Plants and postcards at Yanci Ranch

Grant Union at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 23, 2020

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms

Mentors
Kathy Rightmire, Director of Development, Center for Land-Based Learning
Dani Gelardi, UCD Graduate Student
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Jacob Byers, Partners Biologist, Sacramento NWRC
MJ Farruggia, UCD Graduate Student

Summary of the Day
For our second Field Day at Yanci Ranch, Grant Union students arrived early and eager to plant! After breakfast and opening circle, we got to know one another better (and brushed up on names) with a game of “Where the Wind Blows”. After dividing into mentor groups, students learned the names, characteristics, and ecological functions of coyotebrush, sage, elderberry, wild rose, and buckwheat – five of the plants we would be planting that day.

After becoming familiar with the plants, mentor groups faced off to be the first to identify those five plants in a game of “Steal the Native Plant”. Then it was time to grab tools and head down to the planting area to learn the proper way to plant our hedgerow. Some students would be planting native trees and shrubs from containers, while others would be planting cuttings of cottonwood, red willow, and mule fat in areas that tend to have more water.

Mentor groups divided themselves down the line, working the same sections they installed emitters on back in December. By lunchtime, students had planted an impressive 179 containers and 30 cuttings!

After lunch, we took a walk to take a look at some of the earlier phases of restoration here at Yanci Ranch. Rominger Brothers Farms has been working with Yolo County Resource Conservation District for several years to increase biodiversity and create corridors of native habitat on this cattle ranch. Several SLEWS projects have taken place here, including one with Grant Union High School! Amy Williams of Yolo County RCD led us through several of these previous phases, giving students a view of what their site might look like after it’s had a few years to mature. Students were even recognizing some of the same plants they just planted, but much larger, of course!

We took a moment to reflect in a beautiful meadow as students spread out to create a postcard from the field. On one side, students drew a picture to represent their experience and on the other, wrote a postcard to commemorate the day. As we returned to our home base and circled up to close the day, students expressed gratitude for the experience and remarked on how being outside and contributing to restoration made their stresses melt away.

Plants under the powerlines

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 14, 2020

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Colin Fagan, Lab Assistant, Williams Lab
Dana Stokes
Jacob Byers, Partner Biologist, Sacramento NWRC
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA

Summary of the Day
Our second Field Day at River Garden Farms was warmer than anticipated, and thought it had rained the night before the dirt road was only damp, not muddy! After a breakfast of bagels and fruit, we got moving with a game of “Where the Wind Blows” before heading over for our planting demonstration.

Planting was tricky on this day – we were planting both tiny plugs and container plants, and putting protective tubes around each plant. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District gave a demonstration on all the necessary steps before we divided into mentor groups to play “Steal the Native Plant”, a variant of “Steal the Bacon”. Students learned how to identify sage, elderberry, coyotebrush, toyon, lupine, and wild rose before racing to be the first group to identify these native plants.

After gathering tools, mentor groups ventured out towards their assigned section. River Garden Farms had some tree tubes they wanted to reuse, but they were too small to fit around some of our larger shrubs. Students improvised to fit two tubes together to make one megatube that would fit around the plants! This was a slower process than usual, but students were meticulous in their work and did a great job planting. Some students began even naming plants as they went!

I have to hand it to Florin students for being so enthusiastic and dedicated to the project – this was the first time I’ve ever had to beg students to come back for lunch!

After some well-deserved burritos, students had the opportunity to interview all of the mentors about their differing education and career paths. I heard students asking mentors for advice and some great off-script questions, including “what’s your favorite superhero?”. One mentor, who’s in the restoration field, replied that he’d pick time travel so he could travel back in time to see what the area really was like so he’d be better at his job. Perhaps some of the same native plants that would have been around back then are once again back in the area thanks to Florin students!

An invertebrate-heavy day in Winters

Winters High School at Putah Creek Dry Creek Confluence
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 10, 2020

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Valerie Whitworth and Michael Barbour

Mentors
Josh McCabe, Restoration Coordinator at ACRT Pacific
Lea Pollack, UCD Graduate Student
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Our second field day at the confluence of Putah and Dry Creek in Winters brought us many eager students, both familiar and new to the program.

