Some of you may have noticed the change of scenery in the so-called orange grove at the Ventura River Preserve. If you haven’t you probably need glasses. Big changes are afoot and I’ve gone straight to the source to get the skinny on the heavy machinery that has altered the local landscape. The Queen of coyote brush, the Sultaness of sagebrush, the Doyenne of Deerweed, (or just plain ole OVLC restoration manager), Jill Lashly:
- What’s the history of the orange grove, when was the last time it was in use? How did the removal project come about? Is the project related to the Rice Creek Reroute at all?
JL: The orange grove was planted in the 1920s. When the OVLC acquired the Ventura River Preserve in 2003 the orange orchard was nearing the end of its production life. In 2004 OVLC stopped watering the orchard. Rainfall over the next 10 years kept about a third of the trees alive, but not in great condition. I walked the orchard before it was removed last month. I saw maybe 4 oranges the size of golf balls in the entire 41-acre area.
The project is a priority restoration project for the Ventura River Preserve (VRP) and has many benefits. One of the main reasons the OVLC moved forward with this project was the detection of the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) in the Ojai Valley.
The ACP is a flying insect that can carry a lethal citrus disease, Huanglongbing (HLB). There are no cures for HLB; once a citrus tree is infected, the tree will die. Derelict orchards around the Ojai Valley are potential host sites for ACP. The orange grove at the Ventura River Preserve could serve as a host for this insect, becoming a threat to commercial growers in the Ojai Valley.
Removing derelict orchards throughout the valley is one way to help protect local commercial citrus groves of the Ojai Valley. Also, as many of the trees are already dead, they also comprise a substantial fuel source for wildfires. Removing the dead trees helped to reduce threats from fuel loading. Finally, removing the orange orchard allows the planting of hundreds of new coast live oaks as part of the larger restoration efforts at the preserve.
The project is an extension of the Rice Creek Re-alignment Project. Rice Creek was filled-in to make room for the orange orchard in the 1920s. Restoration of the creek corridor has been ongoing since 2011. The oak savanna and woodland restoration project will expand the success that we have seen at the Rice Creek Re-alignment Project. It will create upland habitat that will connect Rice Creek with the surrounding natural habitats of Wills and Rice Canyons and the Ventura River.
- Tell us about the masticators. Is it true they are related to the brontosaurus? Did you get to watch them at work? How many trees a day can they chew? Do they floss regularly?
I would say that the masticator is more closely related to the tyrannosaurus rex.
Albeit one main variance; the masticator is vegetarian, they are tree eating machines. I kept my distance from the masticator, it was a messy eater. Orange tree chunks the size of my leg where flung 100 yards while at work. It can demolish about 3 or 4 acres a day.
- How many trees total, how many acres worth, is there a grand total of tonnage masticated?
In total, 35 acres were masticated. 6 acres of dead and dying orange trees remain on the preserve. These trees were left untouched by the masticator because the area supports a thicket of native vegetation. In order to preserve the native vegetation and make my job easier, the orange trees will be removed by a hand crew. I have a crew scheduled to take out the living orange trees in the remaining 6 acres this month.
- Find any surprises once the trees were gone? Fraggle villages? Jimmy Hoffa?
The mystery of Jimmy Hoffa remains; we didn’t find anything exciting. An odd thing I noticed is the presence of thousands of garden snail shells. The snail shells are a relic of the once regularly irrigated land.
- What is the next stage of the project? What types of plants are going to be replacing the oranges?
The goal is to restore the area to oak savanna and oak woodland habitat. Most of the area is planned for oak savanna restoration. Oak savanna habitats are remarkable for their scattered single trees and differ from oak woodland that tend to have higher tree densities. Restoration of 10 of the 41 acres has just begun. The plants I chose for the area mirror that of what grows naturally in the surrounding areas. The plants include coast live oak, a variety of sage species, mulefat, bush mallow, mugwort, black walnut, green-bark ceanothus, California buckwheat, blue elderberry, and laurel sumac. I submitted a grant last week to the Wildlife Conservation Board that if funded, will support an additional 20 acres of oak savanna and woodland restoration.