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Reflections on Cold Creek by Mark Fiege

 

It is a beautiful summer morning in the Cold Creek Valley. It isn’t hot yet, but by noon the temperature will be in the 90’s. Today, the mission is to water our Pepperdine restoration area (named for the organization that contracted the mitigation) off of Stunt Road in Calabasas. This site consists of over 500 native plants that are situated on upland slopes within MRT’s Cold Creek West Preserve. Planting began only last November so regular watering is crucial to pull these plants through the recent heat wave and the long summer drought. With high temperatures ranging from the 90’s to the 110’s, even the old established oaks in the Santa Monicas are having trouble. This site was chosen to restore a part of the Preserve that was used for a driveway before MRT obtained the property, which has subsequently become infested with invasive species such as black mustard, wild oat, ripgut brome, and Italian thistle. However, in order to water this area which can only be reached by foot, MRT installed an irrigation line that is accessible from an upper part of Stunt Road and flows through a fire hose down to our site over several rocky cliffs. As the water flows from the tank in the MRT work truck down to the auxiliary tank at the restoration site, I gaze at Calabasas Peak which rises to form the Northern boundary of the Cold Creek basin. To the west, Ladyface Mountain comes first with Conejo Peak visible in the misty background some 25 miles away. I can barely make out the two MRT restoration technicians down below at the site prepping for a day of watering, weeding, and the never-ending task of plant maintenance. In the picture accompanying this post, one can see the white water tank at the very bottom left with Adin Shy-Sobol, and the tiny dot that is Becca Kosugi making her way across the site just above and to the right. Although MRT was founded over 35 years ago in 1981, most of our vegetative restoration crew are relatively recent additions. We have employees with vastly diverse backgrounds and personal histories: from Biology to Mechanical Engineering to English degrees, from scientists to record store clerks, from fresh college grads to people looking for a new start after having been in the workforce. The common thread however, is a passion for the natural environment of Southern California and to restore it’s native beauty as best we can. With someone like Tom Hayduk (see last month’s newsletter for a column from Tom) in charge of the vegetative restoration work MRT does, it’s hard not to find beauty out here. From his hand planted “Elderberry Eden” site, to his tireless dedication tending the various MRT nursery sites, to his weekly educational volunteer events, Tom has personally improved a significant portion of the habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains. As one of the employees who has found this field after having been in the workforce for a while, I’m always excited when others choose to take the plunge and follow this path.

I am originally from the DC-Baltimore section of the east coast. When I graduated from tiny St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2008 with a BA in English, I was fairly clueless about what to do. The economy had just tanked and Washington DC was hit especially hard. The only “real” job I could find was a paralegal position at a foreclosure and bankruptcy firm in DC that represented major banks. Although it was miserable I kept pushing because I didn’t really have any other options, so when a friend asked me to move out to Los Angeles to help start a business, I jumped at the chance. Five years later, the business had been sold and I needed to find “real” work again. I returned to paralegal work, only to discover (surprise surprise!) that the only work I could find was fairly miserable law firms that needed help with things related to a struggling economy – corporate loss mitigation, debt collection, etc. As before, I took a job that I didn’t want because it was all that was available. After six months of paralegal work at an awful debt collection law firm, I was rescued by something I had never even considered possible: the federal government! The National Park Service in Thousand Oaks was offering internship positions in their restoration ecology department. Not only did I not have any experience, but I hardly knew what restoration ecology even was. Even so, the people at NPS loved my enthusiasm and decided to give a 29 year old paralegal with an English degree and no scientific experience a chance. I absolutely loved it from day 1; native plant nursery work, invasive species mitigation, interpretive talks with visitor groups, and botanical monitoring all became part of my weekly routine, and I went from dreading the alarm clock every morning to being excited about having a new adventure in the Santa Monicas. After concluding my internship at NPS, I was welcomed at MRT. Although the plethora of sites over several large preserve areas were intimidating at first, I quickly learned to love all of MRT’s land and projects. The La Sierra Preserve holds an endangered species (Lyon’s pigmy daisy, Pentachaeta lyonii) and a wealth of other rare native plants such as various Calochortus/Mariposa lilies (Calochortus albus, C. catalinae, C. clavatus, and potentially C. plummerae), spiny tarweed (Centromadia pungens), and a beautiful grove of black cottonwood trees. The Cold Creek Preserve is equally amazing with its own endangered species (the Santa Susanna tarweed, Deinandra minthornii) and several rare plant species including red shanks (Adenostoma sparsifolium), giant stream orchid (Epipactis gigantea), Fish’s milkwort (Polygala cornuta var. fishiae), splendid mariposa lily (C. splendens), and Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora). Our Cold Creek Preserve is unique in particular because its spring-fed waters are the highest water quality in the mountains, giving it the resources to support incredibly diverse and fragile habitats. This gives MRT not only a precious resource, but a crucial responsibility to manage and protect these lands. I won’t say the work is easy, and I won’t say that it doesn’t get hot/cold, wet/dry, windy/stifling out here, but every day is supremely worth it to myself and the rest of the crew because we believe in the work we are doing and we believe in MRT. I am so glad to have been welcomed in to this new field where I am excited to get to work. Every day in the Santa Monicas is an adventure – from thorns to snakes to secluded desert waterfalls – and I’m thrilled to call it home.

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