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Recent Events & Highlights

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Award for Jim VanHouten

Green Careers
Jim Van Houten preparing to help build the greenhouse

At its annual Watsonville Wetlands Watch Volunteer Appreciation Celebration on December 3rd, a special award was presented to Jim Van Houten of La Selva Beach, a founding member of Watsonville Wetlands Watch (WWW) and long-time member of its board of directors. The award from WWW volunteers, staff and the board of directors honors Jim’s service to the organization since its inception in 1992 and his dedication to helping preserve, restore, and appreciate Watsonville’s wetlands.

While announcing the award, Lou Rose, president of WWW’s board of directors, commented, “With your long-standing passion for the wetlands and commitment to the Watsonville Wetlands Watch, you have been a model and an inspiration to us all. As a founder of the organization and an outstanding contributor in many ways for a quarter-century, we recognize you as a supreme example of unselfish leadership. Holding you in highest esteem, we congratulate and thank you for all that you have achieved for the community through the Watsonville Wetlands Watch.” Lou announced that in January Jim will also receive a proclamation from the City of Watsonville declaring World Wetlands Day, February 2, 2016, as Jim Van Houten Day in the City of Watsonville.

Over the years Jim has advocated for wetland issues, helped restore degraded habitats, and supported the Watch’s programs that help educate elementary, middle, and high school students in the Pajaro Valley School District, as well as the public in general. Jim has participated in service projects such as the slough cleanups that began in 1992, staffed the first Wetlands Watch Earth Day Booth in 1993, provided equipment and know-how for early restoration projects and has led countless tours of the wetlands over the years.

Jim was a founding member of Watsonville Wetlands Watch’s Planning and Conservation Committee and served as its chairperson for many years. He has led the organization in many policy and program initiatives and developed partnerships with other organizations to ensure wetlands protection and enhancement. Jim played a major role in the Pajaro River Flood Control project, the Manabe-Ow Specific Plan, the purchase of Tarplant Hill, and Watsonville City Planning. (01/2016)

Watsonville Wetlands Watch Benefits from “Outstanding in the Field” Dinner

Diners at table a few minutes after sunset, lit with candles
On a beautiful day in November, a long table for 100 diners was set up in a field on the High Ground Organics farm. The view overlooking Harkins Slough was spectacular. This was a stop along a farm-to-table dinner tour called “Outstanding in the Field.” and a benefit for Watsonville Wetlands Watch.

Wetlands Watch President Lou Rose spoke to the guests before dinner, explaining our three-part mission of protecting and restoring the wetlands of the Pajaro Valley, and helping to develop a community-wide appreciation of them. Before darkness fell and the candles were lit, some fortunate diners saw one of the resident Bald Eagles soaring overhead. And everyone saw an incredible display of Wetlands birds – including Ospreys, White Pelicans, Red-tailed Hawks, White-tailed Kites and a Great Blue Heron.

(Very) fresh produce from High Ground Organics highlighted the dinner, including beet tartare appetizers, a salad of little gem lettuce, dried persimmons and winter squash, and a bean and kabocha squash fagioli. Citrus-braised lamb cheeks were accompanied by polenta and shaved autumn vegetables. A ricotta cheesecake with a squash and walnut praline topping completed the feast.

Smoked cod mousse was also presented as an appetizer, courtesy of Real Good Fish of Monterey, along with fine wines donated by Galerie Wines of Calistoga, Botanic Spirits Gin donated by Falcon Spirits, and hard cider from Tanuki Cider of Soquel. Guest chefs were Mark Denham of Soif in Santa Cruz, and Brad Briske of La Balena in Carmel.

Watsonville Wetlands Watch thanks Jim Denevan, who runs Outstanding in the Field, for his generous financial contribution. Jim’s vision is to bring farmers, chefs and locals together for dinners that connect the diners to their farming neighbors. His movable feast has been to all fifty states and Europe.

Our special thanks to environmentally-conscious Steve and Jeanne Pedersen, owners of High Ground Organics, who were outstanding hosts. They led the group on tours of their farm, explaining how produce is raised organically and the symbiotic relationship between agriculture and nearby wildlife habitats. Their farm is part of the Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA). For information, see the High Ground Organics website. (10/2015)

Two Eaglets at Watsonville Slough

by Biologist and Environmental Consultant Gary Kittleson

Fred Keeley at Lecturn in front of audience at WWW
Photo by Gary Kittleson

On February 10, 2015 the Watsonville Sloughs’ resident pair of bald eagles began again their long, patient process of raising young. Bald eagles were first documented unsuccessfully nesting in Santa Cruz County in 2012 at Pinto Lake and then again in 2013 on a private property in South County. Last year, however, the pair successfully hatched and fledged a single eaglet, the first ever recorded in Santa Cruz County. This year there are two eaglets.

Breeding bald eagles were absent for most of the last century in Central California after the egg-shell thinning effects of DDT brought the species to near extinction. Once DDT’s ban went into effect, the Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) began a major effort to reintroduce bald eagles in Central California. Between 1986 and 2000, researchers from the VWS released 70 juvenile bald eagles that were originally collected from wild nests in Alaska, Canada, and northern California.

The juvenile eagles were brought to Monterey County, raised to fledging size, and released from private land in Big Sur (now used as the California Condor release site) and from Lake San Antonio in southern Monterey County. The first bald eagle nests in the Central Coast were located in northern San Luis Obispo County in 1993. Since then, between 25 and 30 different bald eagle breeding territories have been established in Central California. Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is that the original "imported" juvenile eagles were released without parents to train them. Despite great odds, these young birds were ultimately successful in returning north, unguided, to Northwest Canada as juveniles to feed on the abundant salmon runs before coming back south, down the west coast to nest in Central California.

Pair of eaglets in their nest. Photo by Gary Kittleson

Bald eagle courtship and mating can be a dramatic experience of entangled nuptial flights and treetop trysts. Our local eagles remained at the sloughs throughout the summer but were seldom seen close together. That changed around New Year’s Day when the 2014 juvenile bald eagle returned to the area and was observed first solo at College Lake, then together with the parent birds the Watsonville Sloughs. It even made a brief appearance at the adult eagles’ unsuccessful nest site from 2013. Not long after the family reunion, the juvenile eagle left the area and the adult pair was seen copulating high in the eucalyptus groves above Harkin Slough on January 30, 2015. And so it all began again.

Building, or in this case refurbishing, an eagle nest requires serious aerial heavy lifting. The nest itself is roughly the size and shape of a vintage Volkswagen Beetle, flipped upside down and nestled into the crotch of a large eucalyptus tree. The eagles are regularly observed carrying large sticks snapped off in flight from the tops of the many dead willow snags in the sloughs. They also favor clumps of grass from the recently restored uplands on the Land Trust’s Watsonville Slough Farm, where we do a lot of native grassland restoration, and pine boughs from the trees at the Roundtree Lane Detention Facility near the Buena Vista Landfill. The regular collection and placement of this greenery presumably is done to "freshen up the nest," which receives a daily supply of carp, Sacramento blackfish, bullhead, goldfish and America coots from the sloughs and lakes of South County to feed the growing, nest-bound young. (03/2015)

Standing Room Only for Fred Keeley Discussion

Fred Keeley at Lecturn in front of audience at WWW

On Thursday, February 5th, former California State Assemblyman and Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley spoke to a standing room only audience at the Watsonville Wetlands Watch’s Wetlands Environmental Resource Center (WERC) at Pajaro Valley High School. Fred was invited to speak about two large land use initiatives that Santa Cruz County residents need to know about: the campaign to have the Coastal Dairies property northwest of Santa Cruz designated as the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument, and the proposed creation of a county-wide Open Space District. The Watsonville Wetlands Watch board has since endorsed the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument initiative.

Keeley began by explaining that a National Monument is similar to, but not the same as, a National Park. The power to a designate a “National Monument” was created in 1906 during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. It empowers either the President or Congress, acting individually, to set aside a historic site or geographical area and have it protected and maintained for public use. The campaign organizers are working with both the Office of the President and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s office. National Monuments get some priority with regard to Federal government appropriations.

According to Keeley the 5,843-acre Coastal Dairies Ranch property encompasses much of the coast land between Laguna Creek, eight miles northwest of Santa Cruz, and Scott Creek, roughly 6 miles further up Highway 1, with the town of Davenport approximately halfway between. The property was held for more than a century by two Swiss families who acquired the land in the 1860s and later merged their properties in 1902. In the late 1960s, PG&E acquired an option to build a nuclear power plant on El Jarro Point about two miles north of Davenport, but abandoned the idea when seismic studies found the area unsuitable. The property was purchased in 1998 by the Save-the-Redwoods League for $44.5 million, much of which was provided by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. In October, 2014, the property was given to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the second most valuable property donation in the bureau’s history.

Keeley feels that the proposed Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument is an important step in the broader effort to establish a Santa Cruz County Open Space District. An Open Space District is established by the voters in a geographic area to help define and manage local land development and use. He cited the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District on the San Francisco Peninsula as an excellent example of how local residents helped manage development in the hills adjacent to Silicon Valley and nearby areas beginning in the 1970s. An Open Space District can coordinate and channel taxpayer funds to specific projects that are part of a regional plan developed by the district that reflects the aspirations of local residents.

