Exploring the Presido Trust

Western Pond Turtle. Photo © W. St. John.

Western Pond Turtle. Photo © W. St. John.

By: Noah Henry

On Friday, October 23, our class visited the Presidio of San Francisco which was hosted by members of Presidio Trust. We left Sonoma State at around 9 AM and arrived between 11 and 12 PM. Our mission was to witness a restoration project in action and learn more about what was going on in Presidio of San Francisco.

Jason Lizenby, our guide, started us off by explaining what the Presidio was all about; its features, accomplishments, projects, goals, and more information. We learned that Presidio Trust is a federal agency that was created to save and protect the Presidio of San Francisco: a former military base that was turned into a park. It consists of much biodiversity, a forest, trails, two watersheds, Mountain Lake, and surrounding historical buildings. Some of the work that has been undertaken in the Presidio includes improving habitat values of degraded ecosystems, restoring historical buildings in the park and making them habitable again, and attempting to bring back biodiversity to natural areas.

The class  visited several interesting sites at the Presidio. There was a valley we looked upon that was restored in the 1990’s. It was a very disturbed habit from previous military use. The valley looked in great shape with lots of introduced and restored species of vegetation. We even saw a coyote.

Our friend at Presidio

Our friend at Presidio. Photo Credit. Noah Henry

There was also a restored site nicknamed “Deadman’s Dunes” which was fenced off.  Lew Stringer, a staff ecologist,  gave us the story of this habitat.  The dunes has areas of natural and reintroduced vegetation which covered landfills filled with dead bodies. What made it even more impressive was that it used to be a parking lot. Now the site has attracted species such as pocket gophers and different species of birds and has multiple vegetations types.


A restored habitat. With dead bodies

A restored habitat with dead bodies beneath. Photo Credit. Noah Henry.

We also visited Mountain Lake. The Presidio again wanted to turn something disturbed into a functioning ecosystem. Currently the staff is trying to prepare and protect Mountain Lake and other sites from the upcoming El Nino and potential stormwater. Some of the changes they made to Mountain Lake include removing sedimentation from the lake in 2013 and establishing more aquatic species partially by controlling algae growth.


We learned the lake is ready for reintroduction of several species such as the Stickleback. We got good information from Dana Terry, a Sonoma State graduate student who works at the presidio; about the successful reintroduction of Western Pond Turtles to Mountain Lake and how Sonoma State helped made the reintroduction possible. Currently  50-52 out of the original 54 turtles remain in Mountain Lake. They are tracked with attached tags and individual codes. A highlight for many students was when Dana Terry took two of the turtles out of a trap by the lake to show us.

Turtle at Mammoth Lake. Photo Credit. Noah henry

Turtle at Mountain Lake.
Photo Credit. Noah Henry

Overall it was a nice getaway trip for the day. It was informative, fun, and relaxing and there were a lot of neat sights to see.




Mountain Lake Field Trip: Teresa Vignale, Vanessa Fonti, and Cristina Scott

Mountain Lake Field Trip: Teresa Vignale, Vanessa Fonti, and Cristina Scott

We started off our trip at one of the Presidio buildings, and made our way past some of the old military quarters turned into housing over the years as means to preserve them. We then walked down to marshlands connected to mountain lake that had been restored in the last couple years, and met with Jason Lizenby, who is a Biological Science Technician for Mountain Lake and more specifically the Presidio Land Trust. Jason then introduced us to Bryan Hildebidle. He talked to us about the restoration process of Crissy Marsh while showing us pictures of the land before and after. It was quite amazing to see the difference that restoration can really make!  They were working on storm water pollution prevention because of a predicted wet winter. Previously, the land was degraded by the runoff from the highway nearby and almost no plants thrived there. Now, it is a green oasis of a marshland. There were also signs put up by a 6th grade class as a citizen science project around the fenced off site. The signs included scannable QR codes to learn more about the ecosystem and what was being done to protect it.

