Restoration Ecology at Sonoma State University

Welcome to the online home of Restoration Ecology at Sonoma State University. In Fall, 2017, students are collecting baseline data about the ecology of the stretch of Copeland Creek that runs through campus, to help inform restoration of this area in the future. They are also developing proposals for restoration of the campus lakes.

To see the blog archive from 2012 – 2014, please click here.

Advertisements

Copeland Creek Riparian Restoration: Perfect Planting Day!

On December 5th, 2018, a chilly, wet day, the Restoration Ecology class made their last visit to the restoration site the group began to work on earlier in the semester. Up to this date, the group had collected data by monitoring vegetation with transect lines and taking note of what plants are present on the project site. The class also created a restoration planting plan with a tool provided by Point Blue Conservation Science that implemented resilience for climate change. Later in the semester,the class had special visitors from the Point Blue Conservation Science that looked at our site and gave the class advice on what to plant.

Preparing for planting

Before the class can get started with planting, half the students from Restoration Ecology and a few freshmen from a different GEP course removed some of the invasive species on the site: Himalayan blackberry and hemlock. Along with removing invasive species, pink tape was tied to already established native plant species that the group wanted to keep on the site. While half the group was working on the site, the rest of the group took a trip to the greenhouse and collected native plants that would be planted at the site.

Time to get dirty

Now the class was ready for the fun stuff: planting in the rain! Although the class was uncomfortable when they first got started, the students seemed to be so focused on the planting that they forgot about the rain! The students removed plants all around the area that the plants were planned to be placed to create a nice buffer and reduce competition between other plant species. Once the group finished planting, the last step was to add mulch around all the plants!

Some of the native plants added to the site:

  • Coast Live Oak
  • California Buckeye
  • Sedge
  • Juncus
  • California Wildrose
  • Bee Plant

Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation: working hard to restore California

By Jessica Yost

Restoring the Laguna

Nestled in the countryside of western Sonoma County is a 22-mile-long wetland that drains a 254-square-mile watershed and includes most of the Santa Rosa Plain.  Nearby is a two mile trail and an abundance of birds and wildlife.  The non-profit Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation is working to protect and restore this Laguna, and California, by reestablishing native wildlife, removing invasive species, and educating the public about restoration.  I was fortunate to be apart of a workday with the restoration ecology class at Sonoma State University on December 7, 2018 to learn about the foundation, and assist in a phase of the Laguna’s restoration.

A nursery to restore California

Our class toured the nursery that was established in 2017 to grow native plants such as sedges, wild rose, oaks, and snowberry.  There is also a new greenhouse where seeds are being germinated before moving into the nursery.  Some of the plants are planted directly on the Laguna to cut out the middleman, and others are sold to other restoration projects in California to further fund the restoration efforts by the foundation. 

Following the devastating Sonoma County Tubbs fire in October 2017, the foundation has been collecting and recording seeds from burned sites in hopes of restoring a similar landscape to before the fire.  People whom lost their homes in the Tubbs fire can contact the foundation to receive germinated plants that came from seeds located near their burned homes. Restoring native vegetation following a fire can help prevent the arrival of invasive species including fire-fueling grasses.

A phase of the Laguna’s restoration

The work day at the Laguna consisted of ripping out tarps nailed to the ground underneath young oak trees, taking out marker flags and sticks used to prop up the baby trees.  Over the course of a couple years, the tarps were used to prevent invasive plants from growing because they would outcompete the trees for nutrients and water.  Most of the trees successfully grew to a couple feet and are now left to grow unassisted.

After a couple of hours of intensive labor, we filled an entire trailer with tarps, flags, and sticks to be hauled away.  What used to be an open field is now blooming with many new oak trees. Eventually, these trees will stand tall and create new habitat and food sources for wildlife.

Life in the Laguna

During the workday we found critters like a rubber boa and a garter snake, and signs of animals like scat and field mouse homes in the Laguna.  Many birds including starlings, hawks, and turkey vultures were spotted soaring around the site.  Wildlife cameras at the Laguna have captured photos of bobcats, otters, and minxes.  This evidence of wildlife abundance shows the success of the site, as well as the importance of restoration and conservation efforts.

Final thoughts

The Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation is working hard to restore California’s natural landscapes following fires, invasive species, and human-driven influences that have degraded ecosystems and natural processes.  The community can be involved by checking out the Laguna, trail, or the foundation to be a part of a workday.  Thank you, Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation for protecting our beautiful state, and letting us be a part of the restoration!

Restoration in the face of Climate Change: Thinking big

View of Shollenberger Park, Petaluma CA on 11/9/2018 from Point Blue Conservation Center. Photo © Irina Zhuravskaya.

