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!

SJCOE Durham Ferry SLEWS Kick Off

Mr. Barrett’s class from Stagg High School is working with the San Joaquin County Office of Education Durham Ferry Outdoor Education Center for their SLEWS project.

On January 31st, 2019 Mr. Barrett’s Agricultural Biology class arrived at the SJCOE Durham Ferry Outdoor Education Center to begin their SLEWS project. This year, students will be transforming a plot of land to make it safe for the younger students access it. Currently, the plot of land has non-native plants like star thistle and other thorny less desirable weeds. The students will be sheet mulching the land to remove the unwanted non-native weeds and then planting native drought tolerant species that are more desirable.

Kristine Stepping, Program Manager at Durham Ferry, introduces the students to nature journaling. This approach was taken to provide a skill for students to learn about the plants at Durham Ferry and to begin to look for patterns in where these plants are found geographically.

Steve LaGraffe, a volunteer with over 30 years of irrigation and gardening experience, helps provide valuable advice regarding sheet mulching of the area.

Stagg High School students begin planning and surveying the land in order to begin their SLEWS project. They will produce a list of tools and supplies necessary for the future work on this project.

Students will be back in February to sheet-mulch this plot of land and learn more about the native and non-native species that exist at Durham Ferry. This information will aid them as they make choices for what will be a sustainable plant to replace the weeds that occupy this space in the summer and fall season.

A strong start at Jack Rice’s

Sacramento Charter High School at Jack Rice’s
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 30, 2019

Participating School
Sacramento Charter High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Jack Rice

Mentors
Bob Ream, retired
Dana Stokes
Jess Rudnick, UC Davis graduate student
Lea Pollack, UC Davis graduate student
Sarah Gaffney, UC Davis graduate student

Summary of the Day
Sacramento High students got a change of scenery for their second Field Day – instead of working at Clark Ranch in Winters, we went to a property in Woodland! Landowner Jack Rice has been working with Natural Resources Conservation District and Yolo County Resource Conservation District to edge his property with native plant species. The first step to this process is installing an irrigation system, and Sac High students arrived enthusiastic to contribute to this project.

As students changed into rubber boots and enjoyed breakfast, excitement started to build about the animals on the property including a dog named Zorro and a horse named Ranger. Students asked Jack many questions about his animals and property before gathering for our opening circle. After a game of “Where the Wind Blows”, mentor groups were given a bucket of irrigation supplies to explore. Especially after planting along an installed irrigation system on their first Field Day, students were quickly able to figure out how to close the end of the tube, poke holes, and install emitters. This was great practice for our restoration activity of the day!

After meeting Ranger the horse, it was time to start our restoration work. We needed to first lay down the irrigation tubing that will transport water along the edge of Jack’s property. The entire class worked as a team to accomplish this – one mentor group helped Brandon Baker of Yolo County Resource Conservation District work the “spooler” to uncoil the tube, while all other students, mentors, and teachers grabbed a section of the line and walked it along the planting area. Through this process, we were easily and accurately able to lay down 1800 feet of tubing, even rounding the northeastern corner.

Jack had done his best to move the large amount of mulch covering the area, but there was one area he couldn’t access. It needed to be cleared so that the next group of students can plant in soil, not mulch. Sac High students grabbed shovels and made short work of this before dividing back into mentor groups to finish the job. One group measured in 10-foot increments and placed flags along the line while the other three groups spread out to install an emitter at each flag, and secure the line to the ground as they worked. After installing 180 emitters, students seemed tired and we thought that might be enough work for one morning…until one student spoke up, “we’re all already here! We might as well keep going!”. She was able to convince the entire class to dig a trench that will help connect the irrigation line to the water supply, and they finished this extra project before lunch!

After a well-deserved break, students had the opportunity to interview our volunteer mentors. Apart from working alongside students on the restoration work, mentors are a wonderful resource for students to learn more about different career paths in environmental sciences and more. Every student had the opportunity to ask mentors questions about their professional journey and as I was walking between groups I overheard one student ask, “What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?”. Even though these students are Freshmen in High School, they are already thinking about their futures!