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.

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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!

Laguna De Santa Rosa

Laguna De Santa Rosa

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.

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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.

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Wetland

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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

Laguna de Santa Rosa Field Trip

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Our Restoration Ecology class took a field trip to the Laguna de Santa Rosa on November 17th. There we met some of the Laguna Foundation staff: Brent, Hannah, and Paul. This was our second visit to a part of the Laguna this semester, and this time we started out with a tour of the Education Center and historical hops drying barn

IMG_5644While learning about the old hops barn – a building that dates back to the Civil War era – I pulled Brent aside and asked him about what plans they had for the building. He told me they were turning it into an informational historical site where the community could come learn about the barn’s history, and purpose. I had recently learned that native indigenous women of California had a central role in the hops industry, so I asked if he was going to include that information in what was offered to the public. He said he had not looked into that particular aspect of the barn’s history, but that he would do so as restoration of the barn progresses.

We then walked across the road with our guides and they showed us where we would harvest the plants to be transplanted later in the day. what plants we were targeting to propagate with shovels into buckets.

 

IMG_5682We were taking Juncus out of patches growing alongside the road. We used the shovels to cut a square around each clump we pulled out and made sure to not pull too many out in the same area. We loaded the buckets back into the truck and walked back to the
IMG_5697creek to have lunch.

 

Part II

After lunch, our class grabbed buckets of Juncus and planted them along the creek as part of the restoration project. We did this to help support native vegetative growth with a species that is known to do well and is resilient in outcompeting other species.

 

Riparian Restoration at Laguna de Santa Rosa

Riparian Restoration at Laguna de Santa Rosa

By Audrey Glazier

One dark, cloudy day in November, my Restoration Ecology class was joined by students in another ecology class to attend an educational field trip with the Laguna Foundation. The goal was to learn about the Foundation’s restoration efforts along the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and also gain field experience.

Referred to by the Laguna Foundation as Sonoma County’s ecological treasure, the Laguna de Santa Rosa is a tract of preserved land surrounded by urbanization. It has been altered significantly by humans in the past couple hundred years; cattle grazing by Spanish missionaries, clear-cutting during the Gold Rush, and channelization of the main creek have all left their mark. Remnants of old creek channels are still visible in parts of the Laguna, which now provides free public open space, with restoration efforts and public trails made possible by grants and state tax measures. It is important to restore this land and keep it healthy because it functions as a local wildlife corridor and a stopover for birds migrating along the Pacific flyway.

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Brent telling students about the laguna

We met the team – Paul, Brent, and Hannah – at the Foundation’s water treatment facility on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. The team led us to the site where we would be working, and gave us a brief overview on how restoration work is done. First and foremost, the plants are the most important aspect of a restoration project. It’s vital to keep plant sources local, so seeds for this site were harvested from within the Santa Rosa area, to ensure the new seedlings’ genetic ability to thrive in this particular habitat. Here, plants were placed in rows so they could easily mow the exotic grasses that native grazers (deer, rabbits, and gophers) won’t eat. It would be ideal to allow cattle grazing to keep the exotic grasses at bay, but new seedlings are too small to withstand cow activity.

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Restoration Ecology students conducting plant survey in the pouring rain

“Three years is the amount of time that a plant is going to be established after you plant it,” Brent said. Our site was planted five years ago, and was now ready to be decommissioned and left to its own devices. Our job, as the work crew for the day, was to survey the planted area and assess the survivorship of the restored vegetation, and then remove the irrigation hoses. Under darkening storm clouds, we set out in pairs, with each assigned a different species to search for. We tallied how many individuals were thriving, not doing well, or dead, and compared our findings to the previous survey from 2015. So far, the majority of the plants were doing great!

Suddenly, the clouds opened up and began dumping buckets on us! We spent our lunch hour huddled under portable awnings, hoping for it to stop before we needed to move on to the next task. Wendy St. John, our instructor, commented to the class that most people figure out early in their careers whether they’d prefer outdoor conservation work versus working form behind a desk. I suspect many, if not all, of the students made their decision at this moment!

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Collecting and trimming irrigation hose

After lunch, with only a light rain now falling, we pulled up all of the irrigation hoses, since the plants were big enough to fully rely on what nature provides. This involved gathering the lengths of hose, collecting all the metal anchors and plastic connectors, cutting the hoses into 4-foot lengths, and then bundling them up for disposal. It was muddy and exhausting, but we got it done within an hour or so.

Brent let us know that the Laguna Foundation is very grateful that our classes performed this work. We spent only a few hours at the site, but a smaller team might have spent at least an entire day completing the same tasks. This field trip was an important part of our conservation and restoration curriculum. We were able to get a taste for what restoration work is like, and to decide whether restoration field work is a career we’d like to pursue in the future.

 

 

Exploring Lagunitas Creek

IMG_8506.JPGLagunitas Creek is a home for many species of salmon and for a rare species of shrimp. In the past, the morphology of the creek was changed due to agriculture to increase the farmland area. Not only was the morphology changed but there was a dam installed further upstream that controls the velocity of the water flow. When a large storm brings an abundance of water, the flow of the stream has a high velocity since the river is straight and lacks debris. The young salmon living in the shallows of the stream stand no chance against rushing water – young fish are swept down the river and do not survive. The dam also prevented a build up of sediment from settling at the bottom of the river. This area was in need of help from people who had tempered with Mother Nature upstream. People who would contribute to helping the creek include the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited.


