By Desirae Braga
There are certain areas that are in dire need of restoration, and the right expertise can help those areas to be properly restored and protected from future harm. On November 17, 2017, our Restoration Ecology class visited the Laguna de Santa Rosa to check out the Laguna Foundation’s site, and explore their latest projects. Professor Wendy St. John told us she was exited to introduce us to this local organization, so we could explore the internship and job opportunities of being a Laguna Steward. The Laguna Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 with a mission to restore and conserve the Laguna De Santa Rosa, and to inspire public appreciation of this Wetland of International Importance. Through hard work and community outreach, they are well on the way to restoring this site and utilizing their resources to promote biodiversity in this human-impacted land.
The class getting a grand tour of the Laguna!
When we arrived onsite, the Laguna staff gave us a brief tour and overview, so we could get a better feel of how a restoration organization works. We first stopped at a small demonstration wetland, where Brent Reed explained that this is a place where injured western pond turtles can be rehabilitated and released, after they’ve received the necessary medical attention.
Brett then took us to the observation deck to talk about how the landscape has been shaped by natural forces over the years. The hills surrounding the laguna cause the field to flood during the rainy season then to drain into nearby Irwin Creek. One restorative technique they use in this flood plain area is biosolids, donated to the Laguna by the city of Santa Rosa, to fertilize the field for the terrestrial plants that grow there during the dry season.
Historically, the majority of the Laguna was a marsh, but after the creek was channelized by humans, a swale formed. Due to this drastic change, it is not possible to restore the site back to it’s original historical function – an excellent example of the conversation that often accompanies restoration projects: do we try and restoring the site to it’s historic conditions, or do we embrace a novel ecosystem based on a site’s current spatial and temporal conditions? Here, the Laguna Foundation has to work with the current conditions of the site with the resources they have.
To restore this swale, the Laguna Foundation has tried a multitude of tactics. They brought in horses to provide the disturbance needed for some native grasses to thrive, as well as to suppress invasive grasses. Meadow barley (Hordeum brachyantherum) had been planted, for distribution not only to the Laguna, but also to other local sites that are in need of restoration. Along with active restoration and experiments, the team has to do some observation and monitoring, in order to see what techniques work best for the land. They have set up a camera in the middle of this swale to capture the “lag effect” – how long it would take the field to become totally inundated as a result of rain. This gives them a sense for when aquatic restoration restoration would be the best.
There were many native plant species to explore in the nursery
Brent then took us to the native plant garden, a small nursery that they are in the process of expanding. Because of the humble size of the structure, they try to keep the nursery plants small, and have efficient ways of planting certain pots. Some pots correspond with a “dibble,” a tool that creates a perfect sized hole to increase efficiency. Brent also explained to us how important genetics are to the collection of species at a nursery, and how multiple plants should be collected from an area to increase genetic diversity. Every species in their garden was either propagated by seed or by cuttings from local species. After the Sonoma County fires occurred, the Laguna team collected seeds from the burned areas to propagate those plants and later help restore those areas. The plants are organized into local groups as to not mixup any local adaptations those species may have.
Sometimes the soil needs to be broken up before planting.
Cindy really got into her work.
After the visit to the nursery, we went down to the creek to start the task for the day: planting sedges to stabilizing the banks of the creek, something that has been an ongoing process for the Laguna. So far, the Laguna Foundation has planted around 1800 native plants on each side of the creek, all of which were funded by the Coastal Conservancy. The sedge species we planted today was in the genus Carex. a species that likes shaded areas, and moist soil.
First, we dug up plants from a nearby section of the Laguna, and then transplanted them near the creek. At the planting site, a team of people was dedicated to trimming, or “topping off” several inches of the leaves of the plants. This helps the plants focus more of its energy into establishing roots, rather spending energy to maintain long leaves. Then, we placed the smaller plants together and dug the right-sized holes to place them in. Brett taught us that the holes must be the right size so that the plant will be flush with the ground level, and that the individual plants should be placed about a foot apart from one another. While removing the dirt from the holes, the dirt should be placed in pile so you can pick up and place the dirt back into the hole instead of sliding the dirt into the hole. Sliding the dirt into the hole can replant any invasive’s seeds that were on the surface of the soil, affecting the sedges’ growth as well. By the end of the day, we had planted hundreds of sedges.
- Our transplanted sedges!
Overall, it was a great experience. We received important hands-on experience with restoration techniques, learned about different job opportunities in the field of ecological restoration, and heard more about the various types of projects the Laguna Foundation is working on at any given time. Wendy St. John’s Restoration Ecology class had a great time at the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and we would like to send a big thank you to the Laguna Foundation for letting us visit.