After this, we headed over to another restoration site made up of sand dunes where we met Lou Stringer; a restoration ecologist for Presidio Trust, a Federal Agency. It was so interesting to hear the history behind the sand dunes. Apparently it was an area where the military dumped the dead bodies of the men that passed away in the old hospital. Then it was used as a landfill. Contaminated waste and lead were dumped on top of the cemetery, then after trying to clean that up years later they put down native dune sand to try and bring back native plants. Presidio Trust is trying to eliminate pine and eucalyptus trees. There were 4 endangered plants when they started this project. One being the San Francisco Lessingia, more commonly known as “yellow fog” and another being the San Francisco manzanita. There are a few different types of habitat on their grounds, such as salt marshes, sand dunes, and oak woodlands. They also have the last free flowing creek in San Francisco known as “Lobos Creek.” There is also a golf course that they are trying to make more sustainable by mowing the lawns with a herd of 15 goats. This eliminates the need for pesticides.

Lastly, we went to Mountain Lake and learned about Western Pond Turtles (emys marmorata). A problem they have been battling is the fact that the water is stagnant which allows algae to grow and suffocates the life in the water. To avoid this, they have installed devices to aerate the lake so algae can not bloom. This results in other plants establishing and keeping the lake clean and clear. After the lake is cleaned, they can start introducing animals.

There has been a big issue with San Franciscans abandoning their unwanted pets near the lake which is not good for the ecosystem.To fix this problem, the Presidio Trust put a rescue box in place so that people can come drop off their pets (i.e. goldfish/turtles) without any consequences. They will then donate the animals to the reptile rescue organization and then they are given to wineries. This way, there are no unwanted or unmonitored introductions that could alter their progress.  The turtles themselves are all tagged and monitored daily. Each turtle has a little antenna attached to their shells, and they have satellite-like equipment to keep track of where they all are. Our guide caught two small turtles that we got to hold and look at up close!

All photos courtesy of Teresa Vignale.

Love Learning at Mountain Lake


Mountain Lake

On the 23rd of October 2015, Wendy St. John took our Sonoma State University Restoration Ecology class on a trip to the Presidio in San Francisco California. There we met four people directly involved with restoration at the Presidio: Brian Hildebidle who is the Presidio Trust Natural Resources Stewardship Coordinator; Jason Lisenby the Biological Science Technician; Lewis Stringer the Supervisory Restoration Ecologist; and Dana Terry an SSU graduate student.


Lewis Stringer Supervisory Restoration Ecologist


Brian Hildebidle, the Presidio Trust Natural Resources Stewardship Coordinator








Each of them play a significant role in the restoration of the Presidio, and given that our class is a restoration ecology class, they were there to tell us about the Presidio Trust and all the goals, efforts, and accomplishments of the various restoration projects they have undertaken.


Jason Lisenby (middle) the Biological Science Technician


Dana Terry, SSU graduate student

Preserving Buildings and Natural Landscape

Brian Hildebidle spoke first, sharing a brief history of the Presidio. The Presidio was originally established by the Spanish in 1776. In 1848 the U. S. Army took over the Presidio and occupied it until 1996 at which time the base was closed and turned over to the National Park

Service to be controlled by the newly established Presidio Trust. The Presidio Trust’s mission was to preserve and restore sensitive lands within the park. The Presidio Trust was required to be self sufficient within 15 years. Brian explained that 18,000 native plants are locally grown and that there is now a stormwater pollution prevention plan. He gave us an overview of the upland area of Mountain Lake and talked about the restoration work done there.


Restored dunes

Dunes Restoration Project

Brian led us up the trail to the sand dunes restoration site, which is behind an old hospital. Here we met Lewis Stringer. Lewis explained to us

that originally the site was a cemetery for those who died at the hospital. Over the years, hazardous waste had been dumped on top of the cemetery and more recently, part of the area had been paved over to create a parking lot. During the restoration efforts the parking lot was removed and the hazardous waste was covered with a process called capping. The dune restoration project  have been restored with the help of volunteers and an endemic plant, the San Francisco Lasinga, has been saved and is now a part of the restoration .