IMG_8505.JPG The restoration project we visited worked to increase habitat in the stream by placing logs into the stream. The logs  – native redwood trees from around the area – decrease the water flow and provide aquatic species a place to rest or hide. Most importantly the logs prevent young salmon from being washed away in a storm. The logs also provided the lakebed with nutrients by creating flood plains when there is an abundance of water. To prevent the logs from being carried away by the river, rods and boulders anchored them to the lakebed. While installing the debris, the restoration workers were careful to not harm the species they were trying to help.


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They also made new channels in retired farming fields where the river used to flow. The goal of the restoration project was to increase the amount of flood plains in the area, and to do this, they planted native vegetation such as willows in the new channels. The cost of the project was only $40,000 across 8 sites, however there was also a lot of time and effort that went into the project, including the work involved in filing paperwork and applying for permits.

Overall, the restoration project in Lagunitas Creek seems to be successful and in the hands of smart, capable people.

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The Restoration Team

Natural Mimicry: Man-made Structures Mimic Natural Processes In Lagunitas Creek

During our visit to Lagunitas creek, we were shown many different structures that had been created around and in the creek to better improve the health of its inhabitants. These man-made structures were created from a combination of natural materials (mainly wood) held together by rebar. The main objective of these structures was to help benefit the Coho Salmon during their breeding season and during juvenile growth. We got to take a look at two different structures. We looked at a man-made dam built to imitate a beaver dam and some water breaks built to slow water and create pools for the salmon to lay their eggs.

The dam was built to hold back large amounts of water and allow the water to flood over the banks of the creek and create flood plains during the rainy season. It was constructed with upward standing logs dug into the ground in a line across the creek with more logs laid down length-wise, wedged in between the vertical logs. Even though we were visiting while the creek was at its lowest, it was considerably deeper where the water was being held back by the dam. The surrounding area near the dam had been leveled out into a very gradual slope so the water could flood over the banks and create a wide floodplain for the salmon to swim up into during the winter rainy season.

Man-made dam built to mimic water retention historically provided by beaver dams

We also viewed many water breaks which had been placed to slow down the water during the rainy season when the current is at its strongest. The breaks are fallen trees and logs placed on the sides of the creek so that the logs cut into the sides of the creek. The logs were secured with rebar and then partially buried to hold them in place. As the water slows, pools of slow moving water form behind the logs giving the salmon a place to lay their eggs and providing habitat for the young salmonoids to mature.

Water breaks to slow down heavy water flow during the rainy season

Diagram of water break used to plan its construction

These structures we saw, while no perfect substitute for their natural counterparts, still managed to mimic the natural functions of a creek suitable for salmon to spawn and mature in. The lagunitas creek is already seeing improvements in Coho salmon populations with more and more visiting every year.

Copeland Creek: An Abundance of Natural History

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Holly using the Dichotomous Key. Photo © by Heather Kelly-Cavanaugh

Our first lab session, on September 1st, consisted of our entire class going out to Copeland Creek with professor Wendy St John.  It runs through the back of Sonoma State University, which surprisingly not many students know it even exists. As we walked up and down the creek we looked at different species and what possible restoration ideas could be set in place. The goal was to not only see the beautiful nature around us, but to also dive in and take a closer look at what we could do to improve the landscape.

Copeland Creek is 9 miles long, perennial, and completely human made. It comes down from Sonoma Mountain which is the home of Fairfield Osborn Preserve and runs through campus. Prehistorically this creek helped supply the Coast Miwok, Wappo and Pomo peoples before the European settlers arrived in the early 19th century The creek not only provides habitat for salmon and other aquatic animals, but it houses many terrestrial and riparian species.  As the years go on there are noticeable environmental issues that have risen. Bank erosion, invasive grasses and reduced populations of amphibians are just some examples of a larger list waiting to be addressed.

While on our walk along the creek, we talked about various reptiles and amphibians living there, as well as identifying native and non-native species. There are several oaks along the creek as well such as the willow, the big leaf maple and the cork oak which is an ornamental tree. A major non-native invasive species on the creek is the Himalayan Blackberry. It has taken over the landscape and reduced other species around it. The university has taken measures to eradicate the invasive species, however they are starting to grow back. We will continue efforts to keep the species at bay and convert the invasive species to the native California Blackberry. Other interesting species we identified while walking along the creek were: Buckeye, Poisoned Hemlock, California Grape, Black Walnut, Oregon Ash, and Coyote Bush.

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Ducks wandering around the area. Photo © by Heather Kelly-Cavanaugh

When we finished out walk along the Creek, we came back to the classroom and focused on possible restoration ideas for the creek as a whole and the in invasive species. We also discussed starting up a club to help restoration of the creek. Gaining new members and helping to restore the environment around us is something we all agreed on. We are all looking towards a brighter future for the creek.