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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Updates from Tom Hayduk, MRT’s Nursery & Vegetation Restoration Manager

June 26th 2018

After a busy planting season, the MRT veg crew are now focusing on site maintenance for our restoration sites and other protected lands.  Our current planting sites are at de Anza Park, Malibu Creek State Park, Headwaters Corner, Cold Creek High Trail and La Sierra Preserve. Since the end of the planting season, we have been catching up on our weed maintenance program by removing non-natives through weed-whacking and selective hand-weeding while avoiding the large-scale use of herbicides.

With multiple revegetation projects and others in development, the nursery has become the foundation of the program. The MRT nursery has been operational for almost nine years. Our growing grounds are unique in many ways, one being that the nursery complex is spread out in five locations. The shadehouse at Headwaters Corner was our first nursery structure, built in 2009 by two Eagle Scout projects and used to store seed propagation flats. In May of 2010, we began to use the “April Rd greenhouse” located on State Park property above the old Ronald Reagan Ranch. This greenhouse stores many native collections and with its great light provides near optimal growing conditions for our native propagules.

In 2011 we got permission from State Parks to restore and occupy a large shade structure located behind the Malibu Creek State Park campground. The PVC structure that supports the shade cloth was re-glued at this time and at least twice since after winter storms. This shadehouse stores our one-gallons and treepots and is much cooler than the greenhouse in summer, although adversely colder in winter.

We are using the small greenhouse I installed in the backyard of my Canoga Park home to grow all our coast live oak, valley oak and scrub oak saplings, California bay laurel, hollyleaf cherry, coffeeberry chaparral yucca and other native collections. This greenhouse has found its niche to provide a safe place for these young trees, because there is no predation by mice or squirrels who, if given a chance, will steal every acorn sown in a tray overnight. Nursery Assistant Manager Betsey Scheets has also been growing natives in her backyard nursery, and provides a few species to supplement our stock, including blue-eyed grass, creeping snowberry and yerba buena.

In the nursery, we continue to propagate from seed, cuttings, division and salvage. As the nursery manager I am particularly proud of the modifications we have made in the past year to improve our seed propagation program. Although we will continue to sow seed in propagation flats, we have also found success in direct seeding into 2-inch x 7-inch liners (50 per tray) and sowing multiple species per pot, all common to the same habitat type. For example, we typically have been sowing different combinations of deerweed, golden yarrow, woolly aster and showy penstemon seed, all appropriate companion species for grassland habitat, then lightly cover this seed and sow purple needlegrass seed, cover again with light layer of soil and then compress soil. We then tightly wrap these trays with hardware cloth caging to prevent rodent damage and leave these trays in the greenhouse environment for optimal light and moisture to allow for natural seedling development.  These liners can be planted directly into the ground or repotted to one-gallon pots. We have had great success with establishment of these plugs at a revegetation project at Malibu Creek State Park, with 300 plantings without any fatalities. Another key part to this successful planting has been the use of coco disks installed over the watering basins and wrapped around the neck of the protection cages to greatly increase the moisture retention in the soil.

On Thursdays I work with Betsey and our April Road greenhouse volunteers from 9am-2pm to complete all our propagation and repotting work for the week.  Long-time volunteers include Karen Cleaver, Virginie Snyder, Juliet Montgomery, John Ulloth, Phil Peck, Michael Hart, and new volunteers Chad Lee and Ben Schmit.  These volunteers are dedicated to the work and become skilled as they gain experience with repotting and propagation methods, while enjoying the company and environment found in our greenhouse cathedral. I should add that this greenhouse also houses nesting birds, lizards, snakes, and pesty mice, with honeybees and yellow jackets, buzzing all about in search of moisture more so than plant nectar or human blood. If you would like to join our greenhouse crew, please send me a note of your interest.

I will be working with volunteers on June 30, July 14 and July 28 at the Cold Creek Valley Preserve to remove invasive species and collect native seed. This is a great opportunity to learn native plant and weed identification and much more while working and hiking in our valley preserve.  Other upcoming volunteer veg events are scheduled for June 7 (at de Anza Park in Calabasas), July 14 at Potrero Creek in Newbury Park, and July 21 at Malibu Creek State Park.  All events occur from 9am-12pm.  Please sign up here.