Restoring Mountain Lake

After enjoying lunch, our group listened to and learned from Jason Lisenby, an enthusiastic and animated professional who has been highly involved in the restoration of Mountain Lake. As with the other restoration site we were first given the history behind the need for the restoration. It turns out that the installation of Highway 1 caused big problems for this 4 acre natural lake. The highways development caused a reduction in its depth (going from 30 feet to 10 feet) and its runoff created continuous pollution (core samples showed high levels of lead). After years of litigation with Caltrans the restoration of this site began in 2013. Restoration efforts include:

  • Dredging the lake to remove pollutants
  • Removing invasive species, such as carp, which root up aquatic plants reducing oxygen levels in the water, among other things.
  • Eliminating sources of pollution, including highway and golf course runoff
  • Exotic species dumping, which is done through education and drop boxes. The boxes have already acquired 9 animals.
  • Educating the public, which includes working with schools.
  • Providing habitat for native species, especially the Western Pond Turtle.
  • Reintroducing native species such as, Western Pond Turtle, Three-spined stickleback, California floater mussel, Pacific chorus frog, and floating pondweed to name a few.

Exotic Species Drop Box

Headstarting Western Pond Turtles

As mentioned previously, the efforts to restore Mountain Lake include the reintroduction of Western Pond Turtles. This project is carried out and researched by Dana Terry, who works in collaboration with the Oakland and San Francisco zoos. There turtles are hatched and sexed, in an effort to research nesting temperatures and sex outcomes. After between one and three years of head-starting, they are then brought to Mountain. Lake, where they are either immediately released into the lake (hard release), or kept in cages at the site for two weeks before release, where they receive food during this acclimation period (soft release). To conduct his research Dana uses radio telemetry or baited traps, which are completely harmless, to relocate the turtles so he can measure growth rate. Over time, this research and monitoring should help restoration and conservation practitioners to determine how successful the work has been, in regards to the success of the species.


Western Pond Turtle


Getting a Closer Look at One of the Western Pond Turtles



Mountain Lake


By: Shaunice Newton

Our trip to Mountain Lake started off in front of a couple of buildings. As it turns out the buildings used to be military quarters and a hospital back in the day. Now it serves as housing for a variety of people totaling up to approximately 50,000 people residing in the Presidio. It was pretty cool to learn that the people that live in the Presidio are actually helping to fund restoration efforts through the rent they are paying.

Walking passed the buildings we came across a marshland area. It was at this area where we met Jason Lizenby whom is the Biological Science Technician for Mountain Lake. Jason then introduced us to one of his colleagues Bryan Hildebidle who spends his career protecting wetlands and lakes. Together they talked about one of the first restoration projects that went on at the Presidio and showed us before and after images of what the marshland looked like before the restoration and after it. The after image was pretty stunning. It was a healthy beautiful lush green environment that you would have never guess was ever in any type of bad condition.

Our next stop on the trip was an area with sand dunes, this is where we met another colleague of Jason, and his name was Lew Stringer, a restoration ecologist for the Presidio Trust. At the sand dune site Lew had informed us that the sand dune site was actually a restoration site. It was previously used as a graveyard and later on as a dumping ground by the military years ago. The environment was in horrible condition, it was polluted with lead and other things that were making it unhealthy for the flora and fauna that resided in and around it. Lew said that when they first started restoration, they were pulling out many random things, like a fire pole and an escape ladder; and that they also had to tear out concrete because a parking lot was close by the project site. When the Presidio Trust acquired the land, they set out to decontaminate it and restore it to a better condition. I have no idea what this project site had looked like before, but it was now a thriving sand dune community put in place to promote native plant species.

When the project first started, there were four endangered plants on the Presidio that grow nowhere else in the world, three of them are: the Franciscan Manzanita, Dune Gilia, and the San Francisco Lessingia. Some of them were found in San Francisco’s last free flowing creek, Lobos Creek, which previously housed a baseball diamond and a barn, but was also restored back to better conditions. The endangered species were then reintroduced and are now thriving within the restored ecosystem.