Keeley pointed out that there are multiple municipalities that are “owners” of various lands in the county. Local municipalities, such as Watsonville, Capitola, Santa Cruz, and Scotts Valley have established local parks and recreation facilities, but so have the State of California and the Federal government. An Open Space District takes a regional view and helps define a use and a funding plan that allocates voter-approved tax revenues to specific projects.

The Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument campaign kick-off was held on February 12th at the Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz. More than 1,500 people attended. In addition to Keeley, the event featured speeches by former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo who, on video from Washington, announced that she had just introduced a bill to create the National Monument. Also speaking was California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird and others from the BLM, the Monument Campaign, and representatives from other California communities that have established new National Monuments.

For more information on the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument see:

http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/environment-and-nature/20150212/santa-cruz-redwoods-national-monument-campaign-officially-kicks-off
http://santacruzredwoods.org/
http://sempervirens.org/

Watsonville Wetlands Watch has enthusiastically endorses the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument. The Open Space District is still in the early phases of planning and we have not endorsed it. We are studying the Open Space District proposal and participating in the discussions, and encourage interested people to learn more about this important issue. (03/2015)

Volunteers and Staff Rescue Red-tailed Hawk

Hawk rescuers settling the bird in the carrying crate.
L - R: Adrienne, Darren, Jeanne, Noelle, and Buddy

While Watsonville Wetlands Watch volunteers Jeanne Greatorex and Buddy Nethercutt were doing water quality testing on the banks of Struve Slough in January, they noticed a large hawk floundering in the reeds, beating its wings in distress. As they approached the bird, it jumped on a fence post and tried to fly, then promptly fell back in the water and struggled again to the reeds. Buddy and Jeanne left the site and when they returned to check on the bird over an hour later, the bird was still struggling. The volunteers returned to the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center for advice and assistance. They returned with Education staff members Noelle Antolin, Adrienne Frisbee, and Darren Gertler, a kayak and some equipment for capturing and securing the bird.

During the delicate rescue mission, Darren and Adrienne in the kayak, and Noelle in waders and up to her waist in the water, managed to corral and capture the very unhappy and very large bird. During the rescue operation, an adult hawk kept an eye on the situation from a nearby lamppost. Volunteers Buddy and Jeanne then transported the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk to the Native Animal Rescue facility in Santa Cruz. The cause of the hawk’s distress was never discovered, but after being fed and re-hydrated at the facility for 5 days, Buddy was able to drive the quite feisty bird in a cat carrier back to the wetlands.

The hawk was released on the Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, next to Pajaro Valley High School and close to the site of the rescue. To the delight of all, the hawk burst out of the carrier, flew for a little while about 3 feet off the ground (while everyone held their breath), and then lifted off. About 10 minutes later, an adult hawk met the juvenile in mid-air, where they did a spiral and flew off together. Click to see a video of the release.

We would like to extend our gratitude to these dedicated volunteers who played such an important role in rescuing this magnificent animal, and to our friends at the Native Animal Rescue who work tirelessly to bring injured animals back to health. (03/2015)

Wetlands Watch Welcomes New Board Members

Left: Denise Murphy. Photo:Efren Adalem. Right: Donna Bradford, Photo: Denise Murphy

At its December 17th meeting, the Watsonville Wetlands Watch Board of Directors elected two new members, Denise Murphy and Donna Bradford. Denise and Donna both received unanimous approval and will begin serving as board members immediately. Both work in the environmental field and are long-time residents of Watsonville. Read entire article.

Denise Murphy is an Interpreter at Natural Bridges State Park and lives very close to Struve Slough in Watsonville. She became a WWW docent in 2011 after completing the training class and hopes that as a board member she can continue to help attract attention and raise awareness about the wetlands. Denise is also a photographer. Her photographs have been used for the WWW website and presentations to show the beauty of the wetlands and why they need preservation.

Donna Bradford lives in the foothills outside Watsonville. She holds a Master’s degree in Marine Biology from San Francisco State University. She recently retired after 25 years working for the County of Santa Cruz as a Resource Planner IV. She worked on a number of environmental and water resource issues and served as a liaison to other federal, state and local resource agencies. Her responsibilities included preparing grant applications and administering funded grant programs in a diverse number of fields encompassing wetland and watershed restoration, land conservation easements, oil spill contingency planning, and water quality data collection. She has been involved in Watsonville Sloughs Watershed planning efforts over the past 20 years.

Denise and Donna are welcome additions to the Watsonville Wetlands Watch Board of Directors.

Veteran Docent Cathy Gamble Recognized by Santa Cruz DAR

Cathy Gamble with students at Tarplant Hill
Cathy Gamble with students at Tarplant Hill
Cathy receiving award from fellow
Wetlands Watch docent
and DAR officer Priscilla Partridge
At a special luncheon on Wednesday, Jan. 28, Santa Cruz Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) presented their 2014 Community Service Award to Watsonville Wetlands Watch Docent Cathy Gamble for her volunteer work in the wetlands. The Daughters of the American Revolution is a women’s service organization that promotes historic preservation, education, and patriotism.

As one of the Watch’s most veteran docents, over the past 10 years Cathy has made a major contribution to numerous programs and projects at the Watch. She has facilitated countless field trips, spearheaded the project to create the wonderful Wetlands Diorama in the Wetlands Educational Center classroom, and is now the leader of the industrious and aptly-named “Prolific Propagators.” She has worked thousands of hours for the Watch and has really gone “above and beyond” in all her endeavors. Thank you, Cathy! Your recognition by the DAR is well deserved.

City of Santa Cruz Proclaims World Wetlands Day

Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane and the Watch’s Board President Lou Rose. Photo by Efren Adalem
Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane and the Watch’s
Board President Lou Rose. Photo by Efren Adalem
A World Wetlands Day Proclamation was presented by the City of Santa Cruz to the Watsonville Wetlands Watch on January 27 in recognition of the importance of local wetlands and our role in caring for them. The Proclamation was delivered at a Council meeting by the City’s Mayor Don Lane and accepted on behalf of WWW by its Board President, Lou Rose.

The Proclamation reads:

Whereas…February 2, 2015 is World Wetlands Day, and more than 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900, and

Whereas…the City of Santa Cruz has under its protection many important wetland resources, including Neary Lagoon and the San Lorenzo River corridor, and

Whereas…the wetlands of Santa Cruz County’s Pajaro Valley are some of the last remaining large slough systems on the California coast, and

Whereas… the wetlands play a vital ecological role in the health, beauty, and enjoyment of our county, and

Whereas…Our wetlands are vital to native plants, animals, and more than 250 species of local and migrating birds, including ten species listed by the state of California as being of special conservation concern, and

Whereas…the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History conducts valuable wetlands education programs for 3rd and 5th grade students in Neary Lagoon, and

Whereas…Since 1992 Watsonville Wetlands Watch has worked to restore, manage, and preserve over 1500 acres of uplands and wetlands and fostered the community’s appreciation of the wetlands through tours, lectures, hands-on restoration, and education, and

Whereas…the youth education programs provided by the Museum of Natural History and the Watsonville Wetlands Watch teach young people to appreciate the ecological and cultural functions of the wetlands and embrace their responsibilities as stewards of the environment,

Therefore… be it resolved that the City of Santa Cruz recognizes February 2, 2015 as World Wetlands Day, urges the community to enjoy and care for the wetlands, and commends the staff and volunteers of the Watsonville Wetlands Watch, the Museum of Natural History, and the many other conservation-minded organizations in our region for their ongoing stewardship of our precious wetlands, an ecological treasure in our county.

Volunteers Celebrate Annual Event

The “Garden Gurus” captured at the photo booth
On a stormy evening in early December, nearly 100 people gathered at the Cypress House at Pajaro Dunes for the 2014 Volunteer Appreciation Celebration and Holiday Party. At this year’s event we had a special surprise. Todd Parker, a chef for the Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos, generously agreed to cook a Southern-inspired meal for us that featured gumbo. Besides the delightful food, we had a fun photo-booth and a short program where Board member Kris Beall and program directors Jonathan Pilch and Noelle Antolin highlighted the many accomplishments of the volunteers over the year.

Our volunteers are absolutely critical to the success of our organization. Dozens of volunteers work thousands of hours each year to support our Education, Restoration and Outreach programs. Their dedication and generosity is a constant inspiration to us all, and there is no way that we can ever fully express our gratitude.

We would like to thank the many parties that made this event possible. A special thanks to Chefs Todd Parker and Rebecca Mastoris, Pajaro Dunes Homeowner’s Association and Pajaro Dunes Resort, Whole Foods, New Leaf, Target, High Ground Organics, Lakeside Organics, Corralitos Market and Sausage Co., Safeway, Starbucks, Carol Fuller, Watsonville Wetlands Watch Board members, and the Wetland Stewards high school interns. And most important of all — Thank you volunteers! (01/2015)

An Inspiring Focus on Education

by Board Member Lou Rose

On Saturday, October 25th, at the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center, thirty people braved the morning rain to attend an unusual gathering of local students, educators, philanthropists, Watsonville Wetlands Watch (WWW) board members, and WWW staff. Attendees representing the Pajaro Valley Unified School District and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education joined with program funders like Bruce Nicholson of the Nicholson Family Foundation, Patrick Fitz, and other individual supporters to meet the real stars of the day: nine current students and recent graduates from our Wetland Stewards program and participants in our Regional Occupational Program (ROP) Green Careers initiative.