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Bring Back the Streams! One Stream at a Time…



We are a non-profit organization who have dedicated ourselves as stewards of the Santa Monica Mountains. We are caretakers of the land, preserving its natural beauty for future generations.It’s a daunting task for sure. The eco-system seems so fragile. How can it survive the assaults of pollution, invasive species, development, and climate change?

We won’t pretend to have all the answers, but we seek out and provide opportunities to be part of the solution. We believe in a multi-faceted approach that includes all parties and points of view, working together towards a holistic understanding of the human role in the environment.  


We are proud to have started a wide variety of projects, from land acquisition and trail building to woodland and aquatic restoration. What unites all of these projects are the streams, which run from the tops of the mountains out to the sea.

Streams and creeks are the lifeline of the mountains, like the veins in our body. They nourish the entire organism. They can become riddled with plaque choking the circulation — trash, waste material, invasive species, and other forms of pollution. To have healthy mountains, with vibrant flora and fauna, it is necessary for the water to flow, Native plant species on the banks of these waterways help support local native wildlife, allow for the frogs and the newts to propagate, and for the fish and the birds to reestablish themselves.

By bringing back the streams, we revitalize our native stream ecosystem of the Santa Monica Mountains. One creek, one stream at a time.


Dry Canyon Creek is a success story in our own backyard. Through the hard work of our staff, consultants, volunteers, and generous donors, we have transformed the headwaters of the Los Angeles River from a weed-choked dumping ground to a healthy, vibrant environment.  Along with the regrowth of native plants, indigenous critters are finally moving back home, including frogs.

Frogs are the ecological equivalent of canaries in the mine. All over the planet, their diminishing numbers have been alarm bell warning us of dangers to our environment.

Here in the Santa Monica Mountains, our Bring Back the Streams! campaign plans to intensify existing efforts to rid the creeks of one of the biggest threats — the invasive red swamp crayfish from Louisiana.

Call them crayfish, crawfish, or crawdads, these alien invaders are hazardous to the health of our streams and dangerous for aquatic wildlife populations. They make snacks out of frogs’ eggs and baby newts. While they’re around, amphibians don’t have a chance! They have no natural predators here in Southern California. Unless we step in.

We are the people who use the mountains for recreation, for solitude, for fresh air. We are the people who thrill to see animals in the wild, who photograph the views. We, the people who build our homes close to nature, who study the wild flowers and watch the birds, who shut down our laptops on a Saturday afternoon and take our kids for a hike.

One stream at a time. It is possible, and it can be done.

We are trapping and removing the crayfish, the same way our great-grandfathers in the old days used to do it. One by one, we pull traps from the creeks, manually removing hundreds of thousands of crayfish from the waterways. With our naturalists and biologists, volunteers from local communities go on trapping expeditions in Malibu and Las Virgenes Creeks almost every week, making a huge difference in the native amphibian population.

We intend to expand this effort to include other creeks and streams. Part of that plan includes the acquisition of small parcels of land along Cold Creek and La Sierra Creek where a number of small feeders and tributaries are located. Homebuilders are included in these discussions so that thoughtful consciousness occurs in determining new sites.


…because we can do this. Our plan seems compact in size, but we have our eye on the bigger picture. We are partnering with other conservation groups. We are teaming up with naturalists, educators, city officials, business leaders, and ardent nature lovers. With so many different perspectives and experience levels, we can focus on different strategies for different needs.

As a non-profit organization, we are committed to being transparent and accountable. As a non-governmental organization, we have the flexibility to be innovative in the actions we take to protect our natural environment. In a time when the federal and state governments are pushing fracking on federal lands thinking of selling protected parklands, we are making it our mission to protect the land in perpetuity.

Mark Twain’s favorite amphibian is the “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a nickname for none other than the once plentiful California Red Legged Frog. With streams and creeks running unimpeded and restored to pre-polluted states, this local legend hops off the endangered species list and returns to the Santa Monica Mountains.