Our last stop on the trip was at a beautifully restored lake called Mountain Lake, here we learned about the lake and some of its history. Mountain Lake was originally 30 ft. deep in 1938. Sediment was thrown into it during the construction of the highway right next to it, because of this the lake shrunk to 10 ft. deep. Once all of the restoration on the lake was finished, it was then calculated to be 15 ft. deep.

Mountain Lake was restored from horrible conditions. It was stagnant allowing algae to grow, the highway next to Mountain Lake polluted it for years with all of its runoff, people living around the area would release their unwanted pets in the lake, and the lake also had housed rampant populations of carp and sturgeon, which were not good for the lake or the environment around it. Now the lake is now clear of algae and has an aeration system to both keep a current in the lake and add oxygen to it, it also has a filtration system to filter the runoff from the highway so it will not continuously pollute the lake. After a lengthy battle with the carp and sturgeon in which they were all killed off and removed from the lake, Mountain Lake now houses 3-spine stickleback fish which were introduced in April, Pacific chorus frogs which was introduce in April-May, and 52 Western pond turtles which were introduced in July- September. Overall the trip was very informative and fun. I learned so much and saw adorable Western pond turtles.


A day at the Presidio

November 19,2015 by Rebecca Wolvek

Our day began around 11 AM when we reached the Presidio. The first thing that stood out were the buildings which were reminders of their war era usage. Nothing like the stacked housing of San Francisco, these buildings were military quarters or hospitals, now used for housing as a way to bring in money to the Presidio and preserve it’s history. The Presidio became part of the Presidio Trust in the late 90’s in hopes of restoring and preserving the area. It is in the hands of a federal agency who’s main goal in being able to obtain the land was to be sustainable without tax-payer support. In 2013, the Presidio successfully became financially self sufficient, making it a publicly protected area. Now, the goals of the Presidio are those of archaeology, preservation, remediation, restoration, and drawing in the public.

photo credit: Rebecca Wolvek

One of the buildings on the Presidio now used as housing. Photo © R. Wolvek

After passing the main buildings, our guide, Jason Lizenby, the Biological Science Technician for Mountain Lake and part of the Presidio Land Trust, gave us a brief history of the surrounding areas of the Presidio and into the lake. He and Bryan Hildebidle talked about one of the first major restoration projects, the Crissy Marsh. We were able to see the differences in the land from photos provided by Mr. Hildebidle. It was amazing to see the difference! From there, it was onto the sand dune restoration site.

At the site we met up with Lew Stringer, a restoration ecologist for the Presidio Trust. The land had previously used as a grave site for those who had died during the war. Overtime, it became used as a landfill and waste and lead were dumped on top of the land. When the Presidio Trust got a hold of the land, their task was to decontaminate the land and restore it. When the project first started, there were four endangered plant species reintroduced, one of them being a small yellow flower and the other the San Francisco manzanita.

A few of the plant species found in the Presidio

A few of the plant species found in the Presidio. Photo © R. Wolvek

Finally, it was on to the main attraction, Mountain Lake. We were able to walk along the lake and see up close the fish barrier. This simple barrier was put up because of a major problem with invasive aquatic species. People would release domestic fish and turtles into the lake, thinking it was a more humane release. With the removal of unwanted species, such as red eared slider turtles, carp, and a species of crayfish to name a few, it was time to focus on reintroducing the more favorable species, these being Western Pond Turtles and Pacific Chorus Frog. Once the quality of the water was up to proper standards, the turtles that had been raised in captivity were ready to be released. Each turtle was equipped with a specially applied radio transmitter to its shell. These transmitters are used to detect where the turtles, even if underwater. We got to see these special turtles up close!

two beautiful turtles showing off their radio antennae

Two beautiful turtles showing off their radio antennae. Photo © R. Wolvek

Point Reyes Tule Elk Reserve

By Jessica Furtado, Alizé Joubert, Nicholas Stone

Our Journey began at 9:00 AM on Friday, October 2nd. Dr. Hall Cushman’s Ecology class and Dr. Caroline Christian’s Restoration Ecology class from Sonoma State University boarded eight vehicles to caravan toward the Tule elk reserve at Point Reyes. Hours later, we arrived with high spirits to progress our practical understanding of scientific method as it is used in field data collection. Before we could begin data collection though, we first had to understand the multitude of environmental and behavioral factors that might influence our study organism.