WWW Education Director Noëlle Antolin presented the specifics of the Wetland Stewards and ROP programs. She was followed by board member Athena Barrios, who told of her own personal educational and career path, beginning as a Wetland Steward. She then earned a degree in marine biology, had jobs at Sea Lab and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Watch program at Pajaro Valley High School, and joined the WWW Board of Directors. Steve Dennis helped us all to summarize what we could take away from the meeting.

The purpose of the meeting was to inform existing and potential funders about the content, costs, and impact of these two programs, and to thank them in the best possible way — by having them listen to the students and graduates tell how the programs have inspired, motivated, and enriched their outlook on further education and/or careers. The program participants, Jose Alanis, Gabriella Alvarez, Rosemary Alvarez, Emmelie Avila-Rodriguez, Celeste Espino, Paul Garcia, Uriel Reyes, Jerry Rodriguez, and Brandy Silva, were the real stars of the meeting. It’s one thing to read or hear about educational programs, but personally interacting with individuals who have benefited from these educational experiences was, simply put, inspiring! (10/2014)

Habitat Festival and Native Plant Sale

As described in the October 2014 WWW Newsletter, over 400 people participated in the 2014 Habitat Festival and Native Plant Sale. Here are some pictures from the Festival.

Native Plant Sale. Photo by Bambi Jones
Native Plant Sale. Photo: Bambi Jones
Beyond Soil — Composting presentation by Rich Merrill
Beyond Soil — Composting presentation by Rich Merrill. Photo: Bambi Jones
Tool Sharpening
Preparing for the Tool Sharpening Workshop,
with docents Sharon Hazel and Alice Weigel. Photo: Bambi Jones
Information Booths
Information booths
Plein Air Wetlands Art Booth. Photo: Bambi Jones
Information Booths
Blue Moon Garden booth
Bubbles, Making Terrariums, Face painting, Storytelling in the Kids Zone
Bubbles, Making Terrariums, Face painting, Storytelling in the Kids Zone
Baking cookies in the Solar Oven with docent Linda Youmans
Baking cookies in the Solar Oven with docent Linda Youmans
Bicycle-powered smoothie making
Bicycle-powered smoothie making
Bluegrass with the Intangibillies
Bluegrass with the Intangibillies
Patrick Orozco with Ohlone traditions
Patrick Orozco with Ohlone traditions
Watsonville Wetlands Watch shade house and greenhouse
Watsonville Wetlands Watch shade house and greenhouse

Patrick Orozco Leads Tour of Pajaro River Park

Photo by Angélica GonzálezPatrick Orozco Photo by Shawn O’DonnellIt was a beautiful Saturday morning on the Pajaro River on August 9 when over 25 people, many of them local children, came to hear our local treasure, Patrick Orozco, the Pajaro Valley Ohlone Indian Council Chairman.

Patrick walked the group through the Pajaro River Park, a new park created and managed by the City of Watsonville in partnership with Watsonville Wetlands Watch. We learned about the daily life of the people who lived in the Pajaro Valley for thousands of years, right up to the early 1900s. Patrick pointed out native plants and their uses, demonstrated songs and dances, showed us elaborate head dresses made from native bird feathers, and gave us a general idea of what life on the Pajaro River was like centuries ago.

Patrick was able to show the fascinated children many animal skins and skulls he has collected over the years: black bear, mountain lion, and many bird species. The group was spellbound, asked questions, and continued the dialogue with Patrick at tour’s end in the parking lot!

In 2005, Patrick “blessed” our building, the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center, with songs, dances, and good wishes at our opening event. He has presented his dances and songs on many occasions at the WERC and in the wetlands. He works with us to provide historical information to our Wetland Stewards and is an integral part of our docent training program. We hold Patrick in high esteem and are grateful that he is the holder of the wisdom, language, culture of our local Ohlone Tribes.

Watsonville Wetlands Watch Board Welcomes New Directors

Jerry ThomasAngelica GonzalezWatsonville Wetlands Watch is pleased to welcome Angelica Gonzalez and Jerry Thomas to our Board of Directors. The new appointments bring to ten the number of Directors guiding the operations of our organization, which has been restoring, protecting, and educating the community about our local wetlands and watershed since 1992.

Angelica Gonzalez is Director of the Watsonville Environmental Science Workshop, part of the Community Science Workshop Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Community Science Workshops in bringing hands-on science education to underserved youth. She has worked with the Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS) where she created and field-tested a curriculum that models an agricultural field. The curriculum helps farm worker families learn how pesticides can be inadvertently tracked into the home and ways to reduce this dangerous exposure. Angelica was born and raised in Southern California and previously worked for the City of Pomona in their water conservation education program. She has a degree in Environmental Studies from California State University Monterey Bay.

Jerry Thomas is a fifth generation Californian who has lived in Santa Cruz County for 43 years. He was raised in Southern California, earned his Bachelors and Masters Degrees from California State University Northridge, and taught high school in Guyana as a Peace Corps volunteer. Jerry and his wife Jean came to the Central Coast in the late 1960s and together started Thomas Farm in 1971. Jerry is a former Board member of the Open Space Alliance, a founding member of the California Certified Organic Farmers, and a founder of the Certified Farmers’ Markets in the Monterey Bay region, the oldest and largest farmer’s market organization on the Central Coast.

Debbie Diersch, President of the Watsonville Wetlands Watch Board said: “The election of Angelica and Jerry to the Watsonville Wetlands Watch Board of Directors adds members from key constituencies to our Board. Angelica’s background in environmental education and her relationships within the local community are invaluable to serving our mission. Jerry’s vast knowledge and experience from decades of work in the organic agriculture industry will not only contribute to our work in the sloughs, but also help bridge our relationships within the Central Coast agricultural community. We feel very fortunate to have both Angelica and Jerry on our Board.” (3/2014)

Wetlands Watch Board of Directors members Athena Barrios, Debbie Diersch, Kris Beall, and Dobie Jenkins with the City of Watsonville’s Proclamation
Wetlands Watch Board of Directors members Athena Barrios, Debbie Diersch, Kris Beall, and Dobie Jenkins with the City of Watsonville’s Proclamation

Celebrating World Wetlands Day 2014

World Wetlands Day is an international event to recognize the value of the wetlands. This year several events were held to celebrate and improve our local sloughs. On the last Wednesday of the month, the City of Watsonville Council gave Watsonville Wetlands Watch a Proclamation recognizing over 20 years of work to bring to attention to and improve the Watsonville Sloughs. They also officially named February 2nd World Wetlands Day in the City of Watsonville. The following Saturday, we hosted the 6th annual World Wetlands Day Restoration Project in partnership with the City, where over 50 community members came out to help with this annual planting event along Struve Slough off Ohlone Parkway. This year’s restoration project is part of our three year effort, funded by the Wildlife Conservation Board, to restore a mile of native riparian habitat along three sloughs.
World Wetlands Day at Pajaro Valley High School
World Wetlands Day at Pajaro Valley High School

The same week, Pajaro Valley High School recognized the day as well at an annual event spear-headed by Watsonville Wetlands Watch student interns. The Wetland Stewards interns were in charge of media and teacher outreach to drum up student attendance. They also planned, set up, and ran a variety of booths to inform and engage the student body about the wetlands. The event featured specimens of wetland animals and plants, a photo-booth with a wetland backdrop, fun games, and education on agriculture and wetland interactions via a watershed model. The Wetland Stewards collaborated with the Monterey Bay Aquarium WATCH program’s students, who participated in the event with a waste segregation booth. The school’s quad was buzzing with students, increasing in number each year. Whether it was to marvel at the snakes, ask questions about agriculture in the wetlands, have their photos taken at the photo-booth or play games, smiling faces were seen all around. (3/2014)

“Official” Visit to the Wetlands

Assemblyman Alejo and Mayor Cervantez consult with
the Watch’s Restoration Director Jonathan Pilch

On an unseasonably warm day in December, two local and state officials took time from their busy schedules to tour our wetlands restoration sites and learn from our own Wetland Steward high school interns about the power of the Watsonville Wetlands Watch’s educational programs. California State Assembly Member Luis Alejo and Watsonville Mayor Karina Cervantez met with staff, students, and board members to hear about the accomplishments and future goals of Watsonville Wetlands Watch (WWW).

Students Celeste Espino and Margarito Jerry Rodriguez, members of our 2013 and 2014 classes of Wetland Stewards, explained how valuable the Wetland Stewards program has been to them as students at Pajaro Valley High School. Both college-bound, they said the program has had a powerful personal impact on them as they’ve worked with children, discovered the importance of the sloughs, and learned how to communicate that importance to the community.

WWW and City of Watsonville staff took Assembly Member Alejo and Mayor Cervantez to Tarplant Hill and the City of Watsonville’s walking trail next to Struve Slough to discuss the current trails stewardship program and vision for the Watsonville Area Scenic Trails network, a 33 mile hiking and biking trail network that would highlight the sloughs, rivers, and creeks throughout the Pajaro Valley. The Assembly Member and Mayor had many ideas to help WWW further their work with the City of Watsonville as we collaborate on future trail sites and greening efforts in the Pajaro Valley.

