The final SLEWS day of the (school) year

Sacramento Charter High School at Clark Ranch 1
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | April 17, 2019

Participating School
Sacramento Charter High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms
Bruce Clark

Mentors
Bob Ream, retired
Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
Dana Stokes
Jess Rudnick, UC Davis graduate student

Summary of the Day
For the final Field Day with Sacramento Charter High School (and final Field Day of the 2018 – 2019 SLEWS season!) we were back at our original site, Clark Ranch. Our first Field Day was here back in December, but for our second day we installed irrigation at a site in Woodland. It had been over 4 months since our day at this site and it was remarkable how much had changed. In December the site was so muddy we couldn’t bring vehicles in, and it rained intermittently throughout the day. This time, it was plenty dry to drive on and at eighty degrees was the hottest SLEWS day of the season!

Students were excited during breakfast to find a native butterfly we identified as a Painted Lady. We played PVC golf to connect with our mentor groups before heading out to see the plants we had planted back in December. As this site had experienced a lot of wind and some flooding with the stormy winter we had, our task was to replace bamboo poles, adjust tubes and emitters, and weed around the plants to increase their chance at survival. One student found caterpillars while working along the hedgerow and wondered if they might be Painted Ladies – the same species we saw earlier in the adult (butterfly) form.

After completing our restoration work, mentor Jessica Rudnick, a UC Davis Graduate Student, led the students in a fun educational activity. She explained that they would be investigative journalists, and their assignment was to figure out how the farm was addressing environmental issues. Students rotated between stations learning about pollination (and native habitat benefits!), weeds and cover crops, irrigation, and predators on the farm. Students got to try immature almonds and were surprised to find they tasted like cucumbers! And appropriately, as mentor Corey Shake was discussing predators on the farm, a Swainson’s Hawk flew overhead.

Once students had had a chance to learn about all aspects of the farm, they compiled their reports. Some students elected to share their findings – one memorable and report was a student who chose to be a critical reporter and delivered a hilariously negative story about the almond orchard.

After lunch, we celebrated student Jordan’s birthday before ending the day with a closing circle. Many students remarked that they really enjoyed seeing how much their plants had grown in the past four months!

Restoration, past and present

Pioneer High School at Jack Rice’s
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | April 12, 2019

Participating School
Pioneer High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Jack Rice

Mentors
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Francisco Bellido Leiva, UCD graduate student
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA

Summary of the Day
For our second and final day with Pioneer High School, we started not at Jack Rice’s property but at East Regional Pond, a site that underwent a restoration effort several years ago. After a very windy opening circle, Brandon Baker of Yolo County Resource Conservation District led students on a tour around the pond. It was a project he himself worked on, and provided a great example of what restoration projects look like after several year’s growth.

On our journey around the pond, Brandon found the nest of a Killdeer right in the middle of the path! It didn’t look like much, just a few pebbles arranged in a circle – Brandon explained that male killdeer will make a nest to try to woo a female. This one had likely been abandoned, but we did see a killdeer further up the road.

After some time exploring the park, we loaded up and headed to Jack Rice’s to complete our SLEWS project. A few weeks prior, we had planted 180 native plants around the perimeter of his property, and they seemed to be doing well so far. To give them an even better chance at survival, we would be applying a thick layer of mulch around each plant. Jack Rice had moved a several-foot-thick layer of mulch just outside the planting area so students were able to access the soil for the planting day, but now it needed to be moved around to plants to be put to use.

Working in mentor groups and using shovels, pitchforks, and gloved hands, Pioneer students spread out throughout the planting area to mulch the plants. Again, there were many doubts amongst mentors and restoration partners that the work would be completed – the work wasn’t easy, and the planting area long! True to form, Pioneer students finished the project just in time for lunch.

After enjoying delicious burritos, students divided up amongst mentors to ask them questions about their education and career paths. Many students remarked that having the opportunity to learn from professionals in this way was one of their favorite parts of their SLEWS experience. Other favorites included planting, learning about habitat restoration, seeing the killdeer nest, and bonding with classmates – lots of variety!

