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!

SJCOE Durham Ferry SLEWS Kick Off

Mr. Barrett’s class from Stagg High School is working with the San Joaquin County Office of Education Durham Ferry Outdoor Education Center for their SLEWS project.

On January 31st, 2019 Mr. Barrett’s Agricultural Biology class arrived at the SJCOE Durham Ferry Outdoor Education Center to begin their SLEWS project. This year, students will be transforming a plot of land to make it safe for the younger students access it. Currently, the plot of land has non-native plants like star thistle and other thorny less desirable weeds. The students will be sheet mulching the land to remove the unwanted non-native weeds and then planting native drought tolerant species that are more desirable.

Kristine Stepping, Program Manager at Durham Ferry, introduces the students to nature journaling. This approach was taken to provide a skill for students to learn about the plants at Durham Ferry and to begin to look for patterns in where these plants are found geographically.

Steve LaGraffe, a volunteer with over 30 years of irrigation and gardening experience, helps provide valuable advice regarding sheet mulching of the area.

Stagg High School students begin planning and surveying the land in order to begin their SLEWS project. They will produce a list of tools and supplies necessary for the future work on this project.

Students will be back in February to sheet-mulch this plot of land and learn more about the native and non-native species that exist at Durham Ferry. This information will aid them as they make choices for what will be a sustainable plant to replace the weeds that occupy this space in the summer and fall season.

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!

Planting and salmon spotting along Putah Creek

Winters High School at Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 11, 2018

Participating School
Winters High School

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

Mentors
Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
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
Two weeks after installing a complete irrigation system, Winters High students returned for a day of planting trees and shrubs. After a rainy first Field Day, we were rewarded with picture perfect weather for Field Day #2!

It was chilly in the morning, so students warmed up with hot cocoa before we gathered for our opening circle. A game of “Where the Wind Blows” allowed us to identify commonalities within the group and learn new things about the members of our SLEWS team. Mentor groups learned to identify redbud, toyon, coffeeberry, valley oak, interior live oak, and bay – 6 of the native plants we’d be planting to create native habitat. Then it was time for “Steal the Native Plant”, a lively planting day tradition in which students race to be the first to correctly identify a native plant and earn points for their mentor groups.

Alex Tremblay and Tanya Meyer of Yolo County Resource Conservation District led a planting demonstration where students learned how to properly dig a hole, pack down the soil, and install a plastic tube that will protect the young plants from wind, critters, and weed control. Students set off in mentor groups to begin planting, and found that digging was quite time consuming – luckily, Brandon Baker of Yolo RCD was busy using an auger (a piece of heavy machinery that resembles a giant drill) to dig holes for the larger shrubs and trees. Students followed with native plants and before long students had planted an impressive 177 plants – 135 trees and 42 shrubs! Since these students are Winters locals, they will be able to watch these trees and shrubs grow for years to come.

After lunch, Amy Williams of Putah Creek Council led students on a tour of a nearby mitigation area that is protected due to the presence of elderberry trees. The trees themselves are not protected, but the endangered and endemic Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle depends on the tree for every phase of its life cycle. Students also recognized mature forms of some of the plants they had just planted. They noticed redbud trees with seed pods, the familiar lobed leaves of Valley Oaks, flowering coyote brush, and a dazzling toyon displaying thousands of bright red berries! Though they had just planted these plants, it can be hard to imagine what the space will look like when the plants are tiny and hidden by tree tubes. Seeing the plants fully grown allowed students to realize the impact their work will have on the area in coming years.

We hiked down to the creek where students spread out to reflect on the day by writing and drawing a “Postcard from the Field”. When it was time to head back, several students wanted to keep writing! As we headed back to the bus, mentor Corey Shake pointed out something very exciting – a spawning salmon. We missed them on our first Field Day, but on this day everyone got to see the adult fish that has come to Putah Creek to breed – a thrilling end to a great second Field Day!

 

Inland Empire Students Head to the Mountains for a SLEWS Meadow Restoration Project

SLEWS | San Bernardino County | Oct. 26, 2018

Location of Field Day:
Sky Park Santa’s Village, Skyforest, CA

Participating School:
Citrus Valley High School

Mentors:
Natural Resources Conservation Service
– Tomas Aguilar-Campos
American Bird Conservancy – Rachel Smith
Santa Ana Watershed Association – Mari Archer
Orange County Water District – Cameron Macbeth
IERCD Staff – Susie Kirchner, Brian Robey, Alma Eichman, Shari Tindall

Field Day Overview:
30 students from Citrus Valley High School visited Sky Park Santa’s Village to support their efforts in improving the properties’ meadow habitat, which had in the previous decade served as a dumping ground for bark beetle infested trees. We started the day with our favorite warm up game – a rock, paper, scissors tournament. In this game, students compete against their classmates, teachers, and mentors in the traditional game of rock, paper, scissors . However, when a person loses the game to another, they then become a cheerleader for the winner of that round and must chant their name. Eventually, there are only two remaining winners, each with a group of cheerleaders they have picked up along the way, and the final battle occurs.

After the quick warm up, we provided the students an overview and safety discussion and jumped right into the project work for the day. Students planted (and mulched) over 40 native plants, collected seed to distribute in other parts of the site, and removed invasive weeds. We were lucky to be accompanied by a former U.S Forest Service Botanist, Gina Richmond, who guided the students and provided information on each of the plants.

After lunch, we transitioned into learning about forestry and forest health. Especially after this year’s severe fires, it felt like a relevant topic to be sharing with students on how to assess a forest and make recommendations on how to improve its resiliency. Led by our NRCS District Conservationist, Tomas Aguilar-Campos, we showed students how to perform a fixed-radius plot survey to determine the stocking level of a forest and the health of individual trees. We also asked the students how Sky Park could improve their fire resiliency, some of the answers included, “trimming tree limbs”, and “removing trees, especially smaller trees”.