We are grateful to Assembly Member Alejo and Mayor Cervantez for taking the time to learn about our vital role in the environmental health, education and beauty of our community. (1/2014)

Habitat Festival a Big Success!

in SeptemberThe Watsonville Wetlands Watch’s first ever Pajaro Valley Native Plant and Backyard Habitat Festival on September 28, 2013, was a true success! Hundreds of people from the community attended, including many who were learning about the wetlands for the first time. The workshops and presentations on Creating Your Own Backyard Habitat, Composting, Tool Sharpening, Growing Native Plants and Live Raptors were all packed to the brim, as well as the Watsonville Wetlands Photography Exhibit in the Visitor Center. Our Plant Sale, which was designed to help spread native plants throughout the watershed and Monterey Bay, was highly successful. People shopped for and bought over 1000 native plants, while marimba band Sadza created a lively backdrop and families and kids relaxed and played in the Eco Kids Zone. The Watch is grateful to so many dedicated docents, volunteers and local businesses, like the Corralitos Market and Sausage Company and Driscoll’s, who were instrumental in helping us put on such a great community event celebrating the native habitats and wetlands of the Pajaro Valley. Click to see more fun Festival photos.

Youngest Wetlands Ambassadors Working at Table
Brian attended El Mercado regularly and became an expert in describing gopher snakes to visitors.

Open Houses Inspire Youngest Wetlands Ambassadors

During our Open Houses held during the Sunday El Mercado outdoor farmers and flea markets, five children between the ages of 6 and 12 came to the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center (the WERC) every Sunday, never missing a day filled with activities, bird walks, and prizes. They were always ready to learn and, most wonderfully, over time they gained the confidence to help lead activities too! As soon as they walked through the door the first thing asked was, “What can we do to help?” Indeed, they helped staff set up and break down activities, welcomed arriving guests, and recruited other children to come to the Open House, but most importantly, they helped to educate people about the wetlands. They, themselves, led some of the activities like the watershed model and became quite skilled at demonstrating how human impacts can pollute our local wetlands. Some of them even gave examples of what people can do to help conserve and protect the environment. Beyond the WERC, these children have begun spreading the word about the value of our wetlands to their friends and families.

Having the opportunity to work with these budding wetland ambassadors has made all of our efforts so worthwhile and we will continue reaching out to more community members in the months to come. Please invite your friends and family to visit our Open House at the Fitz Wetlands Educational Center on the Pajaro Valley High School campus on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month from noon until 3 p.m. Kids are encouraged!

World Wetlands Day 2013 Restoration Celebration — Focus on Community

by WWW Board President Debbie Diersch

Crowd working on WWD at Tarplant HillWhat happens when you bring 107 community volunteers together with 2,000 native wetland plants? A wonderful World Wetlands Day Celebration, of course! And what a memorable celebration event it was on Saturday, February 2nd, in the Watsonville Wetlands.

The theme of this year’s World Wetlands Day (WWD) was “Wetlands and Water Management.” Event planting and restoration was on the Tarplant Hill property, which is off Ohlone Parkway across from Landmark Elementary School. Jointly sponsored by Watsonville Wetlands Watch and the City of Watsonville, our 4th annual celebration of WWD welcomed the community to help restore the habitat of the Watsonville Slough System.

The Tarplant Hill property was purchased in 2006 by Watsonville Wetlands Watch to protect rare coastal prairie habitats that support the Santa Cruz Tarplant, a federally listed endangered species. The property is the only permanently protected nature preserve within the City of Watsonville.

Interact Club Members from PVHS
Photo: Denise Murphy

More members of the community than ever before participated in this year’s event. The diverse age group of volunteers came from all over Santa Cruz County and included local businesses, church groups, students, neighbors, trail walkers, docents, and friends.

When asked why she joined the restoration celebration, Rosario Medina, a sophomore at Pajaro Valley High School and member of the Interact Club, present at WWD along with five other club members, responded: “We want to help the environment because we depend on it for our food, clothing, and energy.” In addition to helping in the local community, the Interact Club is working on a project to raise money to build a school and library in Bangladesh.

Burrowing Owl
Luis Cordova, daughter, Katy, and two sons, Javier and Jared
Girl Scounts at WWD
Girl Scounts Participated. Photo: Denise Murphy
Elias Gonzales, group supervisor of the Community Restoration Project, and five other group members, were enthusiastic about the event and restoration project. They participate on a regular basis as community volunteers because they want to restore the wildlife habitat in addition to keeping the trails well maintained for others in the Watsonville community. Their participation has many positive benefits for the wetlands in addition to their group members who are learning how to work with plants to fulfill personal career ambitions.

There were also many families who joined in the morning planting event. Luis Cordova brought his daughter, Katy, and two sons, Javier and Jared. They heard about the event from the staff at the Ramsay Park Nature Center. This was their first time participating in a restoration activity. Katy said: “Planting was my favorite thing!” Luis said he and his family will be back again to help with other planting projects.

Jonathan Pilch, Restoration Director of Watsonville Wetlands Watch, concluded: “This year’s World Wetlands Day Celebration is a wonderful example of the impact that the community can have in making real and lasting change that benefit the Watsonville Sloughs. It is the largest community restoration project event that we have had over the past four years and is indicative of the growing interest in making the sloughs a better place for all that use them.”

Athena Barrios Joins WWW Board of Directors

Athena BarriosDespite her youth, our new board member and Watsonville native, Athena A. Barrios, has long been inspired by her natural surroundings: “When I was eight years old, I knew I wanted to pursue Marine Biology as a career.”

She has now indeed graduated from the University of California with a bachelor’s degree in that discipline.

She chose to attend Pajaro Valley High School because of its strong environmental focus. In high school, Athena spent time on campus at the Wetlands Educational Resource Center, home of Watsonville Wetlands Watch, and eventually graduated from our Wetland Stewards program.

While at UC Santa Cruz, starting in 2008, she often returned to the Wetlands Watch and her hometown of Watsonville to assist with volunteer events, including the annual Earth Day, Coastal Cleanup, and Day of the Child events, all celebrated on the Pajaro Valley High School campus.

Athena wanted to be involved with bilingual science education.

“I have been fortunate to be raised in a bilingual community with a family that acknowledges the benefits of having two strong languages,” she reflects.

During the summer of 2012, Athena participated in an internship, with Grupo Tortuguero in Baja, California, which focused on her academic passion, bilingual environmental education. While in Baja for the summer, she worked on a boat conducting marine research on turtle by-catch, led workshops on turtle conservation, and coordinated the Sea Turtle Festival which helped educate the Spanish-speaking local community on the importance of protection and preservation of the turtles.

“I was very grateful for this summer internship experience because it showed me how to work with a community on sustainability issues, which is something I want to focus on here in the Monterey Bay region, specifically in the Watsonville area.”

Athena’s last course at UCSC in 2012, involved a field research quarter that enabled her to travel to Europe and live at a French research station (STARESO), on the island of Corsica. In this course, she was responsible for planning a research project, conducting data collection, and writing a scientific paper about her work.

As Athena was interested doing a study on sound pollution in the ocean, she chose to research the effects of anthropogenic sound on a schooling fish species called Chromis chromis, also known as the Mediterranean Damselfish. With another student, she studied the impacts of boat sounds and how they affected the schooling behavior of juvenile and adult Damselfish, an important species in Corsica’s local marine ecology.

Athena’s next step is pursuing a graduate degree. “I’m interested in a graduate program that focuses on Marine Coastal Management and Policy.”

While she applies to different graduate programs, she is working during the interim as a Naturalist for Camp SEA Lab through California State University Monterey Bay, where she will serve as a model for other young adults in this area who are also interested in exploring our marine environment.  Athena hopes to provide marine experiences like her own to other young people in our community.

Athena’s vision also includes closing the gap in the information that reaches our Spanish-speaking residents, specifically scientific information.

“I want to be the bridge between the scientific community and the ethnically diverse set of people that live in the Monterey Bay area, contributing a stronger voice in support of our underserved Latino community.”

Being asked to serve as a board member of Watsonville Wetlands Watch, for Athena, is an honor and privilege.

“I see this as a significant step towards my long-term career goals as an environmental educator. I love being a part of a community that values the diversity of our unique Monterey Bay area.”composite image

Celebrating Our Docents and Volunteers

As described in our December 2012 newsletter, over 90 people attended the Watch’s 2012 Volunteer Appreciation Celebration and Holiday Party.

A special “thank you” was given to docent Bob Geyer, the retiring Deputy Director of Public Works for the City of Watsonville, who has made an immense personal contribution to the welfare of the wetlands and local environment through his many years of work and volunteer service.

Comments after the presentation included, “I had no idea how much volunteers are doing,” and “I am so proud to be a part of this organization. After tonight, I am excited to do more.”

Thank you, Volunteers!

Watch Recognized as Green Organization

Kris Beall, left, and Noëlle AntolinAs introduced in our November 2012 newsletter, Watsonville Wetlands Watch is now recognized as a Green Business. Although we’re a non-profit environmental and educational organization, the designation means we’ve earned a seal of certification by meeting rigorous criteria established by the California Green Business Program.

