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Project Promotes Fire Resilience, Biodiversity

An ecological restoration project near the Westmont campus has begun with students, faculty and staff planting about 45 native coast live oaks. This first phase focuses on an area where Montecito Fire removed many dead and dying eucalyptus trees last summer.

Oak Woodland Restoration Graphic

The project has been fully funded by the Regional Wildfire Mitigation Program (RWMP) Landscape Domain with work so far amounting to about $32,000. Spatial Informatics Group-Natural Assets Laboratory (SIG-NAL) is developing the project, managing the work and facilitating projects to accomplish ecosystem science goals while increasing wildfire resilience in the wildland urban interface.

Project managers Janell Balmaceda, sustainability coordinator and garden manager, and Laura Drake Schultheis, assistant professor of biology, said the site, along the Westmont Creek between the Las Barrancas faculty homes and Carr Field, had been identified as a high-risk fire zone. Once fire officials began removing the eucalyptus trees, they decided to apply for a grant.

Oakland Restoration Project Site

Neighbors, Santa Barbara County and fire officials, and college staff all supported the project. Many of them witnessed the 2008 Tea Fire, which spread quickly through the eucalyptus-lined creek bed.

“Our goals include increasing fire resilience and biodiversity on campus, as well as providing an opportunity to care for God’s creation,” Balmaceda says.

They’ve worked with several consultants on the project, including Watershed Progressive, a consulting collaborative, and Dave Muffly, a senior arborist and horticulturist with Oaktopia.

“We’ll install a beautiful palette of California plants in later phases of the project,” Balmaceda says. “We hope the ecological restoration project offers numerous benefits to the Las Barrancas and Westmont communities through fire mitigation and resilience, increase of biodiversity, research opportunities for undergraduate students, conservation, and a great example of Christians engaged in caring for God’s creation.”