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!

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!

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!

A wintry finish in Winters

Winters High School at Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 5, 2019

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Putah Creek Council
City of Winters

Mentors
Alex Tremblay, Project Manager, Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Karin Young, Education Program Manager, Putah Creek Council
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA

Summary of the Day
Our last Field Day at the Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension brought us many more students – some who were participating in a Field Day for the first time! We were introduced to these students in our opening circle, the start of a very cold morning on a very cold day. We attempted to warm up with a game of PVC golf, a game in which each student is given a half piece of PVC pipe. A golf ball must pass through each student’s piece – without letting the ball drop or stop – before making it into the goal at the other side. This is trickier than it sounds – many groups found themselves just one step away from the goal when the ball repeatedly dropped, sending them back to the starting line!

After our morning icebreaker, Tanya Meyer of Yolo County Resource Conservation District instructed us on our tasks for the day – plug planting, straw mulching, and building and installing bluebird boxes.

Plug planting came first, which proved to be much more difficult than usual! Sticky, muddy conditions made the dibbles (the tools which pokes holes for the tiny plants) difficult to remove from the earth but students persevered and planted 1500 grass plugs by the end of the morning. Our next task was straw mulching, which will help prevent moisture loss and discourage weed growth around plants we planted on our second Field Day. At least 1 flake of straw hay needed to go around each of the 200 plants, yet it felt like this task was accomplished in just a few minutes! Winters students were great at working hard, and working together.

Guest speaker Hanika of the UCD Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology joined us to speak about cavity nesting birds. Naturally occuring tree cavities can be difficult to come by for native bird species, especially with competition from invasive cavity nesters. Installing bird boxes tailored to specific bird species is one way to increase nesting opportunities for native species. To put the finishing touch on our restoration project, each mentor group would be installing a bluebird box on the south side of the site, near Putah Creek. Installation was a bit tricky, but mentor groups worked together to put up 4 bluebird boxes. Come spring, we’ll be able to see if any birds have taken up residence.

After lunch, students were given the opportunity to interview mentors about their education and career paths. Small groups of students rotated between each mentor, asking great questions about the steps they had taken to get to where they are in their careers. SLEWS is a great way for students to gain hands-on restoration experience, but it also provides exposure to professionals in the fields of agriculture, restoration, and environmental science.

To wrap up our SLEWS project at Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension, students wrote a Thank You card to someone who made their SLEWS experience possible – perhaps a mentor, funder, restoration partner, or their teacher, Ms. Roberts. At closing circle, we reflected on our favorite moments of our three days together – for many of us, it was exploring Putah Creek and seeing the spawning salmon!

I am thrilled to have completed three field days with the stellar, hardworking students of Winters High and our project partners, Yolo County Resource Conservation District and Putah Creek Council. Because these students are Winters locals, they will be able to return to this site many times in years to come – one student remarked that “it’ll be so cool to see how this place changes once the trees grow!” and I must say, I completely agree!

Another day on the “Pharm”

Woodland High School at Pharm Schaer
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 24, 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
Susie Bresney, Staff Scientist, Stockholm Environment Institute

Summary of the Day
Just two weeks after installing irrigation at Pharm Schaer, we were back for the second phase of our project – planting the native trees and shrubs that will provide habitat and increase biodiversity on Candice Schaer’s property in Guinda.

We were once again treated to a brilliant, clear day in the Capay Valley with beautiful views of the hills. We began our day with an opening circle, playing “Where the Wind Blows” to learn more about one another. Then mentor groups learned to identify some of the plants we would be planting that day, including manzanita, Cleveland sage, coyote brush, fuschia, and toyon. Woodland High students played the most enthusiastic, competitive version of “Steal the Native Plant” I’ve seen all year – we had to modify the rules to prevent collisions!

Next, Brandon Baker of Yolo County Resource Conservation District led the students in a planting demonstration to learn the proper way to plant a native plant. Then students broke off into mentor groups, planting along the southern and eastern perimeters of Pharm Schaer. While planting, students were excited to see the sheep and llama that were providing weed control on the property! By the end of the morning, students had planted 120 native plants, buried two sections of irrigation line, and even started mulching the plants to reduce moisture loss and weed growth. We’ll finish this mulching project at our final Field Day in a few weeks.

After lunch, mentor Miles Daprato led a discussion about native ecology and read an excerpt from the book “The Ohlone Way” to help students visualize what this area might have been like thousands of years ago. This helped to put the restoration effort into context – though we won’t be able to get this area to look like it did back then, the hedgerow they installed will help provide resources to species whose habitat has been reduced.

Since we had seen so many birds on our first Field Day, I brought binoculars for our second Field Day and mentor groups explored the property, binocs in hand. Groups were able to spot Western Bluebirds, Say’s Phoebes, Western Scrub-Jays and more – even some cows grazing on the hills! Then, students found a quiet spot to reflect on the day and write a postcard to themselves about their experiences.

At closing circle, one student summed up her experience wonderfully, “I liked that we weren’t just planting, we were helping wildlife too!”. Thanks for another great day, Woodland High!