Milkweed for Monarchs at the Maples

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

Participating School
Woodland High School

Yolo County Resource Conservation District

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

Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Yolo Basin Foundation

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

Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Valerie Whitworth and Michael Barbour

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!