Planting Graminoids!

 

Yesterday and today, we achieved a big milestone in the Copeland Creek riparian restoration project: putting in some native plants! For this first phase of planting, we started out with grasses, rushes, and sedges (collectively known as “graminoids”), all of them planted near the spot we call Snowberry Corner.

The plants were cultivated here on campus, by the Native Plant Propagation class – they provided us with more plants than we were able to get into the ground! Here they are in the greenhouse, the day before our first planting day:

On Friday, first thing, I sent part of my Restoration Ecology class to retrieve the plants from the greenhouse, while the “surveying team” marked out some plots, all roughly 800 meters square. They were marked with PVC piping – these would become our permanent zones, to help us track survivorship. We’ll keep track of how many plants were planted in each zone, and in future years we’ll be able to come back and monitor their progress.

Map showing the newly established plots. The large building in the lower left quadrant of the photo is the Environmental Technology Center.

(A more detailed map can be found here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1FFenhZLMw8nbpMbxJlZYa94mki-3vQPT&usp=sharing)

Finally, we were ready to start planting! In the drier area close to the bike path, we put in mostly native grasses – Blue Wild Rye (Elymus glaucus), and Beardless Wild Rye (Elymus triticoides). To the east, and back a bit from the path, there’s an area that retains more moisture throughout the year, so we’re treating it as a seasonal wetland. In those areas, we put in mostly Santa Barbara Sedge (Carex sp), and Juncus.

Alongside the planting, we also grubbed out a bunch of Himalayan blackberry. I did most of the grubbing (so my students could focus on planting, which is arguably more fun).

We made some great progress on Friday, but since there were still plants left unplanted, a smaller group of students offered to come in on Saturday morning, and help me get even more plants in the ground:

Dream Team: Wendy, Desirae, Audrey, and Jesica

In addition to the planting, we also constructed a little woodpile out of sight behind a slight hill. Partly, we wanted to clear away some branches from the wetland meadow area, but we also took the opportunity to build it up around a small California blackberry plant, to give it some support as it grows.

Even though we didn’t get every single plant into the ground, I’m thrilled with the progress we made. Look at all these precious baby plants in the ground, ready to grow:

The final touch: a string of yellow flagging tape all around the Snowberry Corner area. That’s an area where joggers and bicyclists like to cut through, rather than staying on the path. So, we put up some tape to discourage this type of “foot” traffic while the plants are getting established.

A little bit of pedestrian protection.

Such great progress! Looking forward to watching them grow.

 

Copeland Creek Work Day

After months of planning, on Saturday, March 25, a group of volunteers gathered on the Sonoma State University campus to start the “muddy boots” part of our project to restore the riparian habitat along Copeland Creek. Over the past couple of weeks, our SSU project team identified native plants that we want to keep, and today our work team pulled up invasive species around these natives, to give them the best possible chance to thrive, and to make certain they’re not accidentally pulled up during a future phase of restoration work.  (All photos © the author, except where noted).

Our collaborators, Nick and Callie from the California Conservation Corps’ Watershed Stewards Program arrived first thing in the morning, to set up for the workday. SSU project team members Jessi and Jana walked through our project area and flagged the native plants where the clearing was to take place.

Just after 10:00 a.m. we got started. To a group of both SSU students and community volunteers, I gave a brief overview of the history of the creek, as well as our goal for the project as a whole. It turns out that, historically, there wasn’t actually a creek running through this part of the landscape . . . the creek ran down off nearby Sonoma Mountain, and spread out across a floodplain. This area would have been mostly wetlands, not dry land with a creek. So, our goal isn’t to try and restore this area to some previous “natural” state. Instead, we’re working to restore native vegetation, and encourage a habitat that supports a wide variety of native species, some of which we saw while doing our work (see this post for some photos of lizards and salamanders and things).

Then, everyone got to work! And boy, oh boy, did they work! We did take a break for lunch (sandwiches provided by Callie), but other than that, our team worked from 10 a.m. until about 2 p.m.

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Sometimes you’ve just got to crawl right in.

Some of my intrepid Conservation Biology students tackled a huge patch of Oregon grape that was being choked out by Himalayan blackberry. This invasive non-native species of blackberry is one of our main targets for this project. We want to replace as much of it as possible with native species, but we need to do this in a way that won’t disrupt the existing ecosystem too much while the new species become established. Removing the blackberry from this particular patch was a great place to start, and definitely above and beyond what we’d hoped to accomplish today. Hector, Paolo, Andrew, William, and Vince did an amazing job of “grubbing” out the blackberry.