A guest speaker joined us for opening circle – Jessa of the Xerces Society, an organization focused on invertebrate conservation. She spoke about the alarming decline in the population of the Western Monarch Butterfly (population down 86% from 2017 to 2018) and how the results of this restoration project will help support monarchs in their migration. We finished our opening circle with a game of “Where the Wind Blows” to identify similarities within our group.

After dividing into mentor groups and gathering our tools for the day, we headed down to the project site for our planting demonstration. Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District began by introducing students to four of the plants we’d be planting that day – deerweed, toyon, fuschia, and wild rose. As these plants were passed around, students learned their ecological benefits and how to identify them. Then Amy demonstrated the main task of the day, planting trees, shrubs, and forbs. Each plant would be planted in specific spots along the irrigation line, and an emitter would be installed next to it to provide the plant with adequate water.

Mentor groups enthusiastically tackled this job in different areas, with some groups following to install “spaghetti” line to ensure the water would reach the plants. Once groups finished planting the larger plants, Amy showed them how to plug plant smaller “plugs” by poking holes in the ground using a “dibble”. We were all impressed by how much we accomplished by lunchtime!

After lunch, mentor Lea Pollack gave a presentation on the work she’s doing in her Ph.D. program. She studies behavioral ecology and works with black widow spiders. Students were surprised to learn that black widows have personalities! The more “aggressive” (not to people – to other spiders and prey) spiders build their webs in a different way than less aggressive individuals, and you can actually see the difference when the webs are sprayed with water! Mentor groups were each given a misted web (without a widow in it) and counted the number of “gum footed” lines in the web to figure out whether the spider that made it was aggressive or not.

During closing circle, students reflected on what they had learned that day. Many students shared facts about monarch migration, others shared the planting techniques they learned, and even more mentioned black widows – that they have personalities, that only the females build webs, and that the web structure can tell us about their behavior!

Planting through the fog

Davis Senior High School at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 7, 2020

Participating School
Davis Senior High School

Partners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Yolo Basin Foundation

Mentors
Aaron Haiman, Environmental Scientist and Tribal Liaison, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
Brian Keegan, Sacramento State Graduate Student
Randy Wittorp
Xerónimo Castañeda, Conservation Project Associate, Audubon CA

Summary of the Day
Drier weather made access easier for our second day at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, but it was still a bit difficult to find the site as the bypass was blanketed in a thick layer of fog all day! Students were troopers in the foggy, cold weather – it didn’t get above the mid 40s all day, and the sun never did come out.

We played “Where the Wind Blows” during our opening circle, an activity where students, mentors, and partners identify commonalities within the group. After this, we divided into mentor groups so each group could learn to identify mugwort, wild rose, California blackberry, coyotebrush, quailbush, and deergrass in preparation for the “Steal the Native Plant” game. Students raced to be the first to correctly identify each plant and earn points for their mentor group. This came in handy later – students were able to recall the names and ecological value of the plants as they planted them!

Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District demonstrated proper planting technique before mentor groups headed out to tackle their trestles. You might recall that on this project we are helping to vegetate 4 former railway trestles, and each mentor group is adopting one! It requires a bit more flexibility than a typical SLEWS planting plan, as each trestle presents different challenges and obstacles. One group experienced extremely rocky soil, another had to avoid planting next to larger rocks. By the end of the morning, students had planted 350 container plants of native shrubs and forbs, and 80 deergrass plugs as “companion” plants!

After lunch, educator Sabreena Britt of the Yolo Basin Foundation led students in a water quality testing activity. After explaining the what’s and why’s of water quality testing, she had students rotate through 8 stations where they tested water turbidity, dissolved oxygen, salinity, conductivity, temperature, pH, total dissolved solids, and oxidation reduction potential. The data students collected was uploaded to Earth Echo International as citizen science data that can be used by real scientists! Check it out here: http://www.monitorwater.org/.

SLEWS returns to Yanci Ranch!

