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