State-funded restoration efforts continue at Del Dios Gorge

RANCHO SANTA FE — The next phase of the riparian restoration project in Del Dios Gorge has begun and will be carried out in phases between now and January 2014.
The project will remove invasive, non-native species and re-vegetation with native plants, said Leslie Woolenweber, conservation program director of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy.
During the project, drivers on Del Dios Highway, between Camino de Estrellas to the trail bridge about a half-mile east, will see crews on foot in the river channels cutting down trees and cranes that will be able to move the tree trunks out of the channel. On certain days they will see helicopters that will be moving bundles of trees to a processing area. There will be intermittent lane closures between the hours of 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“We hope to minimize the impact the best we can,” she said.
The work is funded through a $1.4 million grant from the California Natural Resources Agency’s River Parkways program received in 2010 for enhancements to the River Park’s Coast to Crest Trail and habitat restoration along the San Dieguito River in the scenic gorge below the Lake Hodges Dam near Rancho Santa Fe.
“We spent the initial funding upstream from the bridge that crosses the river, getting rid of non-native species,“ Woolenweber said.
“We worked there first because we had vehicular access,” she said. “We cleared five acres of eucalyptus and other annual invasive, non-native species like the mustard and stinkwhort, which is a bright green weed with a small yellow flower, but it is very tenacious and invasive.”
“Some of the eucalyptus has been sprayed with pesticide and will die in place providing habitat as snags for woodpeckers, beetles and purchase for raptors,” Woolenweber said. “They will eventually fall. It would be too expensive to take the trees out of that area because they are so scattered.”
Now the work will continue between Lake Hodges dam and Calle Ambiente, where there is a large grove of eucalyptus.
“Those trees are going to be removed because they are so dense,” Woolenweber said. “They could fall into the road and be a huge fire hazard. We want to reduce that. These trees are incredibly damaging to the environment, they displace native habitat and they do present an extreme fire hazard, especially at that density.
“What we are hoping to do is improve the native habitat, bring back some of the native bird species like the Least Bell Vireo, yellow warbler, the southwest flycatcher and yellow-breasted chat.”
She said the scenic value will also be enhanced.
“You can imagine a lush, green riparian and willow forest much nicer for trail users and passersby,” Woolenweber said.
She said with the trees removed, native species might regrow given a chance for sunlight and water.
“The biggest bang for the buck is getting the eucalyptus out,“ she said.
Woolenweber said that depending on the weather, the project should be completed by January 2014.
The grant’s recreational element is also funding improvements along the portion of the Coast to Crest Trail which passes through Del Dios Gorge, including a viewing platform overlooking the Lake Hodges dam, shaded picnic tables, benches and signage. The River Park began work on the unique viewing platform, which is nearly complete.
For more information, call Woolenweber at (858) 674-2275 ext. 12.

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