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!

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!

Restoring wildlife habitat with Florin High School

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 12, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Audubon California
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Aaron Haiman, Environmental Scientist and Tribal Liaison, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
Esther Tracy, Environmental Scientist, Department of Water Resources
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Jacob Byers, Partner Biologist, Sacramento NWRC

Summary of the Day
After donning the now-ubiquitous yellow rainsuits, Florin High students gathered with mentors and River Garden Farms staff to begin their final Field Day at River Garden Farms. After a fun round of PVC golf, we tromped through the mud to the site of our first Field Day. Students worked hard last December to install a complete drip irrigation system, and today it was time to plant the native shrubs and milkweed that will make use of this water.

Students worked in mentor group to plant native shrubs, with milkweed plugs planted as “associates” next to these larger plants. “Two years from now there will be something here” one student remarked, “we should come back here for graduation!”. And he’s correct – though the hedgerow doesn’t look very impressive yet, these plants will continue to grow and eventually provide habitat for pollinators and other native species.

Once sections of plantings were complete, students began installing Wood Duck nest boxes along the hedgerow. Since there are relatively few trees in this agriculture-heavy area, it can be difficult for Wood Ducks to find suitable nesting habitat. Students worked together to pound 10 posts into the ground along the planting area and affix wood duck nest boxes to each. Perhaps next season, some of these boxes will be occupied!

With such a long irrigation line, we realized by the end of the morning some students had walked over 3 miles, planting all the way! Florin students planted an impressive 125 native shrubs and 150 milkweed associates, and installed 10 wood duck nest boxes by lunchtime. Students found worms, frogs, hawks, turkey vultures and even a dead skunk!

After lunch students interviewed mentors about their education and career paths, before we gathered for closing circle. More students than ever before said their favorite part of SLEWS was making new friends and working as a team with their mentor groups. What a fantastic project with fantastic students!

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!

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!