Putting the finishing touches on a project in Rio Vista

Rio Vista High School at Petersen Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | April 3, 2019

Participating School
Rio Vista High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Emily Snider, UCD graduate student
Karleen Vollherbst, Schoolyard Habitat Program Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Matthew Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS
Luke Petersen, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS

Summary of the Day
For our third and final Field Day, we decided to spend the day at a more established restoration site to give students the opportunity to see what their project might look like in several years time. Though the site was flourishing, so were the weeds – our main project task of the day would be removing these weeds to reduce competition with the planted natives.

We played a round of PVC golf to get our mentor teams working together before beginning our restoration work. Chris Carlson explained that there would be two main project tasks that day – weeding and digging. He showed students how to identify three common weeds – cheeseweed, hemlock, and mustard – before demonstrating how to use the hoes to efficiently remove them. We also discussed the ambitious digging portion of the project – in order to install two barn owl boxes, two deep, narrow holes needed to be dug. While some mentor groups weeded, others used post hole diggers and shovels to dig a four-foot-deep hole in the earth. Once the hole reached a four-foot depth, some students were excited to test it out and climbed in up to their shoulders!

Before installing the owl boxes, mentor Luke Petersen gave a wonderful talk about barn owls and why these nest boxes are so important. Mentor groups worked together to hoist the posts into the holes as Jeff of Solano RCD secured them in place. Then it was time to mix concrete! Instead of a cement mixer, Rio Vista students used shovels to mix the concrete and secure the post. By mornings end, the area was looking nearly weed-free, and two barn owl boxes were standing tall!

Students then had the opportunity to interview mentors about their education and career paths before sitting down to reflect and write a thank you note to someone who made their SLEWS experience possible. Many students ended up thanking their mentors, who by then had spent three field days guiding them. And several students ended up writing and distributing several thank you notes!

Cheers to a wonderful last field day at Petersen Ranch!

Ending the last Field Day with a BANG

Grant Union High at Clark Ranch 2
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 28, 2019

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Location
Clark Ranch 2 in Davis, CA – the southern of two projects at this site

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms
Bruce Clark

Mentors
Jen Metes, Research Associate, Consero Solutions
Julea Shaw, UC Davis graduate student
Mandi Finger, Associate Director, Genomic Variation Lab
Sean McNamara, Manager, Sierra Orchards

Summary of the Day
As you may recall, this winter season had quite a few big storms. Not only did many SLEWS Field Days need to be rescheduled, but some of our sites were damaged by wind and flooding. Perhaps none more than the southern Clark Ranch site, where Grant Union students arrived to find protective tubes missing and roots exposed in much of our planting area!

We warmed up with a game of PVC golf before heading to our planting site to assess the damage. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District showed students how to “emergency room triage” each plant. Many plants had exposed roots which needed to be reburied, and others were in need of replacement protective tubes and bamboo stakes. Groups worked in the same section where they planted months prior, and were able to see how their plants were surviving. Before long, the planting area was looking much improved, giving these native species a much better chance at survival.

After lunch, students had the opportunity to interview their mentors about their education and career paths. Groups of students rotated from mentor to mentor asking about their day-to-day work and advice they’d give themselves looking back.

At closing circle, I asked everyone to share their most memorable SLEWS experience. After hearing from just a few students, the weather took a sudden, stormy turn – strong winds started blowing, and rain starting falling. The downpour quickly turned to hail and we were forced to abandon closing circle and race towards the road to meet the bus. The storm only worsened – there we were, in pouring rain and hail, with no cover and a long walk to the bus. Not to mention students had already removed their raingear after a pretty clear day! As we hurried towards the road, we heard thunder in the distance and saw several flashes of lightning. The bus pulled up as soon as we got to the road and the drenched students climbed in. I guess there was no need for a closing circle – after that experience, I think we know what everyone’s most memorable SLEWS experience was!

Though that was a memorable experience, it had tough competition. For me personally, my days with Grant Union High have been some of the memorable of this SLEWS season – my first Field Day EVER was our irrigation day back in November, our second Field Day brought a film crew and some mud-related logistical challenges, and we capped it all off with this crazy thunder and hailstorm. What a year!

