A day of habitat creation in San Diego’s Tijuana River Valley

SLEWS Program | San Diego County | February 23, 2019 | Field day 2

Participating School
Mar Vista High School

Location
Tijuana River Valley Community Garden in Southwest San Diego

Mentors

  • Samantha Cook, San Diego State graduate in Sustainability
  • Christine Lambert, Associate Archaeologist & Project Manager, Petra Resource Management
  • Emanuel Storey, San Diego State doctoral student in Geography
  • Thomas Strand, Environmental Planner, Chambers Group, Inc.

Land Manager
Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County

Summary of the Day

Mar Vista students and their teacher arrived for our second SLEWS field day on a sunny morning following a rainy period. The site was pretty muddy, but no one seemed to mind too much! Students mingled and snacked while the team geared up for the day’s activities.

We kicked things off with an invigorating game of Where the Wind Blows, which got everyone moving and laughing. We then headed off to the hedgerow for our morning of restoration work. Last field day, the hedgerow was divided into four sections – one for each mentor group. Groups returned to their sections to observe the plant life already in the hedgerow. They then spent some time weeding around existing plants and where new plants would be planted (thanks to the rain, weeds were plentiful – especially in section 4!). The groups then planted the plants allocated to their section – 45 native potted plants and ten mulefat cuttings taken from the surrounding area were planted. After planting, students created a watering basin and mulched around each new plant.

The Community Garden is located in a historically agricultural area. Although few farms remain, there are several stables in the area, including one adjacent to the garden owned by the family of a teacher at Mar Vista! The teacher, Mr Jara, rode by the garden during Field Day 1 and saw the students, and invited us over for a tour on our next field day. After our planting project, we headed over to the horse ranch to meet some of the horses and hear about what goes on at the ranch. Students (and mentors) even got to take turns riding a horse!

After our tour, we returned to the garden for lunch – we had burritos in response to a request from the students. Following lunch, we built native bee nesting blocks and installed a barn owl box. At the first field day, groups decided which project they would work on this time. Three selected bee boxes, and one selected the owl box. Students had lots of fun using power tools to drill holes in the nesting blocks and attaching a roof. They even decorated their nesting blocks before installing them within the hedgerow. The group that installed the owl box had an interesting time examining the box, which had been used before and still had remnants from the previous inhabitants! They attached a metal pole to the box, dug a hole for the pole, and erected the box. Hopefully by the next field day we’ll be able to observe wildlife utilizing their new habitat.

By the time the owl box had been erected and the nesting boxes installed in the hedgerow, we could see the bus pulling up. How was it 2pm already? After a quick group poem to reflect on our day (each participant said one word that summed up their experience of the day), the students headed back onto the bus.

We all had a great time and are excited for Field Day 3!

Accomplishments:

  • 55 native plants planted in the hedgerow
  • Weeding and mulching of the hedgerow
  • 3 native bee nesting blocks and 1 barn owl box installed on site

Mar Vista High participates in San Diego County’s First SLEWS program!

SLEWS Program | San Diego County | January 26, 2019 | Field day 1

Participating School
Mar Vista High School

Location
Tijuana River Valley Community Garden in Southwest San Diego

Mentors

  • Samantha Cook, San Diego State University graduate in Sustainability
  • Christine Lambert, Associate Archaeologist & Project Manager, Petra Resource Management
  • Emanuel Storey, San Diego State University doctoral student in Geography
  • Thomas Strand, Environmental Planner, Chambers Group, Inc.

Land manager
Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County

Summary of the day
RCD staff and our team of mentors greeted students from Mar Vista for our first field day at the Tijuana River Valley Community Garden (TRVCG) and our first ever SLEWS program!

It was a sunny January day, and students mingled and shyly snacked while everyone got settled in. A game of Group Juggle to learn names helped break the ice and get people smiling. It being our first field day, we spent some time going over the SLEWS program, the history of the site, and what participants could expect over our three field days together. We then did another activity to get to know each other – everyone selected a bird, mammal, plant, herptile, or weed card and shared two interesting things they learned about their chosen species, as well as their favorite place in nature.

We then took a quick tour of the community garden, the ¼ plots on site, and our carbon farming demonstration plot before arriving at the native plant hedgerow (dense, woody vegetation planted in a linear design to achieve a natural resource conservation purpose) where we will be concentrating our field day projects. Students broke up into their mentor groups and surveyed the section of the hedgerow assigned to them. They observed the number of living, dead, and damaged plants; any evidence of wildlife; the condition of the irrigation lines; and presence of mulch on the ground. This was done in preparation for the planting and mulching project for Field day 2. It was great to hear excitement from the students as they encountered lady bugs, butterflies, and even a tiny lizard.

