Coast live oak

PICTURED: Coast live oak

by David Goldstein

Come take a walk on the wild side if you are tired of paring back your home’s landscaping in response to watering restrictions and fire dangers, and you just want to plant big, beautiful expanses you can visit in years to come. On the wild side of the urban/wildland interface, conservationists are planting and sustaining new growth. Volunteers are especially needed to help replace and enhance natural settings lost to recent fires. 

For example, the Ventura Botanical Gardens, with funding from the California Natural Resources Agency, recently completed planting approximately 40,000 California native plants on slopes burned by the 2017 Thomas fire. Visitors can now experience the growing California native plant restoration areas for coastal sage scrub, coastal cactus scrub, chaparral, oak woodland, pine woodland, and volcanic outcrop plant communities. Embedded in these planting areas are collections of threatened and endangered species, some with identifying signs. 

The grant also funded a new irrigation mainline and solar powered irrigation pump that connects to the existing irrigation system. The system uses about 95% reclaimed water, according to Joe Cahill, the Botanical Gardens’ Executive Director.

To volunteer with the Ventura Botanical Gardens, call 805/232-3113, or email

Similarly, since the land was devastated by the Thomas Fire, volunteers and staff of Ventura Land Trust have planted 75 trees and 250 shrubs at Harmon Canyon Preserve. VLT is planning reforestation of an oak woodland at the site. At the Big Rock Preserve, also swept by the Thomas Fire, staff and volunteers have planted over 400 native trees, primarily coast live oak, in addition to nearly 300 other native planting.

VLT is also planning restoration efforts at the recently acquired Mariano Rancho Preserve and is holding a series of public meetings to solicit input. A meeting last week at my home drew over 70 guests. Many of us saw fire rage over those hillsides and burn into our neighborhood, so we are glad to have a neighbor enhancing the natural habitat on the hillsides while keeping the area adjacent to our homes cleared of fire hazards.

On its website,, the Ventura Land Trust lists regular volunteer opportunities available Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Sunday and Monday mornings. For now, however, Wednesdays and Sundays are typically devoted to removing invasive species, rather than planting. Although planting is more fun, weeding is important, too. Invasive plants such as thistle and mustard crowd out native plant species, steal water and present a fire hazard. 

For the best opportunity to plant something truly monumental, you can volunteer with the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, which specializes in planting oak trees at sites in Wills Canyon and along the Ventura River. Restoration Program Director Vivon Crawford explained, “Oaks are the iconic Ojai Valley landscape, and they also store carbon, decrease erosion, filter water and protect Ojai’s water supply.” Oaks provide water saving benefits, according to Crawford, by slowing rainfall and channeling water along roots, facilitating penetration of water through Ojai’s clay soil into groundwater basins.

Oaks also have a clever adaptation to our local, cyclical drought and fire conditions. Oaks “push water to the limbs, making a protective buffer around the crown,” according to Crawford. “That is why they drop limbs.” Around homes, limb dropping can be dangerous, but in the wildlands, planting oaks brings only benefits.

To volunteer with the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, fill out the form at, call 805-649-6852 or email

Near the opposite side of the county, volunteers and National Park Service staff working on the Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area are about halfway through a two-year program to plant 100,000 plants on land burned by the 2018 Woolsey Fire. Funded in part by actress and philanthropist Jane Seymour, the 25 species planted so far include 5,000 trees and have a survival rate over 80%, according to reporting by local radio station KCLU.To see volunteer opportunities with the National Park Service, go to

David Goldstein, an Environmental Resource Analyst with Ventura County Public Works Agency, may be reached at 805-658-4312 or