Pioneers of planting

Pioneer High School at Jack Rice’s
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 22, 2019

Participating School
Pioneer High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Jack Rice

Mentors
Amanda Lindell, UCD graduate student
Brianne Palmer, UCD graduate student
Francisco Bellido Leiva, UCD graduate student
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA

Summary of the Day
Due to some mid-year changes, a restoration project opened up a few months ago for a new school to take on. Fortunately for me, AP Biology teacher Kimberly Lumbard of Pioneer High School was eager to give this experience to her students. I visited students in the classroom to talk about SLEWS and the project they would be a part of and just four days later, our project began!

We started the day with a game of Steal the Native Plant because you guessed it – we would be planting native plant species. Sacramento Charter High School had installed an irrigation system several weeks prior, so the area was primed for planting. After learning to identify several species including coffeeberry, wild rose, buckbrush, and fuschia, students competed to be the first to correctly identify the plant. One student impressed us all by rattling off the scientific names of many plants in addition to the common names we were learning!

After a planting demonstration by Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District, four mentor groups spread out along the irrigation line to plant native trees, shrubs, and forbs. We just expected to plant a portion of the plants – 180 seemed impossible with our smaller group – but surprisingly, Pioneer students finished the project!

After lunch, we played a game of “Who Am I?”. Each student was given a plant or animal ID card and told not to look at it – instead, each student placed the card on their back and asked yes/no questions until they were able to figure out what they were. Once everyone figured out “who” they were, they found another person in the group who they interact with in the wild. We explored the types of symbiotic biological relationships, including mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism before each pair shared their interaction with the group.

At closing circle, students shared their favorite part about the day and one thing they learned. Many students shared that they liked helping the environment and feeling more involved as environmental stewards. One student even remarked he was looking forward to planting native plants at his house!

A Rainy Spring day at Petersen Ranch

Rio Vista High School at Petersen Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 20, 2019

Participating School
Rio Vista High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Emily Snider, UCD graduate student
Matthew Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS
Luke Petersen, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS

Summary of the Day
The first day of spring was the second day out in the field for Rio Vista students at Petersen Ranch, but the weather turned out to be more wintry than we’d hoped – it was a light steady rain for most of the day, and windy as well. So windy, in fact, that during opening circle the pop-up canopy that was sheltering the breakfast table went tumbling across the field! It took several mentors chasing it down and affixing it to the side of the truck before we could continue.

We played a round of group juggle to familiarize ourselves with names before Chris Carlson of Solano RCD demonstrated our tasks for the day. It was too muddy to access our original site, so we were at a different location on Petersen Ranch to put the finishing touches on an existing project – weeding around previous planted trees and shrubs, planting grass and forb plugs, and installing emitters for all of these native plant species. Students worked through a rainy morning before breaking for lunch. Most students ate their burritos sheltered by the RCD trailer!

After lunch, there was a fun surprise – mentor Matt Young and his colleague MJ Farruggia had caught some fish near our field site. MJ showed students several species of native and non-native fish including mosquitofish, largemouth bass, Sacramento pikeminnow, and bigscale logperch. Groups rotated between MJ and Matt, who explained what he does as a fish biologist while teaching students how to use a casting net. Students were thrilled to catch Western mosquitofish and a fathead minnow in the drainage ditch near our planting site and almost every student remarked that this was their favorite part of the day!

We didn’t get the weather you would expect on the first day of spring, but mentors were so impressed that they didn’t hear one complaint or even comments about the unpleasant, rainy weather.

Ice cream in the Capay Valley

Woodland High School at Pharm Schaer
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 14, 2019

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Candice Schaer

Mentors
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Gina Radieve, Environmental Scientist, California Department of Water Resources
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department

Summary of the Day
For our last field day out in the beautiful Capay Valley (Guinda, to be exact) Woodland High students arrived as they always do – ready to WORK! Our task for the day was mulching around the 170 native plants on the perimeter of Candy Schaer’s property. Mulching will give these plants a better chance of survival as it will reduce weed growth and moisture loss around these young plants.

Before we could get started, we gathered for opening circle and a few rounds of PVC golf. Then Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District showed students how to properly mulch, putting cardboard around the base and then spreading nearly a wheelbarrow full of mulch around each individual plant. This was quite the task, as the irrigation line was 1400 feet long – meaning full wheelbarrows needed to be carted all that way, over and over again!