Please join our campaign and help us Bring Back the Streams!

How can you get involved?

Come join us at our Crayfish Removal Open House events, every Saturday from October 7th to December 16th!!  

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It’s a Bird, It’s a Bug… It’s CITIZEN SCIENCE!!!!!!!!!!

iNaturalist is the brainchild of Nate Agrin, Jessica Kline, and Ken-ichi Ueda. They originally came up with the idea for the website during their senior master’s project at UC Berkeley in 2008. A few years later, the California Academy of Sciences became involved, and from there the site and corresponding phone app have blossomed into one of the biggest citizen science research platforms in the country. From hikers and mountain climbers to beach bums and birdwatchers, anyone can be a naturalist. All you have to do is take a photo and upload it for the waiting scientists and researchers in the iNaturalist community! Just like that, you can go from being a normal person to a Citizen Scientist – documenting data one photo at a time.

“If enough people recorded their observations, it would be like a living record of life on Earth that scientists and land managers could use to monitor changes in biodiversity, and that anyone could use to learn more about nature.” Scientists are gathering data every day about what species are living where, tracking population counts and migrations. iNaturalist is a social media platform designed to help researchers gather data in locations they might not normally be able to get to — private property, remote areas, etc. iNaturalist helps to record the biodiversity in areas, the various plant, insect, wildlife forms that exist within particular boundaries. The primary goal of the site, though, is to connect more people with nature and get them outdoors and excited about what could be living in more than just their backyard.

We make observations about the world around us every day, but do we really look at what we’re seeing? We might see a wildflower, and think “that’s pretty”. But did you ever think you could be the one to identify the species of that flower, and give the local science community a data point to add to their research? Snap a photo, upload it to an app, and get an ID on the bug or plant or animal that’s in the photo. Pretty easy, right? If you don’t know what species an insect, plant, or animal photo is when you upload it, don’t worry! Just give the most detail you can and label it as “insect”, “butterfly”, etc., and that will help direct scientists or hobbyist naturalists who are identifying other photos on the site. They’ll help ID it for you, and then that information will get sent to the California Academy of Science.

Anyone with a smartphone or a computer with access to the internet can use iNaturalist! The app for your phone is free on both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, just look for the little green bird icon. Download it, and get started on your first photoshoot as a citizen science – there’s a whole world of nature out there to explore!

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Wildlife Spotlight: Red Tailed Hawks

The red tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is North America’s most common hawk, and can most certainly be found in the Santa Monica Mountains. They have pale bellies and dark back feathers. The tail is golden cinnamon colored, it’s not as bright red as most might think! They can be easily identified by their broad rounded wings and their shorter tails. 

It is an opportunistic feeder. Its most common prey are small mammals, including squirrels and rabbits, but will also eat smaller birds, fish, or reptiles. Interestingly, the red tailed hawk and the great horned owl feeds off similar prey, so competition between the two birds often occurs during twilight when both species are out hunting. You can often find a red tailed hawk standing alone atop trees and telephone poles. When the hawks mate, they pair up and fly in large circles. The male will dive down and then climb back up to where it can perform the circling dance again to try and impress his mate. Then it will grab another bird with its talons and dive back down. Red tailed hawks may mate for life. Females can lay up to five eggs yearly and the eggs, incubated by both sexes, incubate for about four to five weeks. After the young hatch, they leave the nest about six weeks later.

Though they mate for life, red tailed hawks are not social creatures. They won’t hunt in populated areas, like a Coopers Hawks or a sharp-shinned hawk. They favor open fields and mountain habitats, like our very own Headwaters Corner. Mountains Restoration Trust staff have spotted quite a few red tailed hawks circling our property, likely hunting small mammals like squirrels that hide out in our trees.

Want to know more about these graceful predators? Check out the resources below!


“Red-Tailed Hawk.” National Geographic Photo Ark, National Geographic, 11 Nov. 2010, www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/r/red-tailed-hawk/.

“Red-Tailed Hawk.” All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2015, www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-tailed_Hawk/id.

“Raptors of California.” California Department of Fish and Wildlife.Gov, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2016, www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Birds/Raptors.

