Juan Troncoso has a beetle problem. It’s nothing new—the goldspotted oak borer has been killing thousands of oak trees all over California since it crossed over from Arizona in 2004, but Troncoso and his team at the Escondido Creek Conservancy have been thinking up new ways to restore the county’s oak woodland habitats.
That led them to volunteer Jim Crouch. “Jim has collected over 600 acorns from various sites and is privately growing oak seedlings for us and other conservancies,” Troncoso says. “When they’re ready, we’ll be able to transport some of those seedlings back to our land to help rebuild the oak habitat.”
It’s just one of the many projects that he oversees as a conservation manager for the Escondido Creek Conservancy. He’s in charge of two North County preserves—Mountain Meadow and Sardina—that are both part of the conservancy’s Save 1000 Acres campaign. The goal is to build what Troncoso calls a “green ring” in the northern part of Escondido, creating a safe habitat corridor for Southern California’s wildlife. But it’s no walk in the park. “These two areas are heavily degraded,” he says. The
Mountain Meadow Preserve has about 125 acres of land that was once an avocado grove, and Sardina was situated adjacent to a paintball range, which means a lot of dead avocado trees, invasive plants, and old, unnecessary structures. While they want to remove and replace them with native species, Troncoso says it’s a delicate balance: “Whatever we’re doing, we want to ensure that we’re improving the habitat and the biological value of the land. Even though they’re not native, animals have adapted to these trees. So when we’re taking them out, we leave something more beneficial in return.”
Now that nesting season has begun, he and a small group have been surveying the land to mark which trees have nests and which are safe to chop down—there needs to be a 100-foot clearance in every direction. Other days, he’s helping to prep areas for planting, or monitoring the video cameras set up to study the wildlife.
It’s a role that requires wearing many hats and a lot of patience. These projects often take months or years to complete and can be held up even longer due to a lack of funding. Clearing those degraded areas alone cost an estimated $1 million. Every small victory is worth celebrating, especially when the conservancy is able to collaborate with local partners, like Jim Crouch with the oaks, or Cal Fire, which has helped them cut down 200–300 trees in the last year.
“At the end of the day we may be working in different fields, but we are all working toward the same goal, which is preserving our species.”