Luckily Woodland students were eager to tackle this ambitious project and quickly settled into an efficient routine. Some students took on the task of laying down cardboard and spreading mulch, while others loaded up wheelbarrows, while others volunteered to be the “muscle”, pushing heavy, full wheelbarrows all the way to the end of the line. Students switched tasks when they got tired, but many students enjoyed the hard work and wanted to be wheelbarrow-pushers for the entire morning. One student kept everyone entertained by speaking in a southern accent and giving herself a funny nickname!

After a well-deserved lunch, Candy had a fun surprise for the students – ice cream she had made, leftover from the Capay Valley Almond Festival! This was a wonderful treat for our last field day, and was especially delicious after such a busy morning.

After lunch students had a chance to interview mentors to learn more about their education and career paths. Since many of these students are about to graduate and start their own journeys, interviewing mentors is a fantastic opportunity to learn about careers in the environmental sciences, and get advice from professionals in the field. To close the day, we gathered to reminisce on our favorite memories from the past three Field Days. Thank you to the small but mighty crew of students from Woodland High!

Restoring wildlife habitat with Florin High School

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 12, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Audubon California
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Aaron Haiman, Environmental Scientist and Tribal Liaison, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
Esther Tracy, Environmental Scientist, Department of Water Resources
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Jacob Byers, Partner Biologist, Sacramento NWRC

Summary of the Day
After donning the now-ubiquitous yellow rainsuits, Florin High students gathered with mentors and River Garden Farms staff to begin their final Field Day at River Garden Farms. After a fun round of PVC golf, we tromped through the mud to the site of our first Field Day. Students worked hard last December to install a complete drip irrigation system, and today it was time to plant the native shrubs and milkweed that will make use of this water.

Students worked in mentor group to plant native shrubs, with milkweed plugs planted as “associates” next to these larger plants. “Two years from now there will be something here” one student remarked, “we should come back here for graduation!”. And he’s correct – though the hedgerow doesn’t look very impressive yet, these plants will continue to grow and eventually provide habitat for pollinators and other native species.

Once sections of plantings were complete, students began installing Wood Duck nest boxes along the hedgerow. Since there are relatively few trees in this agriculture-heavy area, it can be difficult for Wood Ducks to find suitable nesting habitat. Students worked together to pound 10 posts into the ground along the planting area and affix wood duck nest boxes to each. Perhaps next season, some of these boxes will be occupied!

With such a long irrigation line, we realized by the end of the morning some students had walked over 3 miles, planting all the way! Florin students planted an impressive 125 native shrubs and 150 milkweed associates, and installed 10 wood duck nest boxes by lunchtime. Students found worms, frogs, hawks, turkey vultures and even a dead skunk!

After lunch students interviewed mentors about their education and career paths, before we gathered for closing circle. More students than ever before said their favorite part of SLEWS was making new friends and working as a team with their mentor groups. What a fantastic project with fantastic students!

A day of mulching at Sequoia Farms

Davis High School at Sequoia Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 8, 2019

Participating School
Davis High School

Partners/Landowners
NCAT
Solano Resource Conservation District
Sequoia Farms

Mentors
Amanda Lindell, UC Davis graduate student
Claire Kouba, UC Davis graduate student
Dani Gelardi, UC Davis graduate student
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
For our final Field Day with Davis High school, we were back where our project started – at Sequoia Farms in Dixon. On our first Field Day, we planted 600 plants along the perimeter of this organic walnut orchard. Today, it was time to remove weeds around the plants and apply a thick layer of walnut shell mulch. This will help reduce future weed growth and retain water around the plant, giving these native plant species a better chance at survival.

For our final Field Day with Davis High school, we were back where our project started – at Sequoia Farms in Dixon. On our first Field Day, we planted 600 plants along the perimeter of this organic walnut orchard. Today, it was time to remove weeds around the plants and apply a thick layer of walnut shell mulch. This will help reduce future weed growth and retain water around the plant, giving these native plant species a better chance at survival.