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The “Dream Team”

Oregon Grape, after blackberry removal:

We accomplished more today than I thought possible. Sending out a huge thank you to our team, and to all the wonderful volunteers who came out and helped us get out Copeland Creek restoration project started! We hope to see you again on Earth Day, when we’ll work on the the next phase of our project.

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Photo by Callie Grant

Wildlife on Copeland Creek

On Saturday, March 25th, SSU collaborated with the California Conservation Corps’ Watership Stewardship Program to start work on our riparian restoration project (more details about the work we did on Saturday coming soon). One of the side benefits of working alongside the creek is encountering some of the wildlife that shares the campus with us. Here are a few of the highlights of our day . . .

Southern alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata): 

This gorgeous lizard was spotted in the middle of the bike path – one of the largest alligator lizards I’ve ever seen! What a gorgeous specimen!

Pacific chorus frog (Pseudacris regilla): We found more than one of these little cuties during our work day.

Slender salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus): At least 9 of these little amphibians were discovered while working in an area of about an acre. The one at bottom right is the smallest I’ve ever seen.

We also saw lots of great native plants and fungi.

While I didn’t get many photos of them, I did see or hear a wide variety of birds, including western scrub jay, red-shouldered hawk, brown towhee, Anna’s hummingbird, turkey vulture, wild turkey, and Canada geese.

Best of all, the creek is gorgeous right now, with a good amount of water after our recent rains.

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Salmonid Field Trip

Restoration Ecology’s final field trip of the Fall, 2016 semester was a wonderful adventure in the redwoods, looking at restoration projects aimed at restoring habitat for salmonid fishes, including chinook and coho salmon. Our hosts for the day were Sarah Phillips of the Marin Resource Conservation Department (RCD), Erik Young, a lawyer affiliated with Trout Unlimited, and Eric Ettlinger of the Marin Water District. Each of them shared with us a different perspective on the creek, and how restoration projects happen.

We started out in the Leo T. Cronin parking area for a brief introduction, and then we headed a bit downstream of the lot for our first close-up look at Lagunitas Creek.

 

There was an exciting moment at Lagunitas Creek, when a chinook salmon was spotted splashing around in the rapids – possibly digging out a redd in which to lay her eggs.

Next, we headed to Devil’s Gulch, where we ate our lunch, and learned more about the restoration work that’s being done on the creek. Primarily, we learned about the importance of installing woody debris, to restore “complexity” to the creek, which in turn provides a variety of habitat types that salmon (and other organisms) need in order to thrives. There’s a great article on the work that was done here in 2015 on the Trout Unlimited website.

One of the highlights of my day was seeing some old growth redwood trees. One of them had a hollow inside that was large enough to hold several people at one time.

If you’d like to read more about our day, some of my students wrote about this excursion on our Restoration Ecology Blog: Coming Together for the Coho Salmon, and Salmon Crossing.

Environmental Forum

I was invited to speak as part of this year’s Environmental Forum at SSU, a lecture series put on by the Environmental Studies and Planning Department. I had a GREAT time giving this talk – I focused on the salmonid restoration that’s been done on Dutch Bill Creek near Occidental, and it went really well. The students were attentive, and asked a bunch of great questions at the end. Loved it!

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Ready, Set, Reintroduce!

Originally posted on the San Francisco Bay Area National Parks Science and Learning Blog

The Presidio’s Mountain Lake restoration is moving forward this year with several native species reintroductions. The Sierran chorus frog (Pseudacris sierra), is slated to be the first species reintroduced. This species was extirpated from the Presidio sometime in the 20th century and, although common throughout its range, has become very rare in the city of San Francisco. The first phase of the reintroduction will take place in February, when chorus frog egg masses will be placed in protective enclosures to keep them safe from predators as they acclimate to Mountain Lake. The tadpoles that hatch in those enclosures will then be released into Mountain Lake in March. Later in the year, threespine stickleback and the Western Pond turtles will also be reintroduced to the lake.

Underwater view of a Pacific chorus frog.

 

Reintroduction projects offer a wide range of opportunities for scientific exploration and citizen science engagement, so the Presidio Trust has been partnering with several organizations and institutions to broaden impact and expand knowledge in the fields of reintroduction biology and urban ecology. For instance, partners at Stanford University just published research on the potential to achieve improved water quality from the reintroduction of freshwater mussels, and the California Academy of Sciences produced an excellent video on the Mountain Lake restoration, including upcoming species reintroductions. Keep an eye on the Presidio Trust website and social media for more reintroduction-related news and events throughout 2015. It’s an exciting time in the history of Mountain Lake!