As part of the “greening” process, Kris Beall, Board Chair, and Noëlle Antolin, Director of Education Programs, worked through a lengthy checklist and demonstrated how we are meeting the requirements for the program. The checklist is split into several categories which include waste, energy, water, pollution, and waste-water.

Fortunately, our day-to-day habits at the Wetlands Center were already in compliance and since the building was constructed recently, many energy-conserving measures were already in place. Nonetheless, there were a few things we needed to work on like purchasing office supplies made of recycled materials, communicating with vendors about minimizing packaging, and working with the school district to use environmentally friendly cleaning products.

The most interesting thing we learned is that “biodegradable” plates, cups, and flatware are not “green.” Biodegradable materials, we now understand, do not break down in the landfill or traditional composting systems. Also, most municipalities do not have the proper facilities to process biodegradable materials which are then mixed with recyclables and trash. Read more about biodegradables and landfills.

Wetlands Mural Completed

Views of artists and mural
Bottom, L to R: Kathy Stutz-Taylor, Linda Bjornson, Joyce Oroz, and Evelyn Pogrowsk of the Aromas Hills Artisans. PVHS art students Mercedes, Sergio, and Katiana.

As described in the November 2012 newsletter, Watsonville Wetlands Watch recently celebrated the completion of a new wetlands mural on the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center building.

The landscape began with a beautiful view of the West Branch of Struve Slough. Every week, the artists added features to the mural including American White Pelicans, Red-tailed Hawks, Belted Kingfisher, Burrowing Owl, American Avocet, coyote, and volunteers working hard to protect them. In the final stretch, Evelyn Pogrowski carefully painted logos and names of the organizations and individuals who participated in the project. The artists made personal sacrifices and endured heat waves, endless gusts of wind, and unforgiving bumpy walls.

Thank you Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County, Aromas Hills Artisans, and high-school art students for creating our beautiful new mural — your efforts and support are very much appreciated! (11/2012)

Volunteers, Friends, and Staff Honor Docent Bill Best

Bill Best lying on bench with group of celebrants behind

In tribute to long-time Watsonville Wetlands Watch docent Bill Best and in recognition of his love of the wetlands, Bill’s friend Carol Fuller has led a large effort to raise funds and install a bench for Bill near the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center (WERC). Many of Bill’s friends made donations. In October, Carol organized a lunch dedication party to celebrate Bill and his new bench. Over 20 people attended the lunch event contributing fun stories and good humor, to Bill’s delight. Carol also presented a very generous donation from Bill’s brother John to the Wetlands Watch.

Bill Best sitting on bench

Veteran docent Bill Best is a hero of the Watsonville Wetlands Watch. He works with kids during field trips and weekend “El Mercado” Open Houses. He is popular with the kids, who often ask to be in his group. Bill was a key contributor to our impressive Wetlands Web of Life Display and he has written thoughtful articles for our newsletters. Bill also helps maintain the native plant display and has worked on dozens of other projects. Whenever we need help, Bill is one of the first people we call. Amazingly, these contributions have been made during Bill’s long struggle with cancer. Bill’s inspiring courage, dedication, and wonderful attitude illustrate just what a special person he is. (11/2012)

AmeriCorps Interns Assist with Watch’s Restoration and Education Work

Carmen Tan and Leah Healy posing for camera in slough setting

Carmen Tan and Leah Healy are Americorps service interns on a ten-month internship working with the Resource Conservation District (RCD) of Santa Cruz County. They have been assisting with Watsonville Wetland Watch’s restoration and education projects including creating a new native seed farm, removing invasive plants, establishing native plants along City trails, and collecting water-quality data.

Carmen Tan graduated from Eteneo de Manila University in the Philippines and became interested in conservation and education while working at the Audubon Center in Marin County as an intern doing education program outreach and monitoring of plant and bird population in Richardson Bay. Leah Healy graduated from UC Davis in 2006 with a degree in anthropology; She also has  degree in natural-resource planning from Humboldt State University.

Both Carmen and Leah have been working on permit coordination with the Santa Cruz RCD, reporting on restoration projects, conducting invasive plant removal, and updating a ground cover guide for erosion control in Santa Cruz County.

When she completes her internship this August, Leah will be will be going to grad school at San Diego State University in environmental conservation and climate-change planning; Carmen plans to earn certification in early childhood education in Santa Cruz. Her long-term goal is to use her rescue SCUBA diving experience to eventually become a dive master! (05/2012)

Two Burrowing Owl Events

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl wintering near the Wetlands Educational Resource Center. Photo: Efren B. Adalem

The first event, held on January 18, 2012, was presented by Mt. Madonna School’s fifth grade class who entertained a large, enthusiastic audience at the Wetlands Educational Resource Center (WERC). These inspiring students presented a lively summary of research for their special environmental project on the protection of the Western Burrowing Owl. They also screened their imaginative DVD, “Give a Hoot: It’s Foul to Hurt the Burrowing Owl.” The DVD was written, acted, filmed, edited, and sold by the students to benefit restoration of owl habitat.

As part of the Burrowing Owl project, the class worked with Watsonville Wetlands Watch staff on a grasslands restoration project in an area adjacent to the WERC. For the last few years, a Burrowing Owl has been making its winter home here. As they worked, the owl made an appearance, to the delight of the class.

The second event, on February 4, 2012, was a thank you to the Northern Harriers, the Watch’s special donors. The Northern Harriers were wined and dined at a reception held in the Corralitos Hills. Good food and conversation were enjoyed along with beautiful views of vineyards and olive groves.

The Northern Harriers were treated to a special presentation about burrowing owls by wildlife biologist Jack Barclay. Mr. Barclay has managed the San Jose International Airport’s bird monitoring program since 1989. The audience “oohed” and “ahhed” over the amazing owl pictures captured by Mr. Barclay during the many years of his study. We learned much about the habits and populations of the burrowing owl, the reasons for their decline, and how we can help reverse that decline by helping with habitat restoration.

Our community’s knowledge of and enthusiasm for this unusual little owl was greatly enhanced as a result of these two successful events. (04/2012)

Volunteers help Restoration on World Wetlands Day 2012

Large group of volunteers work on restoration sloughsideClose to 70 volunteers joined the City of Watsonville and Watsonville Wetlands Watch to help plant 1149 native plants in the Watsonville wetlands at the World Wetlands Day 2012 restoration celebration on Saturday, February 4, 2012. Thirty-five different species were planted including Marsh Goldenrod, California Blackberry, Sneezeweed, Santa Barbara Sedge, Creeping Wild Rye, and Cow Parsnip to support the wildlife that calls the slough home. The sloughs provide a refuge for wildlife and are a nursery for fish.

The focus of this year’s World Wetlands Day restoration was a spot on Struve Slough, which runs behind the end of Westridge Drive from Harkins Slough Road to Highway 1. The area was overgrown with poison hemlock, an invasive species that dominated the bank and prevented native grasses from growing.

“We want to produce an environment for a much bigger suite of wildlife,” Wetlands Watch Restoration Director Jonathan Pilch said. “A lot of birds in California are in great decline due to loss of habitat and we want to bolster their populations. We hope to help create a colorful meadow here.”

The diverse group of volunteers came from all over the community including local businesses like Driscoll’s and West Marine, church groups, Cub Scouts, neighbors, trail walkers, docents, and friends.

Elementary school students learn to use binoculars in the wetlands“It’s beautiful here!” said Hermana Cardon, a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints who is here with a missionary group, many of whom came out to help with the restoration. When asked why the group decided to help with the slough restoration, Elder Osorio said: “We want to give back and help make our communities better.”

Elementary school students in docent-led nature drawing session in the wetlandsGreg Jones brought his two young sons, Caleb and Ryan, to help with the planting. Their home looks out over the slough so Greg thought it would be great to join in the restoration effort. Pointing back across the slough to the housing tract, Greg said: “I helped build this so I saw the area when there was nothing here. The places that were developed got overgrown with weeds, but that didn’t happen to the places that weren’t touched.” Greg went on to describe the wildlife that he and his family enjoy seeing from their back yard and the special care they take of the habitat.

Great Blue HeronAs a fun and relaxing conclusion to the restoration party, staff from the City of Watsonville Ramses Park Nature Center led the group on a nature walk along the Slough trail where volunteers were fortunate to see a Great Blue Heron and many other birds exhibiting their natural behaviors. Some 260 migrant and resident birds are native to the wetlands and we expect the restored area to support such species as teals, mallards, white-tailed kites, burrowing owls, and many others.

Watsonville Wetlands Watch Wins National Award for Restoration Work

Large group touring coastal prairieWatsonville Wetlands Watch has been awarded the Coastal America Partnership Award for the work of the Middle Watsonville Slough Wetlands Protection and Water Quality Partnership Team. This honor, from the federal government and Coastal America Partnership, thanks us for being part of a team of agencies that worked collaboratively for more than four years to acquire 490 acres of agricultural land and initiate numerous restoration projects within the Watsonville Slough complex. The award is the only environmental award of its kind presented by the Obama Administration.