Where we stopped for a bathroom break before reaching our destination (Photo credit: Jessica Furtado)

Where we stopped for a bathroom break before reaching our destination (Photo credit: Jessica Furtado)

While still driving to our destination, we spotted our first tule elks (Cervus canadensis nannodes). Standing gracefully upon the hills, the buck elk raised its head and tootled (bugled) to the heavens. When we disembarked from our long voyage, Dr. Cushman gathered us all around for a lesson in the natural – and unnatural – history of tule elk.

Historically, Tule elk were present throughout California. However, due to hunting and habitat conversion, their numbers dramatically declined. In 1978 ten elk were reintroduced to Tomales Point. Since then their numbers have increased substantially, with natural fluctuations due to environmental stochasticity, such as prolonged drought. The elk reserve is 2,500 acres and is surrounded by a fence to keep cattle and elk on their allotted sides, but there is still conflict between environmentalists and ranchers about the reintroduced elk.

The fence surrounding one of the experimental plots. (Photo credit: Jessica Furtado)

The fence surrounding one of the experimental plots. (Photo credit: Jessica Furtado)

In 1998, an exclosure experiment was started to see if elk had any effect on the land. The experiment consists of twenty-four plots in three different habitat types; shrub-free grasslands, coyote bush grasslands, and bush lupine grasslands. Each plot is quite large at thirty-six meters by thirty-six meters. Dr. Cushman mentioned that if he had done the planning for this experiment, he would have made the plots smaller and had more of them so that there statistical power would be higher. There are many different research projects being done on the property by graduate students. SSU graduate student Cody Ender is seeing the effect elk have on velvet grass abundance, frequency and characteristics, while SSU graduate student Eric Cecil is looking to see if elk are affecting the arthropod community.

After we had lunch, Dr. Cushman called everyone over so he could give us directions for our assignment. We would have to collect data in the field and put the data together on one graph to see if there was a correlation between dung frequency and percentage of shrub cover. This practice helped to introduce the classes to field data collection and working together in a big group.

We were split into four groups, two groups stationed below the trail and two groups stationed above the trail. The area below the trail had more open grassland while the area above the trail had more shrub cover. Each group was given a transect and a meter quadrat. Within each group, we were split again into two smaller groups, one would collect dung frequency data, the other would measure and record shrub cover.

Measuring 30 meters perpendicular to the trail, each group would use the quadrat to measure the amount of dung every 5 meters. We recorded the number of quadrats in which dung was present. We also measured the percentage of shrub cover by recording the length of any bush that intersected with our transect. After each transect was done, two students would grab the ends of the transect and move about four paces west. This was repeated five times.

Once every group was finished, all the data collectors came together to put their data on a single graph. Once the graph was finished, it was concluded that there was no correlation between the percentage of shrub cover and the frequency of dung.


The fence that separates the elk reserve from cattle ranches (Photo credit: Jessica Furtado)

When we finished our data analysis and when the day’s discussion was at an end, our group meandered back to the automobile fleet and we set off away, back to SSU. On our way out, we were able to observe the drastic change between the elk preserve and the pasture lands.

Overall, this field trip was very interactive and engaging, showing the class field techniques used to gather data as well as the proper tools used for field research. Working together also helped us to understand that a group can accomplish more much quicker than a few individuals. The history of the Tule elk can assist Environmental Studies and Planning students in understanding the restoration of large vertebrate animals as well.

Tule Elk of Point Reyes

By Heidi Schindler, Megan Rosario and Megan Stock

On October 2nd, our Restoration Ecology class joined an Ecology class from Sonoma State University on a trip to Point Reyes National Seashore at the Tule Elk Preserve. The field trip was led by Dr. Hall Cushman and his graduate students currently studying the preserve, who provided information on the type of research they were involved in regarding the preserve. The purpose of this trip was to experience what type of work is involved when studying a restoration site and the type of research that has been done to accomplish a scientific study of ecology. We also performed a type of field method called transect sampling and created a quick data set and hypotheses based on our observations.