Risks are on the rise

Coincidentally, our trip to Point Blue Conservation on November 9, 2018, to participate and discuss Climate-Smart Restoration practices occurred just one day after the start of the Butte County Fires. There is a dire need to enhance our preparation for the consequences of climate change when planning for restoration, and the events that were carried out this day strengthened that notion for me. It has been unanimously asserted by many scientific groups that the global climate is shifting towards a warmer climate, however at what rate we can’t predict. As the hazy toxic smoke loomed over the town for the remainder of the day, similarly my racing thoughts created a noxious sense of overwhelming impending doom on how we are going to deal with such uncertain factors.

Point Blue paving the way

Point Blue has organized this event to provide practitioners with an infrastructure to help restoration teams develop climate-smart projects, emphasizing coastal and watershed protection as well as cooperating with farmland owners to encourage and promote restoration on rangelands. 

In addition, Point Blue has designed seven “Climate-Smart Restoration Principles” available on their website under “Tools and Guidance” for public access. These tools can guide scientists to plan for more effective modeling of climate scenarios within their restoration site. Creating multiple projections can result in better adaptive management strategies, as uncertainties mean that we are dealing with plausible features rather than predictions, nor do they delay mapping appropriate actions to respond to the current risks of climate-change impacts.

Education is key to building resilient communities in the face of climate change

Point Blue considers education to be one of the main components of implementing climate change resiliency. This is initiated through the STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed) program. It is a collective of students and teachers who lead their own communities to restore their ecosystems and simultaneously act as a partnership in doing restoration work, which is almost always hard to “fund” by. What is more important, is that this program does an excellent job of integrating and promoting the human element into restoration, by creating a community of mutual-learning and holistic stewardship for generations to come.

Time to Brainstorm

The activity portion of the workshop was to split into four groups for an assigned restoration project. My groups’ project site was San Pablo Bay. Previously a centennial marsh, the Bay had accumulated large amounts of sediment, loss of habitat and vegetation as a result of being cut off from tidal flow after extensive hydraulic mining operations. The solution to this loss was the construction of a channel to reconnect the tidal flows and creating a transitional zone from the marsh to a levee. After reading the project description, the group discussed the following vulnerabilities and actions for the site:

  • Rhizome density
  • Stout diversity  
  • Reduction in levee erosion
  • Protection of communities  

The most important aspect of the discussion was to plan for ways to make sure that the restoration project will be able to withstand future climate projections such as sea level rise, increase in extreme weather events and extended drought periods.

Isaiah Thalmayer, STRAW Senior Project Manager. Facilitating workshop activity. Photo © Wendy St.John  

Takeaway

This activity created a collaborative and engaging think tank that allowed me to put my ideas forth and also discover the groups’ outlook based on their own experiences in fields such as land use law and environmental policy. Point Blue’s workshop inspired a sense of hope for the future within me. I believe that it would be necessary to develop tools such as the ones brought forth by Point Blue to not only plan for subsequent uncertainties but to eventually provide these tools to all walks of life, giving people the ability to manage environmental functions and develop a sense of human value, responsibility and intrinsic reward in restoring ecosystems.  

 


Wrapping up the Fall Semester With Some Restoration Along Copeland Creek!

On the 8th of December, a cool, crisp, winter morning consumed the Restoration Ecology Squad (the students) as they tried to bundle up and escape the cold. Our instructor, Wendy St John, was determined to continue the restoration activities she had been working on for some time now.

The students gathered around outside the Environmental Technology Center (ETC), eager for instructions, anything to get their bodies moving! Wendy then split the students up into three groups. One group, the cartography group, was in charge of retrieving the pots of plants from the greenhouse that was right next to the butterfly garden. Another group was marking the native blackberry with orange tape so that other students knew not to pick it. A third group was assigned to take measurements of various things in the area we were working on. All three groups got to work.

IMG_6118 2.JPG

One of the volunteers in the cartography group, Audrey, featured inside of the greenhouse.   Photo © by J. Raquel Guevara-Bolaños

The Restoration Ecology Squad put in about two hours work. All teams had worked efficiently and quickly to plant as many plants as they could. In the picture below, you can see Joshua C. and Jesica R. working hard to carefully place the plants. As you can see, they picked a spot with really good soil. The little plant babies would surely thrive.

IMG_6879 4.JPG

Photo © by J. Raquel Guevara-Bolaños

Though the morning started off chilly, the sun eventually came out. The group of students had successfully planted a nice patch of riparian vegetation. It was a nice day to wrap up the semester as the students prepared themselves for finals.