To wrap up the day, we couldn’t leave Sky Park Santa’s Village without having a little fun in the park! Students were able to try out the archery course before heading down the hill back to school. We are looking forward to welcoming these students back for another SLEWS trip in the Spring.

 

A little mud never hurt anyone…

Sacramento Charter High School at Clark Ranch 1
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 5, 2018

Participating School
Sacramento Charter High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms
Bruce Clark

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
We prepared for a bit of mud on our field day at Clark Ranch but we didn’t anticipate just how much mud Tuesday night’s rain would create! It was a muddy, sticky, day – but a ton of fun.

After putting on the now-ubiquitous yellow raingear and mudboots, we crossed a metal footbridge to our location for the day – Clark Ranch. The Rominger Brothers Farms team farms the land owned by Bruce Clark, and our project site was alongside a young almond orchard. After some breakfast and hot chocolate, we opened the day by learning a little more about each other and playing “Group Juggle”, a name game. We also got a introduction to our restoration project – planting native plants on the edges of Clark Ranch to increase biodiversity.

Students learned the name of 5 of the plants we’d be planting – buckwheat, sage, fuschia, wild rose, and manzanita – before competing to see who could be the first to identify the species. Sacramento High students were awesome at this – we didn’t have one misidentification through the whole game!

Alex Tremblay of Yolo RCD gave a planting demonstration before mentor groups set off in opposite directions, spreading out along the previously installed irrigation line. To say conditions were muddy would be an understatement – shovels, trowels, and gloves were quickly covered in sticky goo which made planting quite a challenge, especially as some of the plants were quite large. The farm manager intended to have a crew come in to finish the work that students were not able to complete. Much to everyone’s surprise, Sac High students finished the entire project – 230 plants!

After all that hard work, students enjoyed a lunch of burritos before reflecting on the experiences of the day as a group. Before long, it was time to shed the raingear and head back to school.

I can’t wait to see how much our plants have grown when we return at the end of January!

An impressive day of planting at Sequoia Farms

Davis High School at Sequoia Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | November 30, 2018

Participating School
Davis High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District
National Center for Appropriate Technology
Sequoia Farms

Mentors
Amanda Lindell, UC Davis graduate student
Arthur Barros, UC Davis graduate student
Claire Kouba, UC Davis graduate student
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
After a very rainy Thursday, I was concerned about the weather for Davis High’s first Field Day at Sequoia Farms, an organic walnut orchard located in Dixon. Luckily we were treated to a gorgeous day, with a bit of mud for good measure!

Since the orchard perimeter was too muddy to access by vehicle, students donned yellow rain bibs and mud boots for the walk to our field site. On the way, students got an up close view of the orchard, and asked great questions about walnut grafting (“Why does the bottom of the trunk look different than the top?” – we prefer to eat English Walnuts, but native Black Walnuts are more resistant to regional diseases and pests; fusing them together gives farmers the best of both worlds) and walnut growth (“Where are all the walnuts?!” – they had recently been harvested).

At our opening circle, mentors and restoration partners introduced themselves and their education and career paths, and we played a game of “Group Juggle” to learn everyone’s names. Rex Dufour of NCAT gave a great presentation on some of the beneficial insects that our plants will help attract. Then we split into mentor groups to learn the names and characteristics of 6 of the native plants we’d be planting including toyon, coffeeberry, deergrass, rabbitbrush, lilac and coyote brush. We played a game called “steal the native plant” where mentor groups competed to be the first to identify the native plant.

Next it was time to learn how to plant! Rex Dufour gave an informative demonstration on the best way to plant these natives to give them the best chance at survival and groups of students spread out with their mentors to get started. Davis students completed way more of the work than we thought possible and by the end of the morning they’d planted 600 plants!

After lunch, each student chose a walnut tree to lean against as they reflected in their Field Journals, writing a postcard to themselves about the day. After the walk back to change out of raingear, we had a brief closing circle to end the day. Students remarked that they would remember the hard work they did, and that they felt helpful and productive restoring the ecosystem.

NRCS Plant Material Center

FARMS Leadership Program: San Joaquin: November 29th, 2018

Location: Lockeford, CA

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:
Margaret Smither-Kopperl
Matthew Bronson, PMC Farm Manager

Theme: Ecology and Habitat Conservation

 Summary of the Day:

The San Joaquin FARMS Leadership Students had no intentions of letting a little rain stop them from learning about Ecology and Habitat Conservation at the Plant Material Center (PMC) in Lockeford, Ca. Although our plans did change due to the rain and heavy winds that rolled in, we had a fun filled day learning a lot about what happens in the daily operations at the Natural Resource Center. The day started out with a tour of the facilities led by Matthew Bronson the Farm Manager at the PMC. The students were able to see and learn about the different equipment used, tractors, and even were able to walk through the seed library where numerous amounts of native California plant seeds are stored.

 

After Matthew’s tour the students gathered in the PMC’s office meeting room where they were broken up into groups to team project. The Project they all worked on was to draft a landscape at the PMC using a variety of different native plants. The students were given a list of native plants as well as books and information on each plant so that they could design the landscape of an actual area of land that the PMC has that needs to be re-planted. Once the groups finished their designs we took a lunch break.

 

Following our lunch break Margaret Smither-Kopperl took over to discuss the different plants the students chose. She then gave us a tour of the property where the students were able to see examples of the plants they chose and take cuttings from each plant along the way. Once each group had a handful of cuttings from the plants the chose they were able to work with Matthew and Margaret to prep the cuttings and plant them into the green house so that the PMC could utilize them in the landscape that the students designed.