The NCRC&DC is halfway through a 2-year project involving restoration of oak woodlands in Mendocino County in the Davis Creek drainage, within the south fork of the Eel River watershed. The project is to restore sensitive oak woodland and riparian areas burned in the 2017 Redwood Complex wildfire southeast of Willits, California. The watershed areas are upstream of the water supply reservoirs for the City of Willits, and this project is now known locally as the Willits Watershed Project.
Community involvement from the Willits area in this project is a cornerstone of the 2-year effort. This local involvement will help create ongoing environmental protection support for the watershed that serves as the community’s drinking water supply while aiding in the healing of a community struggling to recover from the devastating fires. People will strengthen their connection to place by taking action to help a damaged watershed.
In 2019, we worked with community members to collect acorns, harvest native manzanita seedlings from an adjacent unburned site, and plant shrubs and grasses to begin the restoration process. Our restoration plan recognized that the most successful and economical restoration comes from encouraging and supporting any existing regrowth onsite.
Seeded plants are better acclimated to soil and climate conditions than transplants, and are less expensive, but can take years to establish. Transplants can be expensive, and suffer high mortality, but offer faster results. Plants that are re-sprouting on their own are often the best-adapted to the soil and climate, and don’t suffer any of the root trauma associated with transplantation. With these factors in mind, at all sites, our first scheduled restoration efforts were to protect sprouting perennials like manzanita, oak, madrone, and blue blossom (Ceanothus spp) which are already re-growing onsite by constructing protective cages to keep large herbivores away. Our Plant Protection Squad of community members built these protective cages from onsite materials such as fallen branches. This was not only advantageous financially, but also will save time later as we will not need to remove removing any non-decomposing or artificial materials.
Work proceeded through the spring, summer and fall of 2019, but now that winter storms have commenced, the sites will experience snow and no longer be easily accessible. The next field restoration activities will be in the spring of 2020.