An Abundance of Information

On November 17th, our Restoration Ecology class went to the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation’s Educational Center. Here we were met by Brent, Paul, and Hannah. Eager to get started we began with an informational walk around site. The “Ed. Center” as they called it was a central point for the entire foundation, so it was only appropriate to begin here.

Getting the run down, Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation. Photo© M. Lambert

To Begin

We started by discussing the restoration that the Foundation has done around their Ed. Center. This location has a Victorian-style home, which has been repurposed into the offices for the Foundation employees. Surrounding the offices they have planted all native species in a garden setting as a way to show the community how to incorporate native species in their own yards.

The species that they planted included Juncus, Coyote Bush, Willows, and others. Their goal in planting this garden is to allow the community to see a garden that has ecological purpose and is not just ornamental species.

Next Stop

We continued along their established walkway, and this led us to a porch that they called “the overlook”. From this vantage point one could see the entirety of the land surrounding the Ed. Center. To our surprise this land was holding around 100 cows!

Nonnative cows grazing, Laguna de Santa Rosa. Photo© M. Lambert

Throughout our education of restoration and conservation we have been told over and over again about the downsides to cattle grazing on lands, but here we were, standing with one of Sonoma Counties most successful nonprofit organization and they are actively supporting cattle!

After some discussion, they told us that cattle is beneficial to restoration sites, because they are a space holder (essentially). The cattle provides weed suppression, manure, and disturbance. By putting cattle in this location it virtually puts that site on hold, and allows the restoration to be done on it at a later date. Which they were going to do, in hopes to reestablish a meander for the creek.

The Nursery

Unique to the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation is their native plant nursery. This is an area that they have created in order to germinate, propagate, and sprout native plants. All of their plants are gained within a reasonable distance from the site that they are going to be planted in, and they ensure genetic difference by collecting from many different individuals.

Their nursery is very small as of yet, but they are beginning a partnership with the Native Plant Society in hopes of expanding their nursery as well as advancing to a level that allows them to sell plants to anyone that wants them. For now they are growing plants only for their own restoration projects.

What restoration?

We proceeded through the mine field of cow patties and headed for the creek. Due to the proximity of the Tubbs Fire in October, we found a little piece of memorabilia.

Burnt book page, Laguna de Santa Rosa. Photo © M. Lambert

After seeing this burnt page out of someone’s book, it made us really consider the importance of restoration and conservation and our goals to get the planet to be a better for the plants and animals, as well as the humans.

Finally we were at the site, or so we thought! We were given our marching orders, grabbed a pair of gloves and kept on a-walking. We crossed the creek and continued walking down a dirt road, we crossed the paved road and congregated in a gravel parking lot.

Raquel Guevara-Bolanos showing off her hard work! Laguna de Santa Rosa. Photo © M. Lambert

In this lot there were two trucks already waiting for us. One had shovels and buckets and the other was completely empty. Our job was to dig up the sedge clusters, put them in the bucket and then transplant them down by the creek.

Once the empty truck was full to the brim of buckets with many sedges each, we were finally ready to transplant.

Final Product

Our day consisted of digging up and replanting sedges. These sedges were chosen because of their resilience and their ability to reproduce quickly. Because of their quick reproduction they provide a weed-proof mat.

These sedges were a favorite of the Laguna Foundation’s and they strongly encouraged us to not be afraid to use them in restoration.

We learned a lot about the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and many of my classmates expressed an interest in possibly getting an internship through them. I felt that they were doing a ton of great work and am excited to see how their sites progress over then next couple of decades! Thanks Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation!

 

Dont Push Me, Cause I’m Close to the Sedge

On a crisp Friday morning, the students of Restoration Ecology from Sonoma State packed up and drove out to the Laguna de Santa Rosa foundation in Occidental. Our group was led by Brent Reed who is the Ecological Program Manager at the foundation and Paul Weber who is a Restoration Field Supervisor. We began our day with a tour of  the location. There were several things to feast our eyes with!

One of our pit stops included the Observation deck. Here, we got a panoramic view of the grassland that was in the shape of a bowl and at the other end was Irwin creek. Paul told the group that because of the topography, the whole field floods during the rainy season. Though the previous owners of the land had used it for other reasons, such as agriculture and grazing, the foundation was trying to restore the bowl to its historical setting. Of course the question always remains, how far back do you go in a restoration project? For the purpose of this project, it was being restored back to its condition before it was used for agricultural purposes. One of the main methods for restoring the field was to plant “wetland loving species” as Paul called them. This was done by collecting seeds from Irwin creek and planting them in the field. A benefit to this method was that eventually with a field of what’s been planted, it can be harvested and distributed to other places.

IMG_1526.jpg

Hannah and Wendy checking out the Native Plant Nursery. Photo © by J. Raquel Guevara-Bolaños.

