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!

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!