Following our exploration of the hedgerow, each group took two soil samples from within their section of the hedgerow – one to be sent to a lab, and one for a mason jar soil particulate test. Before taking the samples we discussed soil characteristics, the different reasons for testing soil, and that different plants have different needs from the soil. In line with the SLEWS norms we agreed on that morning, everyone participated and got their hands in the soil.

After lunch, we did a reflection activity called Postcard from the Field then reconvened for closing circle before the students got back on the bus.

We really enjoyed our inaugural SLEWS experience and can’t wait for Field Day 2!

Accomplishments
– 8 soil samples taken for the hedgerow.
– Hedgerow surveyed for living/dead/damaged plants in preparation of planting.

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!

A rainy day at River Garden Farms

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 15, 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
Xerónimo Castañeda, Conservation Project Associate, Audubon California

Summary of the Day
Our second day at River Garden Farms wins the award for wettest Field Day of the season so far! As soon as students arrived we had them gear up in rain gear and mud boots before having breakfast under a canopy. We did an opening circle and played “Where the Wind Blows” to learn more about each other, before playing a round of “Steal the Native Plant” to learn more about some of the species we’d later be planting.

On our first Field Day we installed a drip irrigation system, but unfortunately this area was too muddy for us to access this time. Luckily, Dominic Bruno (Assistant General Manager of River Garden Farms) had another project up his sleeve – maintaining the native plant hedgerow that classes of SLEWS students help install in years past. He demonstrated the proper way to trim the deergrass bunches, plant milkweed seeds, and replant some of the plants that did not survive.

Two mentor groups set off, clippers in hand, to trim the deergrass. One group pretended they were working in a barbershop, giving “haircuts” to the bunches of deergrass on the levee. As one student put it, “we gave haircuts to 33 customers and not a single one left us a tip!”. Two other groups ventured in the opposite direction, replanting some of the plants from previous years that hadn’t survived. Finally, the fifth group worked on planting “companion” milkweed seeds next to established plants. These milkweed plants will be a crucial resource for migrating monarch butterflies. By the end of the day, Dominic estimated that students trimmed 45 deergrass, planted 100 milkweed plants as associates, and replanted 50 native trees and shrubs!

The rain continued to come down throughout the morning, so we decided to shelter for lunch. After taking off raingear, students loaded back up onto the bus to ride to the shop area for lunch. On the way, avid birder and mentor Aaron Haiman led the students in a birdwatching activity facing some flooded rice fields. Flooding the rice fields breaks down the rice stalks for the following growing season, but also creates artificial wetlands that provide habitat for migratory birds. River Garden Farms has added another level of restoration to this effort, growing “Fish Food” for young salmon in the Sacramento River. You can learn more about this awesome project by watching the short film “A New Way Forward” at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miIhs-mc_40.

Students enjoyed lunch in River Garden Farms’ shop area, eating at tables amongst rice harvesting machinery storage. Students especially enjoyed warming up by the heater after a chilly, wet day!

A change of scenery for Davis High

Davis High School at Dry Arroyo Creek
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 11, 2019

Participating School
Davis High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

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

Summary of the Day
Our second Field Day with Davis High School brought us to a new location – Dry Arroyo Creek between Dixon and Winters. There have been several SLEWS projects in this area over the years, and Solano Resource Conservation District invited Davis High students to put some of the final touches on a restoration project many years in the making.

After breakfast, we learned more about one another through a game called “Wind in the Willows”. This game allows us to identify commonalities within the group, and strengthen our bond as a SLEWS team. Then, Solano Resource Conservation District staff led us in a demonstration of our restoration task for the day – plug planting native grasses! Students learned to use a “dibble” to poke holes in the ground, insert a grass “plug” (a small clump of native grasses) and pinch the soil over the top to prevent moisture loss. The hope is that these native grasses will outcompete invasive grass species, to improve soil stability and water retention and increase biodiversity.

Once students got a hang of the process, mentor groups spread out along the bank of dry arroyo creek and began planting grass plugs every 2 feet in a grid-like pattern. These grasses will eventually grow to fill in the entire area. I had one student ask me to further explain the impact these grasses will have in the area, and I appreciated her wanting to put the project into context! There were some very impressive feats of teamwork with some students measuring, some students “dibbling”, and students following to plant the grass plugs. By lunchtime, students had planted around 2000 native grass plugs!