The next stop was the native plant nursery on the property. Brent explained to us that everything that was grown there was either grown from a seed or from a cutting. There are many different seeds from several locations and it is important to keep them separate because as Paul mentioned earlier, the location in which plants originate is important. As a response to the wildfires that tore through Sonoma county, the Laguna de Santa Rosa is partnering with the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) to collect seeds from fire areas to plant them and save the vegetation genetics from those areas. Eventually they plan on contacting the homeowners to try and get them to plant the plants that came from those areas as a restoration effort.

The rest of the day at the Laguna, the group of  students worked along the Irwin creek. They worked on taking chunks of  sedge that grows on the property and transporting it over to the creek. There, the students worked on planting the chunks of sedge in rows right along the sides of the creek. This would be beneficial for the creek since sedges grow fast and they provide habitat for other species. The day finally came to an end after much hard work. Though the students helped plant a lot of sedges, there is still a lot of work to do!

IMG_1541.jpg

The Restoration Ecology Squad facing Irwin Creek, eager to get planting! Photo © by J. Raquel Guevara-Bolaños.

Sedges Have Edges

By Emily Rosa

November 17 was a beautiful fall day in Sonoma County. The sky was clear and it was a nice cool temperature. This was an answered prayer for many students in this year’s Restoration Ecology class, after the rainy day we spent at the Laguna just a few weeks earlier. Today, we went out once again with Paul and Brent from the Laguna Foundation. Our main goal for the day was to plant sedge in an area right along the creek, to help stop other weeds such as Himalayan blackberry from invading the area. The neat thing about this project is that they were growing the sedge on their property, and then we harvested some and transplanted it into an a nearby area along the creek.

Our day started off with a quick tour of the buildings. The Foundation had renovated a decades-old house that was on the property, and converted it into office space. Around the building, they had plantings that were meant demonstrate features of the landscape, which I thought was really neat. Brent and Paul mentioned how it could inspire people with ways to make their own yards more suitable for California’s Mediterranean climate. There were also areas that were meant for children to play and interact with the environment, including a willow tunnel that kids could go through and logs they could jump across. The area was very kid friendly.

Next, we visited a small wetland area where they release turtles from the wildlife rescue center, because they may have a better chance of survival in what Brent jokingly called “fake nature.” I thought the comment was funny in the moment, but found that it stuck with me throughout the day . . . are our restoration efforts really producing “fake nature?”

I also really enjoyed hearing about the history of the Laguna De Santa Rosa and the surrounding areas from Paul and Brent. They explained how the Laguna is a water catchment, it was pretty eye opening to realize how much the Laguna floods. Brent showed us a large pole that they attached a camera to so they can take monitor the flood waters. Today, the camera was way over his head, but after a big rain they have to kayak out to come and get it.

Our tour ended by showing us their nursery and barn. They are growing many native plants for their own restoration projects, as well as some to sell to other organizations as a way to make a little money. They are also partnering with the California Native Plant Society and trying to get native plants to other places of restoration, including some areas affected by the wildfires that occurred this last October. The barn is really neat and has a long history, having been built before the Civil War. We also learned a little about how Sonoma County used to be known for selling hops and things that were non-perishable.  Learning little fun facts like these is one of the reasons I really enjoy going on fields trips with this class.

Eventually we made our way down to the creek and started the restoration work. They were growing the sedge in large patches.  It was our job to take chunks of the sedge out of a large patch, while leaving enough in place so the plants would be able to fill in the holes left behind. We had to dig around the piece of sedge we wanted, and try our best to not destroy the roots. If you did it right you would get what Brent called a “bomber:”  the sedge and then at the bottom a ball of roots and dirt. Brent made it look pretty easy, but when we actually tried it for ourselves we discovered it was a bit more difficult then he made it look. Still, not too bad. One thing many of us found out was that sedges definitely have edges – we ended up with cuts on our arms from being scraped by the sedge. It is for sure ingrained in my mind now that sedges have edges.

After we finished harvesting a couple of dozen buckets full of sedge, we brought it back to the area by the creek to be planted. We broke up into different jobs for this part. Some people were in charge of giving the sedge a “haircut “ which entails trimming off the top part of the plant, because we want them to focus their growth on their roots rather than their height. Some of us were in charge of digging holes, and others were actually planting the sedges. This part of the day was fun – we were all joking around and laughing while we worked. After planting the entire stretch with sedge, it was rewarding to look around and see the difference due to our work, and to know that it will help the landscape in the long run.

This restoration day was a really good balance of learning information about the landscape and actual hands on restoration. Big thanks to Laguna Foundation for hosting us!