Our trip started with a quick historical overview of the preserve and then the type of research currently being performed by Dr. Cushman and his graduate students. Dr. Cushman began by telling the history of Tule elk. Due to hunting, the Tule elk population was reduced to about 100 individuals. A single rancher in the area protected the elk just on his land which were the last of the elk and single-handedly saved the Tule elk from going extinct. In 1978, 10 Tule elk were introduced in Tomales Point, did very well and experienced nearly perfect exponential growth until 1998. Since then, due to dry years and the drought, Tule elk have experienced a fluctuating population.

In 1998, scientists began to study the effects of Tule elk and vegetation. They found that the reintroduction of the Tule elk has had varying effects on this ecosystem. To explore the question of whether or not large mammals can be used to restore ecosystems was posed, a large scale experiment was initiated. It was created in a 100 acre area with 24 plots distributed under 3 habitat types (shrub-free grasslands, grasslands with coyote brush [Baccharis pilularis], and grasslands with lupines[Lupinus punto-reyesenis]), with one third of the experiment performed in each habitat type. They created fenced and non-fenced plots within each area to reduce bias. Dr. Cushman’s current research is on Tule elk and how their reintroduction has affected the ecology of the preserve.

Before we walked out to one of the nearby enclosures, a few of the graduate students at Sonoma State who have been working at the Tule Elk Preserve shared with us their ideas for their projects and what they were hoping to gauge as they conducted their individual research. One of the students focused on soil ecology within the reserve boundaries. She intended to analyze characteristics of soil such as soil compaction, water filtration through soil mediums, and nutrient abundance (just to name a few) and how the Tule Elk impact these aspects of soils. Another individual observed that a particular invasive plant species was preferred by the Tule Elk. This led her to the question; will this preferential feeding on this invasive plant species result in a phenotypic alteration of the vegetative species? Cody Ender will be looking into the effects that the Tule Elk have on Holcus lanatus, the invasive velvet grass. Generally the velvet grass is persistent in areas that have been subject to low grazing levels so with the fairly recent Tule Elk population increase, the velvet grass could substantially decline. This decline could potentially lead to the emergence of native vegetation by lessening the competition between the vigorous Holcus lanatus and native grasses. Cody’s study is similar to the research of Dr. Cushman and Brent Johnson; however, Cody will be analyzing more current conditions of the elk/Holcus lanatus interactions. The final research that was presented to us came from Eric Cecil. Eric would like to further his research on the Tule Elk Preserve by focusing on arthropods. He intends to shed light on whether or not arthropods are having a significant effect on the plant composition. He plans on manipulating plot areas within the preserve by excluding arthropods and comparing those exclusionary plots with plots that include the arthropods.

We sampled along several transects (as illustrated in the photos), and concluded that there was no correlation between shrub cover and the presence of dung. Overall we and our peers had a very educational experience from this field trip as well getting to enjoy the gorgeous Point Reyes vista. It was a valuable learning experience in understanding field techniques and the type of research that is done in restoration.

A fenced plot with a Baccharis dominant grassland type.

A fenced plot with a Baccharis dominant grassland type. Photo Credit- Megan Stock

We used a quadrat consisting of 25 cells, to be able to find the frequency of Elk dung.

We used a quadrat consisting of 25 cells, to be able to find the frequency of Elk dung.  Photo Credit- Megan Stock

One type of the grassland observed in the Tule Elk Experiment.

One type of the grassland observed in the Tule Elk Experiment.  Photo Credit- Megan Stock

A type of grassland observed in the Tule Elk Experiment.

A type of grassland observed in the Tule Elk Experiment.  Photo Credit- Megan Stock

Dr. Cushman, Cody Ender, and Eric Cecil talking about their experiments on Tomales Point.

Dr. Cushman, Cody Ender, and Eric Cecil talking about their experiments on Tomales Point.  Photo Credit- Megan Stock

A harem of females in an unfenced area on Tomales Point.

A harem of females in an unfenced area on Tomales Point.  Photo Credit- Megan Stock