Our restoration work helped to expand and enhance existing habitats for threatened and endangered species including the California red-legged frog and a large suite of state and federal conservation priority bird species such as Northern Harrier, Tricolored Blackbird, and Golden Eagle.

On Feb. 8, The Watch’s Restoration Director Jonathan Pilch and staff from our partner agencies led a tour of US Fish and Wildlife biologists through the restoration sites. The tour ended with an award dinner and congratulations from President Obama, Congressman Farr, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

The Fitz Wetland Educational Resource Center, home of Watsonville Wetlands Watch, also received an award because it is the environmental hub where wetland activities take place.

Click here to see the Santa Cruz Sentinel article. Click here for the announcement on the Coastal America Partnership webpage.

Wetland Stewards Attend the Teen Summit

Elementary school students in docent-led nature drawing session in the wetlands
Wetland Steward Kenneth Batin, shown here at right mentoring students in the wetlands, attended Oceans Need Everyone (ONE) Teen Summit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

On November 12, 2011, teens from all over California came together for an Oceans Need Everyone (ONE) Teen Summit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The summit was organized so that teens interested in ocean and watershed conservation could network and exchange ideas. Teen groups invited to the summit included our Wetland Stewards, students from the Aquarium’s W.A.T.C.H. (Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats) program, science clubs, and environmental clubs. The event included workshops, student presentations, information tables, a keynote speaker, and dessert!

The Watsonville Wetlands Watch had an information table for local teens to learn about wetland conservation and how to get involved. Wetland Steward Kenneth Batin said, “When I attended the Teen Summit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I didn’t expect to see so many others with the same passion for making a difference. When I was at the Watsonville Wetlands Watch’s booth, I was overwhelmed to see so many students visiting our booth.”

The keynote speaker was Sarah Bayles, author of the blog “The Daily Ocean,” which follows her 365-day clean-up of her local beach. Each day Sarah picks up trash for 20 minutes and has collected 914 pounds of trash to date! The Teen Summit was inspiring to the young attendees, and also to us because it showed how teens are getting involved in watershed education and restoration in California.

The Wetland Stewards Program at Watsonville Wetlands Watch is made possible by generous support from The John & Abby Sobrato Donor-Advised Fund, Cecil’s Fund, The Toole Fund, The Robert N. & Florence Slinger Fund, and Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.

Celebrating Earth Day 2011

Every day is Earth Day, but this year Watsonville Wetlands Watch celebrated a little more than usual, with two special events! On Friday, April 15, 2011, we hosted our third Earth Day event at Pajaro Valley High School for students and staff. Our Wetland Steward interns led a fun trivia game, displayed our wetland wildlife specimens, and shared information about the importance of wetland conservation. Second Harvest donated over 300 lbs. of fresh organic fruits and vegetables for the free farmer’s market that we set up with help from the PVHS Garden Club. Check out our short video of the event at left.

Students amid Earth Day acitivities at PVHS campus The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s WATCH program alumni informed students and teachers about ocean conservation principles through action-packed games, the Pajaro Valley Ohlone Indian Council shared traditional Ohlone legends and songs, and the PVHS Green Club led Earth Day crafts. One of this year’s highlights was People Power’s bicycle education booth, which challenged students to make their own fruit smoothies by peddling a bike-powered blender. It was a delight to see so many smiling faces around campus! Check out our short video of the event at the end of this article!

People Power’s bicycle education booth, which challenged students to make their own fruit smoothies by peddling a bike-powered blender. On Sunday, WWW joined dozens of other organizations and agencies at the City of Watsonville’s Earth Day/ Day of the Child celebration at Ramsay Park. Music and laughter filled the air as families played games and viewed performances by local talents. It was estimated that over 4000 people attended the event. As usual, our booth was very well attended. We gave away 250 native plants as prizes for our trivia game and wetland bingo. Our staff, Adrienne and Noëlle, along with volunteers Linda Youmans, Judy Pilcher, Jose Alanis, and Yadira Grajeda had the opportunity to share wetland resources with hundreds of community members and of course parents and children got a kick out of seeing and touching Rocky, the gopher snake.

State Grant to RCDSCC Aids Watch Programs

High School Students do Restoration PlantingOn a clear crisp fall morning, students would rather be outside than in a classroom. An outdoor classroom makes for an unusual educational experience that students may long remember after book learning is forgotten. Such an experience was created for 28 Pajaro Valley High School students with the help of volunteers, docents, and staff from the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County (RCDSCC) and the Watch. The students came to help restore the habitat with native plants as part of the Middle Watsonville Slough Restoration Project.

State budget problems have affected extracurricular activities and field trips. However, State grant funds are sponsoring the RCD’s collaboration with the Watch to do restoration planting work with students and community volunteers, to develop an interactive display for the Fitz WERC, and for general public outreach related to floodplain easements, according to Angie Stuart, program specialist for the RCD.

Barn Owl
The ultimate beneficiaries of the grant-sponsored fieldtrips are Gary Martindale’s Advanced Placement Environmental Studies students. Says Martindale, “They get to see people and organizations working together and applying principles of ecology to manage an ecosystem. They learn that good land-use decisions are based on science.” During this particular trip, students experienced personally what the daily life of a biologist is like and participated in hands-on restoration by planting young wetland trees, shrubs, and grasses. They saw a demonstration of how wetlands help clean water, observed wildlife through binoculars and listened for bird calls. A rare sighting of a barn owl in a nearby stand of trees was a special treat. (2010)

Read more about our educational programs.

Previous Events & Highlights

Students Collect Invertebrates and Learn about Bioindicators

Elementary school students in docent-led nature drawing session in the wetlands

Docent helps student collect water sample In October 2010, with the help of docents, PVHS students worked in small groups to identify each organism they collected. The creatures were placed into sensitivity groups, and at the end of the study students found that on average the water quality at the uppermost part of the West Branch of Struve Slough was “fair” during the month of October. Students and volunteers will continue this study and expand it over the long-term as part of Project Tierra.

A huge thank you to our docents and volunteers: Sharon Clark, Cathy Gamble, Shirley Johnson, Alon Keller, Priscilla Partridge, Joan Rose, and Linda Youmans as well as teachers Jaime Bloom, Rob Hoffman, and Danielle LeLaidier. Without them these activities could never have taken place!

The photos of students and their field work were taken by Rob Hoffman, PVHS science teacher.

Business Outreach Initiative Launched with Special Tour of Wetlands

Elementary school students in docent-led nature drawing session in the wetlands
Photo: Larissa Mueller/Sentinel
The Watsonville Wetlands Watch (WWW) hosted an inaugural special event on Saturday, November 13, 2010 to launch a new Business Outreach Initiative.  The goal of this initiative is to build long term, mutually beneficial partnerships with local businesses.

“We decided to start with companies that had recently been recognized by Santa Cruz County as Green Businesses,”  said Debbie Diersch, the Chairperson of the Business Outreach Committee.  “It took these companies a significant amount of time, effort, and commitment to earn this certification.  They are in the vanguard of companies dedicated to supporting environmentally friendly practices so we felt that we shared a common bond with them of dedication to the environment and our local community.”

An illustrious group of business leaders from Fitz Fresh, Santa Cruz County Bank, West Marine, Best Western Capitola, L-3 Communications, CENTURY21 Lad Realty, George Ow Properties, and Hadal attended the event.

Guests were treated to a tour of the Fitz Wetlands Resource and Education Center lead by WWW Board member Lou Rose, followed by a hike lead by WWW Board Chairman, Bob Culbertson over Department of Fish and Game Lands to a knoll overlooking the West Struve Slough.  Wetland Stewards  Rosemary Alvarez, Anthony Barrios, Jennifer Baker, and Jose Alanis, participated by sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm of the wetlands with the business guests.  At the end of the tour, guests, Wetland Stewards, and WWW Board Members and staff lingered over lunch where they shared experiences and thoughts of the tour and suggestions for the future.

“This was a wonderful day,” said Debbie. “We thoroughly enjoyed introducing these local business leaders to the wetlands and our organization.   Everyone came away enthusiastic about what we shared today and how we can partner together in the future. This is just the beginning of the Business Outreach Initiative and we still have a lot of work to do. We are looking forward to building strong, lasting partnerships with our new friends in the business community.”

The event was covered in an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Amesti Kids Aid the Wetlands

Elementary school students learn to use binoculars in the wetlands Elementary school students in docent-led nature drawing session in the wetlands In October 2010, classes from Amesti Elementary helped restore the wetlands by removing bristly ox-tongue and wild radish, two non-native, invasive plant species. The students will return in the spring to see how the wetlands change with the seasons. Thanks so much to our docents for their hard work during these field trips! WWW is also grateful to have recently received a $15,000 grant from the Monterey Peninsula Foundation for the Amesti field trips in the future. 

Bear Talk Packs House

A packed house of 62 people heard Bruce Elliott’s presentation on bears on August 26, 2010. Bruce is a popular local educator and a retired Senior Biologist Supervisor for the California Department of Fish and Game and will be presenting future wildlife topics during our 2010 Lecture Series.

