OK first of all I don’t want to get my latest interview subject in trouble. She’s not really queen, it just sounded so catchy for the title. How about baroness? I’ve been receiving literally dozens of requests for more female voices on the local treehugging scene, and I’m not one to ignore a ravenous audience.
Baroness of the CCC’s Jill Taylor is as local as you can get and I have definitely witnessed her getting snuggly with various flora. She was kind enough to share some of her experiences and adventures with us.
1. Who are you, where do you work, what is your position and responsibilities…
I’m a townie. I grew up in Ojai, moved away for college in Boston, and made my way back. I work at the California Conservation Corps (CCC) in Camarillo as a Fisheries Biologist leading the Salmonid Restoration Program. We work with local agencies to develop and implement fish habitat restoration projects and seek grant funds to improve habitat for the federally endangered southern California steelhead. My area of responsibility includes coastal creeks and rivers from Gaviota in Santa Barbara County south to Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles County.
2. What were your favorite stomping grounds/haunts/mischief-making spots growing up in Ojai?
The Racquet Club, when it was still the Racquet Club, not the Athletic Club. Summer time was wonderful. Our parents would drop us off before work, giving us the entire day to marinate by the pool and fill our bellies with french fries and giant cookies. Another fun spot was Lower Libbey, down in the creek. My sister and I used to jump mountain bikes with the boys down there. I also spent a good amount of time exploring the hills around Fairview Road with my sister and cousins. About half of us found out that poison oak is not a pleasant plant. All of us discovered that stinging nettle is pretty much the devil. My poor aunt had six shrieking kids running to her after that encounter.
3. What are your favorite local trails? Most challenging?
My favorite trail is the Sespe River Trail and all the hidden gems along the way. The Sespe has so much to offer as far as day hikes, weekend backpacking jaunts, and weeklong journeys; all of which have fantastic swimming holes along the way. The most challenging local trail I’ve hiked is the Gene Marshall from Piedra Blanca to Camp Scheideck, but only based upon one experience. A friend and I went for three day backpacking trip along this trail last year. On day two, our macaroni dinner was interrupted by smoky skies and raining ash. A wildfire had blazed up near our destination, Camp Scheideck. Fearing the worst, we hiked through the night to escape the fire to our car at Piedra Blanca, 15 miles away. Early the next morning I called my parents, both who live in Ojai, let them know I was okay. Apparently the smoke wasn’t visible from Ojai, turns out none of our safety nets knew we were in danger.
4. Steelhead this, steelhead that… what is so darn important about steelhead here in Southern California? What are the most significant issues for their future? Have you seen any progress throughout your career?
Southern California steelhead were listed as a federally endangered species in 1997. Steelhead are known as an indicator species. Like the canary in the coalmine, steelhead survival is dependent on a healthy, functioning watershed. Here in southern California, steelhead habitat has been severely impacted. Dams, concrete channels, fair weather creek crossing, periods of drought, pollution, non-native invasive species, and water diversions, all effect steelhead survival. The most significant issues I foresee for steelhead in the future are water quality and quantity and habitat availability. But there is hope! Southern steelhead are an extraordinary species. They display a high tolerance to environmental conditions that steelhead in the north do not exhibit. And restoration to improve the condition of our creeks is occurring regionally to benefit this species. I’ve seen some impressive restoration projects that have opened miles of excellent habitat for steelhead to repopulate. I hope to see Matilija Dam removed during my career. Removal of this dam will open 26.5 miles of habitat for southern steelhead, as well as many other benefits for the watershed and native wildlife.
The toxic coast range newts are super cool too. I recently heard from a college professor that he has tracked individual newts to live over 25 years of age. The Belted Kingfisher is my favorite bird around the creeks.
They are adorable creatures with a big head, topped by a Mohawk-like tuft and a feisty personality. Finally, praying mantis deserve a shout out.
They are a fascinating and cunning predator. I’ve seen a praying mantis catch and devour a full-grown fence lizard. I’ll never forget that fight. Favorite local fish is a steelhead/rainbow fry, the young ones just out of the redd. They are too cute for their own good.
6. Any hairy riparian adventures you can share with us?
I was backpacking in Sespe Creek for work last year. We spent our first night at the confluence of Sespe and Alder Creek. We were woken up in the dark of a moonless night by an incredibly loud and disorienting sound. The noise had no source, it surrounded us and nothing else could be heard (not even the person next to me yelling at the top of his lungs). I had no idea what was going on while it was happening; it literally sounded like a heard of giant buffalo raging through our camp. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. After about ten minutes of giggling like small children from the rush of adrenaline that flooded our veins (and that we were still alive and in one piece), we found our wits and quickly realized what happened. A major landslide fell across the creek.
7. What projects are you currently working on with the CCCs that may be of interest to Ramblers?
The CCC just finished a project in July to remove non-native palm trees from Stewart Creek and Ojai Creek (along Creek Road at Persimmon Hill). The project was awarded 5 weeks of funding through CCC Prop 84 funds. The CCC was able to remove approximately 200 non-native palm trees during project work. This restoration project is part of a larger collaborative effort to remove exotic plant species from Ojai Creek downstream to San Antonio Creek. This work benefits fish and wildlife by allowing displaced native vegetation to recolonize and harbor wildlife that depend on native vegetation for survival. Project partners include the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, CREW, Ojai Valley Green Coalition, BioResource Consultants and the CCC.
9. Favorite local wildflower/shrub/tree
My favorite tree is the valley oak. It is a beautiful tree that drops it’s leaves every winter with a fresh new look each spring. As the largest oak in North America, it is a truly majestic tree. Shrub – the brilliant flannel bush (when it is in bloom.)
Flowers – Oh there are too many, I can’t pick one….columbine, humbolt lily, red larkspur, peony, Matilija poppy
10. Other local organizations that you support or would like to plug
Having lived in Ojai most of my life and being one that loves the outdoors, I can’t be more thrilled with the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. The preserves they’ve acquired and projects they’ve accomplished are priceless. When I was in high school the Ojai Meadows Preserve was just a weedy lot choked with foxtails. Only grasshoppers hung out there. Since the OVLC has managed the property, the landscape has had a dramatic change. It’s a great place to take the dog for a walk, get some exercise, and sit to watch the birds…just like all the other OVLC preserves!
Thank you Jill. Plant sale next Saturday (5th) mark your calendars.