An adventure across Cache Creek

Woodland High School at Capay Open Space Park
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 29, 2020

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Cache Creek Conservancy

Mentors
Grace Auringer, Technician, Genomic Variation Lab
Mikayla Peterson, Outreach & Watershed Education Specialist, Cache Creek Conservancy
Matt Clement, Facilities Steward, Center for Land-Based Learning
Matt Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS

Summary of the Day
Our first morning in Capay Open Space Park was quick as we were trying to beat the heat – 700 beehives were near our planting area and we wanted to get as much done as we could while the bees were still relatively cold and inactive! After a game of Where the Wind Blows, we grabbed tools and headed down to Cache Creek.

To avoid walking by these 700 beehives, crossing the creek was our best option. Though the creek was shallow, it wasn’t shallow enough to make it across in our mudboots. Enter: the Argo. An amphibious ATV that works on land and water! Students donned PFDs and were ferried across in groups by Phil Zoucha of Cache Creek Conservancy.

Once everyone was across, we gathered for a quick refresher on plug planting. Students didn’t need much instruction as this was an activity we did on our first Field Day. Mentor groups each tackled a marked section and set to work plug planting – scraping away excess vegetation, “dibbling” a hole, inserting the native plant plug, and pinching the native soil over the top. Woodland High students really seem to take pride in being hard workers, and did a great job staying on task, checking the quality of their work, and helping their peers. As mentor groups finished sections, they moved to unplanted areas and even started makeshift “mulching” the plugs that were already done with the vegetation they scraped away. We planted all 1200 plugs in no time.

Before argo-ing back to the other side, we were able to spot some cool wildlife including a kingfisher, and the highlight of the day – a bird called a California Thrasher. While planting, students noticed many invertebrates including millipedes, worms, and a Jerusalem Cricket!

Our next task of the day was seeding. Depending on who you talk to in the RCD, you may hear this technique called “dinner plates” or “chia pets”. The basic technique is: clear a patch of soil (taking care to avoid native perennial grasses!), break up the soil, sprinkle seeds on top so they land about 1” apart, stir up the soil, and pack it back down. Mentor groups took on different areas of the park and planted seeds until lunchtime. Tanya Meyer of Yolo County RCD estimated we put about a pound of native seeds in the ground when all was said and done!

After lunch it was time for a SLEWS classic – mentor interviews. Sitting down and having a guided conversation with mentors about their education and career paths hopefully gets them thinking about what they may accomplish in their own lives. Students asked great questions including asking about mentor’s favorite plants, favorite college experiences, and what a “researcher” does exactly – and what they have figured out through science.

After this, students found space to sit by themselves and write and draw to reflect on the day. I saw some California Thrashers and well-planted plugs among the drawings!

With our “one word to describe the day” closing circle, popular words were “fun!” and “dibble!”. And I for one am very relieved to report we made it the whole day without a single bee sting!

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!