Black Bear Here are some more bear facts from Bruce:

  • Bears originated 33 million years ago in the northern hemisphere in the Oligocene Epoch.
  • Five million years ago, the ancestors of bears developed large molars and short tails.
  • Prominent characteristics of bears are small ears and eyes, short tails, and powerful limbs.
  • Bears can range in color from white to black, and different bears of the same species can be of different colors, especially American black bears.
  • Bears were the last of the carnivorous mammals to evolve.
  • Ancestors of some modern bears migrated to the Southern Hemisphere and today we find the sun bear in South America and the sloth bear in India and the Spectacled Bear in South America.
  • In California today, bears are not found in the Santa Cruz Mountains; they can be found in Mendocino County and north, the Sierra Nevada, and in Los Padres National Forest up to southern Monterey County.

New Environmental Education Specialist

Adrienne Frisbee

“I love environmental education—it’s taking the classroom outdoors, an incredibly powerful activity,” observed Adrienne Frisbee, our new Environmental Education Specialist. Adrienne will divide her time between Wetlands Stewards and Project Tierra. She had her first introduction to wetlands during her undergrad years at Loyola in New Orleans where she received a BS in biology. Then she moved on to the University of Florida where she received an MS in Science in 2007 with an emphasis on soil and water science. Most recently, she received a teaching credential in secondary education at San Jose State. Welcome, Adrienne!

Adrienne was a biologist for 10 years before she realized she felt like she was “missing something.” She switched from microbial ecology work at NASA-Ames (some at Elkhorn Slough) to education outreach with high schools. Earlier work experience included two summers in Denali National Park, Alaska, doing carbon and nitrogen cycling. “I lived in a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, and the only other person I saw for two months was my roommate.” She also spent 6 months doing bird monitoring at Fire Island National Seashore.

“I am really amazed at the scope and outreach of programs developed here at Watsonville Wetlands Watch. I think I’ll learn a lot from the staff and volunteers here as well as from the students and the various agencies. Of course, being in the wetlands every day is a real treat. I want to help this organization continue to go in the direction it’s going; it has great goals.”

WWW Annual Picnic on Tarplant Hill

John Pritchard and visitors at native plant restoration garden on Tarplant Hill
About a dozen picnickers eagerly followed John Pritchard, Restoration Specialist, to learn about the Tarplant and visit our native plant restoration area.
At our annual picnic on July 11, 2010, at Tarplant Hill, the sun was out, an amazing flock of white pelicans put on a show above, and the food was quite gourmet! Jim Van Houten gave the group a history of Tarplant Hill and how WWW came to acquire it. Left, Restoration Specialist John Pritchard is shown providing a fascinating tour of the restoration site.
People dressed for outdoors in sunny picnic on Tarplant Hill
A group of 25 enjoyed the food, the company, the birds, and the Tarplants on Tarplant Hill, across from Landmark School on Ohlone Parkway.

Interpretive Sign Dedicated on ESHA

Student in canoe analyzes water quality

On Saturday, June 5, 2010, enthusiastic supporters of Freedom Rotary and the Watch dedicated an interpretive sign on the Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA) adjacent to the WERC at Pajaro Valley High School. The PVUSD Maintenance Department, students and teachers from PVHS, and the Watch have been working since 2004 to turn 80 acres of former agricultural fields back into native grasslands, wetlands, and forest. Students and volunteers have contributed over 3,000 volunteer hours.

Photo shows Gloria Garing, Freedom Rotary President, Secretary Heather Geddes, and Genie Dee, WWW Outreach and Development Director, who participated in the dedication of this beautiful sign at the rear of the WERC, marking the ESHA. Following the dedication, the Rotarians participated in a restoration project led by Jonathan Pilch, Restoration Director. The sign captures the Watch’s vision for these lands as a restored nature preserve and an outdoor classroom for learning about the local sloughs and environment. Freedom Rotary paid for the sign, an original design by local artist  and WWW supporter Caroline Rodgers, and Walt Zander, PVUSD Maintenance Superintendent, installed it. Click here for closeup photo of the sign.

Snapshot Day

Student in canoe analyzes water quality

On May 1, 2010, in partnership with the Coastal Watershed Council, WWW kicked off the wetlands water quality monitoring portion of Project Tierra, Santa Cruz’s official Snapshot Day.

Committed volunteers are adopting a wetland site and collecting water samples regularly throughout the year at the site. Over time, we will begin to notice water quality trends that will help us to make important decisions on land restoration. Results will be posted on an online interactive database that will enable staff, teachers, and others to manipulate and compare data. Over the course of several years, our data may be able to answer larger and more regional questions about restoring water quality. If you would like to participate, please contact Noëlle Antolin, 831-728-1156 ext. 5 or noelle@watsonvillewetlandswatch.org.

New Grazing Specialist

Laura Kummerer grew up in San Jose and graduated from UCSC with a major in Latin American Studies. She fell in love with the vibrant life of our freshwater wetlands in 1998 when she worked with farmers along the banks of the sloughs. When Laura is not out in the wetlands she loves to bicycle, swim and hike all over the Ventana wilderness in search of wildflower blooms and swimming holes.    

Laura Kummerer

Since 1998, Laura has been developing creative strategies to restore the degraded upland habitats of the slough system. She initially worked for the Watch in a community based restoration program to remove invasive weeds on the slough edge, revegetate critical areas, and involve young and old members of the community in all aspects of restoration.

For the past four years she has been working at High Ground Organics Farm to restore 20 acres of land that connects the farm with the freshwater habitat of Harkins Slough, experimenting with rotational grazing and the large scale growing of locally collected grass and wildflower seeds as a means to restore coastal prairie grassland. She looks forward to continuing this project at the Watch and feels that this new partnership will allow for the successful restoration efforts in the sloughs to reach out even further.

Students Restore Red-legged Frog Habitat

In February (2010), the PVHS Advanced Placement Environmental Science class restored red-legged frog habitat on the newly acquired Land Trust of Santa Cruz County farm property on a pond near Watsonville Slough. Matt Freeman from the Land Trust and Kelli Camera from the Santa Cruz Resource Conservation District spoke to the students about the habitat, green jobs, and the importance of this restoration work.

Here we see students learning about the habitat they are restoring and the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County property. Staff support was provided by Jonathan Pilch, John Pritchard, John Moreno, and Mary Paul, as well as our 2 new CSUMB interns, Ashly Farland and Alicia De Worken and our docents Cathy Gamble and Jim Mattson.

Matt Freeman of SC Land Trust
Kelli Camera
Matt Freeman, SC Land Trust, talking to the students.

Kelli Camera from the RCD speaks to the group.
Docent Cathy Gamble checks out a plant
Jonathan and John demonstrate planting
Posing after a good day’s work

Musical Planting a Big Success

Four musicians perform in wetlands setting

Fifty-five volunteers showed up on March 27, 2010, to put in 1,336 plants, restoring a wet meadow that had been full of poison hemlock. Volunteers planted to the tunes of bluegrass band Microtonic Harmonic. Many thanks to all who volunteered, to Mary Paul for coordinating the event, and to Microtonic Harmonic for donating their services.

Del Akro Wetlands

World Wetlands Day Links Us to Pakistan

We are not alone in our work. As a result of our connection with World Wetlands Day, we received an e-letter from the Deh Akro Wetlands Watch in Sindh, Pakistan! Click here to learn about their wetlands preservation work.

Map: Pajaro Valley Water Management District

Action Pajaro Valley Studies Water Issues

The Water Supply Subcommittee of this group is looking hard at the many issues surrounding Pajaro Valley water, especially since the previous fees assessed to support the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency (PVWMA) were ruled illegal by the court. These issues include:

  • Overdraft of the basin
  • Saltwater intrusion
  • Land subsidence (sinking)
  • Need for additional supply
  • Flooding

Because of its reputation for objectivity as well as its concern for the environment, WWW has been suggested as a host for a possible public forum. The forum would focus on educating the community on some of these issues, including a potential augmentation fee to support the PVWMA. For future news, watch this website. You can also learn more at the PVWMA website and the Army Corps of Engineers website.

World Wetlands Day a Big Success

This event, held at the Nature Center on February 6, 2010, drew over 75 local community members to participate in conservation activities, demonstrating yet again how much Watsonville really cares; both program leaders and community members alike.

RESTORATION. Over 35 people participated in the invasive plant removal and native planting in the wetland area behind the Nature Center. This would not have been possible without the help from WWW docents Bridget Dumas, Sharon Hazel, Brenda Hermosillo, and Victor Riegos. This was a great turnout considering the rain that lead right up to the first shovelful of weeds and dirt!

LITTER CLEAN-UP. More than 15 parents and children participated in wetlands trail litter clean-up activities lead by Nature Center staff Cindy Scott and Cristy Cassel along with WWW docent Athena Barrios. Participants received prizes and several very “interesting” items were removed.

ARTS, CRAFTS AND GAMES. Nature Center staff and WWW docents Athena Barrios and Melita Israel offered wetlands themed bingo games, bird crafts, conservation art projects, and litter leader games available for children throughout the day.

Over 98 countries worldwide participated in this event! Click here for more information.

Second-Graders at Landmark Elementary Do Planting on Tarplant Hill

Two students having fun planting
Two students having fun planting. (Feb. 2010)
Trails Specialist John Moreno helping out. Docent Cathy Gamble checks out a plant.
Trails Specialist John Moreno helping out Docent Cathy Gamble checks out a plant.
Staffer John Pritcher in forground climbing hill with works lower down on hill Volunteers do their part.
The Cal Fire/CDC Fire crew also worked on Tarplant Hill, doing site preparation for volunteer planting that occurred on Feb 16th, 2010. Shown above, staffer John Pritchard after starting the crew. Volunteers do their part.