Grant Union High School at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 12, 2019

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms

Mentors
Kathy Rightmire, Director of Development, Center for Land-Based Learning
Dani Gelardi, UCD Graduate Student
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
MJ Farruggia

Summary of the Day
Yanci Ranch, a cattle ranch about 7 miles north of Winters, has hosted three SLEWS projects in the past – and this year, the project is large enough that we will have two schools adopting the site! Grant Union High kicked us off with the first field day, two years after their classmates completed a project on the same property.

A foggy morning obscured the beauty of the site, which includes a picturesque pond and views of the hills (though that made for a fun surprise when the fog cleared later that morning!). We began our day as we always do, in an opening circle. Landowner Bruce Rominger introduced the site to the students and Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District shared the project details before we broke the ice with a game of group juggle.

After gathering our supplies and putting on mud boots, we walked down to the project site. Bruce had used a slip plow to pre-bury a line of irrigation, so our first steps would be to measure along the line and place flags every 10 feet. One mentor group tackled this, while the others followed and installed emitters and spaghetti line at each flag. This was harder than it sounds as the line was buried – to access the line, students had to first dig down to it! Grant Union student’s keen eyes noticed many signs of wildlife throughout the morning, from deer on the way in to millipedes, centipedes, and frogs along the planting area. We even found some cow bones – this is a cattle ranch, after all! After installing emitters (!), Bruce was kind enough to give students a demonstration of how the slip plow works. He showed students how the spool of irrigation tubing fits on the back, and as he drives the tractor, the line is buried under the soil.

One irrigation was complete, students plug planted sedges and rushes in an area susceptible to erosion. These plants will help alleviate this problem while also contributing to the quality of habitat.

After a well-deserved burrito lunch, students got a chance to talk with each mentor about their education and career paths. Since they will see these mentors at each field day, it was also a great opportunity to get more comfortable with our Yanci Ranch team!

Milkweed for Monarchs at the Maples

Woodland High School at the Maples
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 11, 2019

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Bob Ream, retired
Grace Auringer, Technician, Genomic Variation Lab
Mandi Finger, Associate Director, Genomic Variation Lab
Matt Clement

Summary of the Day
You may have heard that the Center for Land-Based Learning is moving from our current headquarters at the Farm on Putah Creek in Winters to The Maples in Woodland. The new office is coming together quickly (check out our new headquarters here!) and we have plans to do SLEWS projects onsite for many seasons to come – starting now!

As part of the site construction, a stormwater retention basin was installed alongside our future California Farm Academy plot. Since this area won’t be actively used, it’s a great opportunity to create habitat for wildlife!

You may have heard the unfortunate news that monarch butterflies are at risk – the California population plummeted by 86% in just one year (from 2017 to 2018). To help address this, the Xerces Society has developed “Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Kits” to distribute to restoration partners. Yolo Resource Conservation District is implementing one of these kits here at the Maples. These kits consist of native milkweeds (the host plant for monarchs, essential to their breeding success) and nectar plants to support adult monarchs and other pollinators. Along with the Xerces kits, the Yolo County RCD planned to line the bottom of the basin with native grasses.

We will have two field days at the Maples with Woodland High School, and at our opening circle I recognized many familiar faces – several of the students participated in SLEWS last year and were back for more! As we relocated to the stormwater basin after opening circle we realized we had a surprise visitor – Mary Kimball, Executive Director of the Center for Land-Based Learning! She assisted the Yolo County RCD staff in giving a stellar planting demonstration, in the process planting the very first plant of this restoration project!

We had a TON of work slated for this first field day, yet as always Woodland High students shocked us with their enthusiastic and unwavering work ethic. We started by laying down two 750+ foot lines of drip irrigation, and followed by planting 225 container plants and installing drip emitters for each. After that students moved on to plug planting in the basin itself, planting more than 2000 plugs! Finally, students planted 150 milkweed rhizomes in the pollinator meadow area.

A productive morning of work was rewarded with burritos from Chuy’s Taqueria, and we were fortunate to finish the field day just as the rain started! Our next field day with Woodland High will be at Capay Open Space Park, and I cannot wait to see what we accomplish there!

