Emitters, plugs, and fun on day one

Pioneer High School at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 24, 2020

Participating School
Pioneer High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers

Mentors
Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
Amanda Lindell, UC Davis Graduate student
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning
Jen Metes, Conservation Programs Administrator, The Freshwater Trust
Dominic Carrillo, Development Associate, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Though I had the flu on this Field Day, Caring For Our Watersheds Coordinator (and former SLEWS Coordinator!) Beth DelReal saved the day by stepping in to lead this day. Thanks a million, Beth! From my conversation with her, here’s what happened on the day.

Since this was Pioneer High’s first field day, landowner Bruce Rominger gave an introduction during opening circle to the property and his philosophy of land management. He and Rominger Brothers Farms really make an effort to be stewards of the land and create corridors for wildlife, as evidenced by many restoration projects and SLEWS sites over the years. Corey Shake introduced the project and the importance of wildlife corridors, explaining that the work they were doing would help connect the habitats together. Beth added on by connecting this to the restoration cycle we talked about during the classroom visit and what piece they are now fulfilling.

After a fun round of group juggle to learn everyone’s names, the group headed down to the project site to get a demonstration from Joanne on emitter installation. Five mentor groups divided along the irrigation line to install 210 emitters before gathering together again to get a demonstration on how to plug plant. Beth asked students why might it be bad for chunks of earth to flow down the creek, which led to a great discussion with project partners about the importance of erosion control.

Mentor groups dibbled and plugged away, planting between 400 and 500 plugs of plants to help stabilize the soil in the area. As they planted, students asked great questions about soil, the species of plugs we were planting, and why certain species were being planted in certain locations. Kudos to Pioneer students for being such an inquisitive group!

After lunch, students spent time with their mentor to learn a little more about them before reflecting on the day by creating a postcard – drawing on one side, writing on the other. At closing circle, everyone shared one word to describe the day.

Thanks again to Beth, Joanne and the RCD team, Bruce, mentors, and teacher Ms. Lumbard for making this day happen!

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!