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Beetle Mania — But Not the Groovy Kind

by Amy  Yuelapwan, Land Restoration Tech

**The beetle shown in the photo above is a full sized adult, with a US penny shown for scale.

The Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer (PSHB) beetle is currently affecting multiple tree species around California. Mountains Restoration Trust (MRT) is monitoring for the PSHB in Calabasas, with the help of the California Resource Conservation District (RCD),. The main species of trees that MRT is monitoring are the Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia, the Valley Oak, Quercus lobata, and the Western Sycamore, Platanus racemosa.

There are test results from University of Riverside that confirm the PSHB beetles found in Calabasas are carrying what’s known as the ‘Fusarium Dieback’ fungal disease. This disease blocks the flow of nutrients through the trees, effectively killing the tree from the inside out.

An impregnated PSHB female travels short distances, from a parent tree to a different tree. When she arrives at a new host tree, she bores in and begins to make galleries, or tunnels, where she will lay her eggs. The offspring are born within the tree and feed on the disease-carrying fungus, Fusarium euwallacea. The life cycle starts all over again when the offspring breed with each other inside the tree and the impregnated females leave to find new tree hosts. This beetle, along with many other types of vectoring beetles (carrying diseases), are closely monitored for their activity because the tree hosts they choose in urban and wild settings are heavily affected. In the worst cases, the trees die completely.

It is a popular theory that the long-experienced drought has severely weakened trees and majorly effects the death of infected trees — so don’t forget to water landscaped trees! The symptoms to look out for are areas of leaf dieback (death of twigs and branches, generally starting at the tips) in the tree canopy, as well as entry/exit holes in the trunk. This is accompanied by discoloration, also called ‘staining.’ There are resources online, but if you suspect that a tree is diseased, MRT and RCD can be contacted for further assistance. RCD also offers citizens the opportunity to monitor their own properties by setting up traps to find potential PSHB beetle activity.


The California Department of Conservation, and the Resource Conservation District can be contacted via the postal service, email, or telephone.

801 K Street, MS 14-15
Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 457-7904



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Wildlife Spotlight: Green Lynx Spider

This week, our staffers found a Green Lynx Spider (peucetia viridans) perched on a lily near our office in Headwaters Corner. She appears to have made her home here, as one of her younglings emerged a few moments after we spotted her.

Typically, these spiders guard their young for 6 to 8 weeks after they hatch, until they are they are big enough to defend themselves from possible predators. This is unusual behavior — most spiders are known to eat their mothers as their first meal, before moving on to their weaker siblings and then other prey. Lynx are active hunters, that stalk their prey and spit venom. They don’t actually spin webs, like most species of spiders do!

These spiders are aptly named for the bright coloring of their body. They move quickly and pounce like cats, making the ‘lynx’ part of its name very accurate. Like cats, they’ll also often sit still for very long periods of time waiting for prey to wander by. They can be found on shrubs , wildflowers, and in tall grasses all throughout the Southern United States, Venezuela, Mexico, and all over Central and South America.

They’re great for controlling pest problems in cotton fields, and soybean or peanut crops. The only downside? They also like to snack on bees and butterflies as well.

Check out the resources below to find out more information about this unique guest here at Headwaters Corner.

  • Hawkinson, Candace. “Green Lynx Spider.” Beneficial Spiders in the Landscape: #48 Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia Viridans), Galveston County Master Gardener Association, 2006, aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/beneficials/beneficial-48_green_lynx_spider.htm.
  • Regents of the University of California . “Pests in Gardens and Landscapes: Quick Tips.” UC IPM Online, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, 11 May 2017, ipm.ucanr.edu/QT/commongardenspiderscard.html.
  • Raines, Ben. “Venom-Spitting Spiders Hatching out All over Alabama Make Great Mothers.” AL.com, 2 Nov. 2015, www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2015/11/venom-spitting_green_lynx_spid.html.
  • Weems, H.V. (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry), and W.H. Whitcomb (University of Florida). “Featured Creatures .” Green Lynx Spider – Peucetia Viridans (Hentz), University of Florida, Publication Date: November 2001. Latest revision: July 2014.


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