Is it too early in the morning for a groan-inducing native plant pun? I apologize, just thought it was a knee-slapping way to introduce today’s interview victim…er… subject.
Brian Holly is a hardcore Ojai local, OVLC board member, biologist at local BioResource Consultants, rock climber and all around swell guy who was nice enough to endure my prodding. As you peruse his musings enjoy my pics from my hike up Chaparral Crest yesterday.
1. Third generation Ojai resident… What were some of your favorite local spots growing up? What do you miss most about Ojai of the 80s.
I had a lot of fun hiking and mountain biking around in the local foothills. Some favorite areas include Black Mountain, Gridley Trail, Pratt Trail, and Sisar. We also had a lot of fun swimming at what we called the Chumash Punch Bowl off of Ladera Road. It is an amazing swimming hole that was once a giant sandstone rock that, over time, was eroded away by the stream to create a perfectly carved out bowl. After a good rain, a really nice waterfall flows into a 13-foot deep swimming hole. It used to be a great place to hike to in the spring. We’d jump in and cool off, and then lay out on the rocks and enjoy the sun filtering through the sycamore trees. Today, there is no longer access to this swimming hole, as a private landowner has blocked off the trail and put security cameras up to monitor the area. This is what I miss about Ojai in the 80s: no one used to do stuff like that.
2. You have extensive experience in watershed restoration, why is this such an important ecosystem? What makes Ojai’s watershed system unique/challenging/interesting?
Although riparian ecosystems typically occupy a very small part of the total land area of California, they are important because some 250 species of bird, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians depend on these habitats. They are also important because an intact ecosystem acts as a natural filter to non-point source pollutants, wastewater, and other human related industrial practices. In addition, healthy riparian habitats retain water in our watershed, in comparison to channelized streams, culverts, etc., where polluted water runs quickly to the ocean.
3. You have been instrumental in the Libbey Creek restoration project with the Ojai Valley Green Coalition and CREW, what was the state of the creek when you first got involved? What attracted you to the project? Are you happy with the progress?
The Ojai Creek Restoration Project in Libbey Park has been a great community-level effort to restore an important part of our local watershed. I first started the planning of this project as a chairman of the watershed committee with the Ojai Valley Green Coalition. There were past efforts to clean up this section of the creek in the 90’s, but there was a lack of funding at the time for a full restoration effort. Given the momentum of the watershed committee and interest from CREW and the community, it seemed like the right time to apply for grants and get to work. The creek was in a very degraded state when we first started. It was overgrown with invasive species like Himalayan blackberry, Mexican fan palm, giant reed, and others. We also saw a tremendous amount of trash from years of neglect. After about four years of ongoing work and some maintenance, the riparian habitat is starting to bounce back. We are very happy with the progress, and the amazing support from local schools, colleges, and community.
4. The most vexing creek/stream non-natives you have to deal with (besides Himalayan blackberry)?
Worldwide, the threat of invasive species to biological diversity is second only to direct habitat loss and fragmentation. The most difficult invasive plant species to deal with is giant reed (Arundo donax). Removal is difficult, maintenance is very hard, and the incredible land-areas that are consumed by the plant make the prospect of full restoration daunting to say the least. Giant reed is probably the most destructive of all invasive plants in our area because it literally consumes the entire riparian area, leaving no room for other native species to grow/occupy. Once established, exotic species tend to use more water and out-compete native species. Additionally, the lack of decomposed sequestered nutrients from a diversity of species causes a positive feedback loop where less biomass is available during each seasonal cycle.
5. Your favorite trails in Ojai? Favorite hiking spots in California outside of the local area?
My favorite trails include the Sespe Trail, the Red Reef Trail, Santa Paula Canyon, Sisquoc. My favorite hiking or climbing areas in California include the Eastern Sierra, Joshua Tree.
6. Favorite native tree/shrub/wildflower?
Native tree: California bigleaf maple. Shrub: Manzanita. Wildflower: Mariposa lily (spp.)
7. You are a conservation biologist with BioResource Consultants. Any projects that might be of Rambler reader’s interest?
For the past three years, we have been providing biological services in support of design and construction of an 85 ft. free span bridge that will improve steelhead and other sensitive aquatic species migration along San Antonio Creek, a tributary to the Ventura River. We have organized/conducted a series of biological surveys and prepared an initial assessment biological study and discretionary permit application to process with the County of Ventura, Planning Division. In addition, we are managing all biological monitoring and mitigation/restoration during and after construction.
8. What advice do you have for college students/recent graduates who want to work for a firm like BRC?
Field experience is key. Internships can be great ways to gain experience. Also, continue to attend workshops, lectures, seminars that are applicable to the interests you have.
9. Best rock climbing spots in the county?
Some of the best rock climbing in our Ojai-area is at Wheeler’s Canyon off of the 33. Also, further up the road at the Sepse Wall and Potrero. Some of the climbs can be quite challenging, and others are just good for practice.
Thanks Brian… Have a great holiday weekend everyone.