After our opening circle and a game of PVC golf (in which students work together to transport a golf ball through pieces of PVC pipe to a designated target), we set off to the property perimeter and began our task of the day. Students observed the vast differences between the organic Sequoia Farms orchard and the conventional walnut orchard nearby – most due to the cover crop Sequoia Farms had planted. Cover crops are plants used to improve soil health, increase biodiversity, improve water availability, control weeds, and more, and are especially important in organic agriculture. Students immediately the increased number of insects and birds on the Sequoia Farms side, and wondered aloud why the other orchard looked so barren.

As students pulled weeds and surrounded plants with buckets of mulch, Rex Dufour of the National Center for Appropriate Technology led mentor groups in a nitrogen sampling activity. Each group of students cut and weigh sections of cover crop, and did calculations to estimate how much nitrogen was in their sample, and the orchard as a whole. This will give Sequoia Farms a better idea of how much nitrogen the cover crop is contributing to the orchard which well help them better manage their farm.

After mulching about 300 plants, we headed back to the workshop area to build barn owl boxes. Barn owls are cavity nesters, and with so much agriculture in the Central Valley, naturally occuring tree cavities can be difficult for nesting owls to find. These nest boxes provide suitable habitat for nesting owls, which in turn help with pest control for Sequoia Farms. An all-female group of students finished constructing their box first, announcing that they did it for “women everywhere” – after all, it was International Women’s Day!

After lunch, David Lester of Sequoia Farms gave a talk on organic farming practices, and how they manage their orchards. He helped provide the students with context of how their work will positively impact not just the environment, but also their farming operation.

To end the day, students interviewed mentors to learn more about their education and career paths, and wrote a thank you note to someone who made their SLEWS experience possible. I was proud to see students asking mentors about internship opportunities in their respective fields.

Thank you to all who made these Field Days possible!

Grass and forb planting at Petersen Ranch

Rio Vista High School at Petersen Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 6, 2019

Participating School
Rio Vista High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Emily Snider, UCD graduate student
Karleen Vollherbst, Partner’s for Fish & Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Matthew Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS
Luke Petersen, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS

Summary of the Day
The morning of this Field Day was the coldest so far – it was 28 degrees when I arrived to load up the truck with gear in the morning! After finding another water source (the faucets were frozen shut!) we loaded up the truck with hot water for cocoa and were on our way, passing frost-covered cows on the drive.

The restoration site was at the end of a dirt road that had become quite muddy in recent rains – just getting there was a 4wd adventure! Rio Vista High soon arrived with a small but mighty crew of students. After changing into rain boots, we were at our field site in no time.

We started our first Field Day with opening circle, where Chris Carlson of Solano RCD introduced the multi-year project at Petersen Ranch. Just last year, students from Rio Vista High installed irrigation, planted grasses, trees, and shrubs and installed bird boxes. This year’s students will help put the finishing touches on this restoration project. After a game of “Where the Wind Blows” where we learned Rio Vista students enjoy fishing, welding, and spending time outdoors we divided into mentor groups and gathered supplies for the day.

Chris led an informative and entertaining demonstration of our activity for the day – planting “plugs” of native grasses, forbs, and sedges. Mentor groups tackled different areas near the irrigation ditch, planting plugs of mugwort, purple aster, western goldentop, creeping wildrye, and saltgrass. Groups working further from the water source also installed drip emitters on the irrigation line and placed a protective covering around the plug. Rio Vista students worked incredibly fast – 800 plugs were in the ground in under an hour! Luckily Chris had some acorns ready for planting, and explained how oaks planted from acorns tend to live longer than those planted from saplings, as the tap root is undamaged. Students made short work of these acorns as well, planting 15 acorns in the riparian area. It’s amazing to imagine how different the area will be when those trees start to mature!

We still had some time before lunch, so mentor groups grabbed binoculars and bird ID cards and ventured up onto the levee. Some of the bird species we spotted included white-tailed kite, marsh wren, turkey vulture, red tailed hawk, white crowned sparrow, caspian tern, and lots of raptors. After lunch, we returned onto the levee to spend some time reflecting on the day in field journals. Students were great about spreading out to experience the site solo – some students were perched on the levee, while others found quiet spaces near the water.

At closing circle, many students remarked that they most enjoyed learning how to plant and spending time outdoors. Mentors and partners enjoyed this as well, but the adults in our group were most pleasantly surprised by this awesome group of respectful, hardworking, and fun-to-be-around students. Can’t wait for our next day in the field!