Adopt-a-trestle in the Yolo Bypass

Davis Senior High School at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 10, 2019

Participating School
Davis Senior High School

Partners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Yolo Basin Foundation

Mentors
Allie Igwe, UCD Graduate Student
Brian Keegan, Sacramento State Graduate Student
Randy Wittorp
Xerónimo Castañeda, Conservation Project Associate, Audubon CA

Summary of the Day
“What’s it near?”

When people ask this question about the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area SLEWS project, I just don’t know what to tell them! Located about 30 minutes south of the highway 80 Yolo causeway on gravel and dirt roads, this site is about as remote as it gets for SLEWS projects. First on the list of “to do’s” for this project was figuring out a way to get 35+ students, teachers, mentors, and project partners to the correct site. For all you bypass hunters out there, we needed to meet at parking lot M – the furthest from 80 – so we met mentors and parent drivers at the Yolo Basin Foundation Headquarters to start the caravan. There was lots of birds to see on the bumpy ride – I spotted Sandhill Cranes, Northern Harriers, White-tailed Kites, coots and lots of waterfowl like Northern Shovelers and Northern Pintails. We were lucky this time that the road was only somewhat wet and muddy – we may not be so lucky after a few winter storms!

The Yolo Bypass is a manmade system of weirs that diverts floodwater away from the Sacramento River and thus prevents the city of Sacramento from flooding during the rainy season. As you can imagine, this means that some years the bypass is under water.

What happens to bypass wildlife in these years? Well, the water usually comes in from the east and moves west, so they may be able to move west before their home is underwater. And if they don’t? Well, there used to be a railroad spanning the bypass, and the “trestles” that once elevated the tracks are still present. During flood events, these become the only islands of dry land – drones have captured photographs of animals like coyotes, deer, and rabbits stuck on these small land masses. The problem is these trestles aren’t high quality habitat – and that’s where we come in!

Yolo County Resource Conservation District has planned a project to vegetate these trestles, creating wildlife corridors in the bypass. They’ve chosen plants that not only provide food and cover for sheltering wildlife but of course are flood-tolerant as well.

After arriving and enjoying breakfast, students heard all this and more from Martha Ozonoff, the Executive Director of the Yolo Basin Foundation and Alex Tremblay, Project Manager from Yolo County Resource Conservation District. Then it was time to divide into mentor groups and get started!

This project is unique in that each mentor group is tackling a single railway trestle over the course of three field days. On this day, the project task was to install a drip irrigation system to support the plants we’ll plant on the second and third field days. Each mentor group was shown an example – three parallel lines of irrigation along the entire mound, connected to a perpendicular line – before setting off to complete their own system. Groups had to problem solve to make the system work for their particular trestle. One group had to navigate around a large mound in the middle of their trestle, while others had to avoid rocky trestle sides. Once the line had been spooled out, students installed 100 emitters on the lines. Next time we’ll be planting native shrubs alongside these emitters, which will ensure they have water when the bypass is dry. One group was so dedicated to caring for their trestle that they picked up trash to clean it up before their next visit!

After lunch, students interviewed the mentors to learn about their education and career paths, as well as getting to know them better for the field days to follow. To close out the day, we shared our favorite moments of the day. This group was really interested in wildlife and mentioned finding deer antlers and even a dead opossum and coot!

Looking forward to our next Field Day on January 7th!

A day of irrigation along two creeks

Winters High School at Putah Creek Dry Creek Confluence
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | November 1, 2019

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Valerie Whitworth and Michael Barbour

Mentors
Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
Josh McCabe, Restoration Coordinator at ACRT Pacific
Lea Pollack, UCD Graduate Student
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Our second Sac Valley SLEWS day of the year brought us to the confluence of Putah Creek and Dry Creek in Winters, CA. Landowners Michael Barbour and Valerie Whitworth have been working with Yolo County Resource Conservation District to plan a habitat restoration project in an area that was damaged by fire in October 2018. This will increase biodiversity in the area as well as provide habitat for pollinators and the wildlife of the creek. We were happy to involve Winters High School students with this project, walking distance from their school!