Students had been eager to explore Dry Arroyo Creek all morning. Lucky for them, after lunch, Sarah McKibbin of Solano Resource Conservation District led the students across the creek on a native plant walk to see some of the plants that have become established through the restoration effort. Then students were given time to explore the creek and adjacent areas in mentor groups, identifying native plants and birds. One group even found a frog in the creek! As groups were exploring, Davis High teacher Sherri Sandberg rotated mentor groups through a water monitoring activity to assess the water quality of Dry Arroyo Creek.

A sunny first day in the Capay Valley

Woodland High School at Pharm Schaer
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 10, 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
After our first Field Day was postponed due to poor air quality from the Camp Fire, we were eager to get started on our project at Pharm Schaer, Candice Schaer’s property in Guinda.

Since it was our first Field Day with Woodland students, our opening circle served as an introduction to the restoration project as well as the partners, landowners, and mentors. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District explained the project planning process and project goals, including planting native trees and shrubs to increase species diversity, promote beneficial insects and provide nectar sources for insects and cover for wildlife. Students also met the film crew from local public television show “Rob on the Road” – they were filming this field day for an upcoming segment on SLEWS!

After opening circle, students met with their mentor groups and were presented with a bucket of various irrigation supplies and tools – tubing, emitters, pokers, cutters, and connectors. Students were given time to practice with these items in order to become familiar with the components of a drip irrigation system. Students were quickly able to figure out how drip irrigation works, and Brandon Baker of Yolo County Resource Conservation District followed up with an instructional demonstration.

The first task was to roll out the irrigation line which is a major group effort! Each student helped carry a section of the 1400 foot tube, even rounding a corner. Once the line was laid down, one mentor group measured and flagged the line every ten feet so the other two mentor groups could follow, poking holes and installing emitters. After the line was complete, we did a quality check, turning the water on so students could replace emitters that were improperly installed. Woodland students worked so hard and efficiently that there wasn’t much to fix – we were even able to measure and install emitters on an additional 200 foot section of irrigation, far exceeding the landowner and RCD’s expectations for the day.

After lunch, I was so impressed to see Woodland students picking up shovels and pushing wheelbarrows to gather mulch – landowner Candice Schaer had asked for help filling in a muddy patch and they responded with trademark enthusiasm. They made short work of that small project, and then mentor groups ventured out to identify some native plants on the property. They even recognized a few plants we had planted that day!

To conclude the day, students found an area to sit by themselves and reflect on their experience in their Field Journal. At our closing circle, many students remarked that this moment of quiet reflection was their favorite part of the whole day.

A successful day of planting at Clark Ranch

Grant Union High at Clark Ranch 2
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 13, 2018

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
Amelia Munson, UC Davis graduate student
Jen Metes, Research Associate, Consero Solutions
Julea Shaw, UC Davis graduate student
Mandi Finger, Associate Director, Genomic Variation Lab
Sean McNamara, Farm Manager, Sierra Orchards

Summary of the Day
Students from Grant Union’s GEO Academy returned for their second Field Day at Clark Ranch to clear, calm skies – a welcome change after a VERY windy first Field Day! After breakfast and hot cocoa under the oak grove, we circled up to begin the day. We discussed the impact our project will have on the area, and the ways in which the plants will help improve the surrounding habitat. We also introduced new project mentors and partners before playing a game of group juggle to help us remember each other’s names.

Following opening circle we played “Steal the Native Plant” – a SLEWS planting day classic. Students learned the characteristics of manzanita, buckbrush, sage, elderberry, and coyote brush – five of the plants we’d be planting that day – before competing to be the first to identify species and earn points for their mentor groups.

Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District let students in a planting demonstration to ensure our plants have the best possible chance of survival. One student was so inspired by this demonstration that he created an illustrated step-by-step guide during our end-of-day reflection (see below). Students jumped right into planting with enthusiasm and by lunchtime had planted 280 native trees and shrubs!

After lunch, students participated in a Nature Scavenger Hunt in their mentor groups, with most groups finding all 17 items in just 15 minutes! One group was excited to share that they found an owl pellet with bones inside, while another was thrilled to see a lizard as they explored the area. To finish the day, students reflected on their day by creating a “Postcard from the Field”, writing and drawing to sum up their experiences.

One exciting addition to this day was a film crew from local public television show “Rob on the Road” – they are doing a feature on the Center for Land-Based Learning and the SLEWS program, and were capturing footage of the group throughout the day. You may soon see Grant Union students on TV if you’re a fan of PBS!

It is always a pleasure to work with this fantastic group of students. I was once again impressed by their kindness to their peers and ceaseless positive attitudes. Can’t wait for Field Day #3!

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!