the mission of the National Park Service around the country to preserve, protect, and maintain our national treasures. Our national parks are as American as our flag, just consider Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, Fort McHenry and the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner, the Liberty Bell, Mt. Denali, and the beautiful Yosemite Valley. This makes restoring native plants and wildlife a high priority and everyone’s responsibility, especially this generation’s.

Reintroducing native plants helps native animals find food and shelter, which will in turn increase the variety and number of animals you will see.  That is why Buddy Bison and I decided to go to Channel Islands National Park, to help their restoration efforts there.

Buddy Bison with red-flowered iceplant.

Buddy Bison and I joined with Ojai Valley School (OVS) as part of NEEF’s Hands on the Land program on an Island Packers boat across the Santa Barbara Channel, heading straight for

Anacapa Island. Our mission was to remove invasive iceplant, to make room for native plants. Anacapa Island is an essential nesting ground for seabirds.  Before Channel Islands National Park was established, Anacapa Island was owned by the Coast Guard, who built a lighthouse to make sure passing ships didn’t crash into the island. They also planted iceplant, a plant from South Africa, to help with landscaping and erosion control. Sadly, it did the opposite and spread around the island. It also absorbed a high amount of water needed by native plants; and it made the surrounding soil saltier, making it even harder for native plants to grow. Those are some of the reasons why Buddy Bison and I wanted to help the Park remove iceplant from Anacapa.

As soon as we reached the island, a few park volunteers, OVS students, Buddy Bison, and I were led to the area where we would be working. It was filled with many large patches of iceplant. After removing the patches of iceplant, we prepared for the next step, reintroducing the native plants.

Removing iceplant is a good thing for the ecosystem, but it leaves nothing to hold the soil down, and that is why Channel Islands National Park installed a greenhouse on the island specifically for the purpose of growing native plants. This means that the native plant seedlings will have a safe place to grow that is right near the areas where work needs to be done.

A few months later, on another OVS Hands on the Land trip, Buddy Bison and I hiked up to the greenhouse and walked inside. The entire room was filled with plant seedlings waiting to be planted into the ground. We all grabbed the potted seedlings and walked in the rain to the plot where we were working. We then took the seedlings out of the pots and placed them each in their own spots. After that, it was time to go on the boat—Buddy Bison and I slowly watched the seedlings we planted get smaller and smaller in the distance. Even though we got wet and muddy, we had a great time. 

Tigran (on left), Buddy Bison, and a friend on Anacapa Island

The following year on a Channel Islands Park Foundation trip, my good friend Linda Mohammad from National Park Geek, some other volunteers, California Institute of Environmental Studies (CIES) staff, Buddy Bison, and I helped plant more seedlings. Many of the plants in the plot were not seedlings anymore; the whole area had grown and was looking quite healthy.

On another OVS trip, we got to work on a different island, Santa Cruz Island. This time, we were removing invasive cheese weed, which was introduced during the island’s ranching history. My group did this over a period of two days on a multi-day camping trip.

There are many challenges the national parks are facing, including: differed maintenance, an insufficient amount of staff, and the difficulty of protecting native species. Buddy Bison and I are very optimistic about the future. There isn’t a challenge in our national parks that we can’t fix.  We need your help. If you love the parks, I encourage you to find a little time to volunteer and get involved: https://www.nps.gov/getinvolved/volunteer.htm

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