After students arrived on foot and enjoyed breakfast, we gathered in our opening circle to introduce ourselves and the project goals, and learn names with a round of group juggle. From there Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District led us towards the creek to teach us about a very important plant – blue elderberry. There are special rules and protective measures surrounding this plant. Why? It is the only host plant for the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle, a federally protected species of insect. Its habitat has been greatly reduced due to agriculture and urban development. To protect the beetle, the blue elderberry plant is protected from disturbance, trimming, and removal. Our project site has a sizeable elderberry shrub in the middle of it, so we took extra precautions to make sure it was not damaged during our work.

To start our project, we had to move a bunch of brush that was in the way of our project site. Though there was a sizeable amount of cut branches, students and mentors made extremely short work of it. Next the entire class gathered together to lay out the longest irrigation line. This is a group effort – students space themselves about 20 feet apart and carry the line all the way to the end as the spool of irrigation tubing unspools. One this line was “stapled” down, students got in their mentor groups to divide and conquer.

One group worked on installing emitters on existing oak trees, another created a “grid” of irrigation for the pollinator meadow, and the other two groups laid out 3 more lines of irrigation in the main planting area, taking care around the elderberry of course. By lunch time, students had installed 2500 feet total of irrigation and installed 280 emitters!

Once we were done eating, we ventured down to Putah Creek where Amy and mentor (and biologist!) Corey Shake talked about the significance of the creek and the wildlife that calls it home – especially spawning salmon! We even saw some wildlife of our own on the field day including western fence lizards, a fuzzy caterpillar, beetles, and birds. After exploring the creek, students found a quiet spot to sit and reflect on their first field day in a field journal. This low energy activity was probably a welcome end to the day – a mentor’s fitbit tracked that we walked 4 miles while working throughout the field day, not even counting the students’ walk to and from school!

Wind and rice and everything nice

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | October 29, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Colin Fagan, Lab Assistant, Williams Lab
Dana Stokes
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA
Ryan Bixenmann

Summary of the Day
On Tuesday, October 29th, the Sacramento Valley SLEWS season began! Florin High students made the journey to River Garden Farms in Knights Landing for the third year in a row. This time, rather than planting hedgerows alongside a levee road, students gathered in the middle of a walnut orchard. Powerlines above the orchard make a strip of land unsuitable for trees. River Garden Farms saw this as an opportunity to create a corridor of native vegetation to increase biodiversity and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Yolo County Resource Conservation District helped plan the project – 5 parallel rows of plants, with the outer two being mostly deergrass and the inner 3 being native shrubs and vegetation. The irrigation line was already in place, and students would be tackling the rest of the project.

After warming up with hot cocoa and breakfast, we got familiar with each other’s names with a game of group juggle. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District introduced the group to the project and the task of the day – removing flags where there would not be plants, and installing emitters and spaghetti tubing onto the irrigation line. Students divided into their mentor groups and tackled the project at hand, despite very windy conditions. Much to everyone’s amusement, the hot pink irrigation poker tools that Alex initially made fun of turned out to be the best tool for the job and were highly sought after!


Though it was windy and sometimes challenging to access the irrigation lines through the weedy overgrowth, students had incredibly positive attitudes throughout the morning and it was truly a joy spending time with them. Some mentor groups even came up with team names to stay motivated – I believe I heard one group call themselves “the Scarlet Dragons”.

After lunch, students boarded the bus to make their way to River Garden Farms’ Tyndall Mound Warehouse. Warehouse Manager Joe took showed students how they weigh and sample shipments as they head out on the trucks before leading us on a tour of the rest of the facility. The highlight was DEFINITELY the warehouse – students were able to climb and play in an enormous warehouse full of loose, unhulled, dry rice! The rice drying machine was also fascinating – rice slowly travels downward over many, many stories as airflow helps it to dry out. 

We had to end the day in a hurry to get students back to school on time so we went around our closing circle to share just one word to describe the day. What was by far the most popular word? FUN!

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!