Training for Project-Based Science

Teachers in field holding equipment, posing for photo On Saturday, November 7, 2009, 16 teachers from all over the Bay Area attended a Project-based Science Institute at the WERC. The Watch is partnering with the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) to support middle school and high school teachers to implement outdoor projects related to Project Tierra, our citizen science wetland biodiversity monitoring program.

Healthy freshwater wetlands are home to many interconnected organisms. Aquatic invertebrates make up the foundation of this delicate food web and are good indicators of wetland health. Staff and docents taught teachers to sample aquatic invertebrates in West Struve Slough and then to identify their species and interpret their data. Two teachers will return with their students to participate in Project Tierra’s aquatic invertebrate monitoring this winter.

Rebirth of the Wetlands Altar Project

Bill Best and Virginia Taylor at work constructing Altar. Through the vision and hard work of a very creative team of volunteers, the altar, The Rebirth of the Wetlands, was built. The intention for the project was to combine the natural features of our local wetland habitats (birds like the red tailed hawk, cormorants and white pelicans, and native plants like rushes, cattails, marsh marigolds, and bee plant) with traditional Day of the Dead altar components like the arch, brightly colored flowers, and representatives of the four elements (candles for fire, birds for air, rocks for earth, and glass for water).

While it was a true collaboration, each volunteer contributed his/her own special skills.  Bob Lyons built the sturdy infrastructure, Bill Best tackled the arch engineering, Cathy Gamble made the wonderful stained glass birds and water pieces, and Virginia Taylor added the color through flowers and tissue paper. Shown at left are Bill and Virginia.

We also wanted to draw attention to the importance of young people’s involvement in the wetlands.  On the outside of the left panel are student art works, including two “Found Art” pieces created by students after a slough cleanup session and a student’s poem.

Visit our altar and all the others at the Pajaro Valley Arts Council Gallery at 37 Sudden St. in Watsonville; the exhibit runs through Dec. 6, and the Gallery is open Wednesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays & Sundays, 12 to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

Volunteer Steve Zaslaw

By Kathy Fieberling

Elementary school students in docent-led nature drawing session in the wetlands
Steve, standing next to docent Joan Rose, put his science skills to use for us in 2007 when he developed a protocol and training materials for water quality testing for the Cycles of Restoration field trips.

“Nuts!” That’s what Steve Zaslaw said when asked for his life story. He was quoting the reply of the commanding general of US forces to the German surrender demand at the siege of Bastogne on the day Steve was, coincidentally, born. The town’s perimeter held, and the Battle of the Bulge started going the US’s way. The story is typical of Steve’s quirky sense-of-humor, which could be described as Woody-Allen-like. Maybe being born in Manhattan has something to do with that.

Steve went to High School in Great Neck on Long Island. He then went to Cornell University for his BA in Physics in 1967. Eventually, Steve ended up in the computer industry, where he worked for a large computer manufacturer from 1977 to 2002. During that time, he got a MS in Computer Science at BU. Steve had been enjoying visits to relations and friends in the Bay Area for years, and he moved to Capitola when he retired.

Steve claims that Lou and Joan Rose “dragged” him to the first few classes of docent training in 2007. He was reluctant at first about making the commitment to become a docent. When asked why he continued to participate in training, he said, “because the Roses were driving.” Nonetheless, Steve was hooked and has gone on to become one of the volunteers who puts in the most time (hundreds of hours) for us. Steve is our webmaster/electronic communication specialist. All trends point to increased use of electronic media for organizational communication, and Steve is our go-to guy for this. Steve played a key role in the upgrade of our website last fall, and since then has done regular updates to keep it current. He also researched and linked us with Constant Contact, our e-mail service to our supporters, and each month puts our e-letter text and graphics into the CC format so it is attractive to our readers. He frequently makes editorial contributions to our electronic communications. Steve has spent many hours researching and testing a variety of software in search of the right tool for our online timesheet project. He is also researching tools for slough-centered citizen science projects.

Besides working long hours for us, Steve is also active in the UC Santa Cruz Lifelong Learners where he is a board member, webmaster, and publisher of their newsletter. Steve stays fit by swimming and by walking on the beach near his home in Capitola.

Steve remains dedicated to us because of the value he sees in our educational programs. He thinks that raising students’ awareness about the environment is the only hope of saving the natural world. And he heartily approves of our outdoor lab concept “because kids remember catching a frog or seeing for the first time the amazing variety of microscopic life in a drop of slough water. It gives them an experience in the natural world that they’ll remember long after textbook and classroom details are forgotten.”

WWW exhibit at SC County FairWe are very happy to have Steve in our docent team. Thank you so much, Steve, for your outstanding dedication and contribution to the Watsonville Wetland Watch!

WWW at Santa Cruz County Fair

Eight volunteers and two staff worked over several days to create this miniature wetland for the Santa Cruz County Fair. The Watch was excited to be part of the Fair and to make more residents aware of this precious resource, the Watsonville Sloughs, located in the heart of Watsonville.

Part of the exhibit is shown at right.

Volunteer Linda Youmans

Linda YoumansLinda is a native of Watsonville and went to Watsonville High.  Her family spans four Watsonville-area generations, starting with her husband’s parents and extending to their 3 children and 4 grandchildren.  She also includes her “granddogs” in her family.

Four years ago, after the death of her husband, a newspaper story about the docent program caught Linda’s eye.  She decided to give it a try and was delighted by the lovely people and upbeat spirit she found. Today she is one of the pillars of our program. She says, “It is great to feel needed, and it is a blessing that I get to be a part of this”.

Thank you, Linda, for being such a wonderful member of our docent family!

Restoration and Education Grants

Plant Restoration

Below are details of work Watsonville Wetlands Watch is doing in the sloughs with the support of grants and partners.

Pajaro Valley High Wetlands Restoration Project

With support from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, this project will involve students in the restoration of aquatic and terrestrial wetland habitat on West Struve Slough. Pajaro Valley High School students will learn about regional wildlife threats and issues, including water quality; and will be actively involved in the entire process of wetland habitat restoration: planning, implementation, monitoring and assessment of project success.

Replantings are shown at right.

Stewardship Council Grant

Class at Slough
Glass container of Pacific sea water showing with dense junk and gunk. Pollution so dense, you can't see thru the container.
Mixture of plastic and plankton collected in the north Pacific. Plankton is the base of the ocean food chain that feeds all seafoods.

Watsonville Wetlands Watch staff has partnered with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to design a project based learning opportunity for Pajaro Valley teens. The Stewardship Council Youth Development Initiative funded $75,000 for the partners to work with teachers in developing project based activities, get kids outside, in the wetlands, and to address community based conservation issues. Teachers are trained over the summer on project based learning and will implement the activities through field experiences.  WWW will support teachers through the resources and expertise found in the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center.  Through classroom projects, activities, and field experiences, teens will discover the unique watershed located in their backyard.

Talk: “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”

Many community and WWW volunteers and staff audience members were deeply moved during a recent talk at Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center. The well-attended audio-visual presentation, “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” was given at the August 6th docent meeting by Ximena Waissbluth of the Surfrider Foundation. She shared photos and facts about this gigantic gyre of plastic debris which spreads across hundreds of miles of the north Pacific. We saw birds trapped in plastic rings and learned that fish are now ingesting plastic, which not only harms them, but means it gets into our food supply.

One solution proposed is for the public to support Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation, which would make producers pay for the cost of non-degradable items.

To learn more about this growing problem, see the articles in Yahoo News and on the Algalita.org website.

WWW Volunteer Ashley Ciglar Participates in Solar Decathlon

Ashley Ciglar

WWW volunteer Ashley Ciglar is participating in the Solar Decathlon sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Energy. In this competition, 20 teams of college students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. She and her team from Santa Clara University will be flying to Washington, D.C. in October for the competition and hope to place 1st; in 2007 SCU placed 3rd.

Ashley’s role in the Solar Decathlon has been to work on the greywater system. The team’s design is based on the natural water filter system she has come to know so well working as a restoration volunteer here in Watsonville. The greywater from the shower, bathroom sink, and washing machine is filtered through native wetland plants and several layers of sand and soil and then passes through a UV filter before it is recirculated to the home’s irrigation system where it is used to water the native plant garden. The preliminary testing on the system has shown an 80% decrease in organic matter, necessary prior to running the water through the UV filter. To find out more about greywater systems, click here.

Ashley is majoring in civil engineering and is hoping to do restoration work after she graduates; she is mostly interested in waterways. Thanks, Ashley, and good luck! To see Ashley’s solar house design, click here; to see her greywater system, click here.

Conservation Advocates Look for Endangered Species

Red-Legged Frog

On Saturday evening, March 28th, 2009, 16 wetlands supporters participated in a “Frogwalk.” This is an account of the experience by Cathy Gamble, a participant and WWW docent:

“Prior to the walk, we scrubbed our footwear in a mixture of one cup of bleach per gallon water, waited 10 minutes, then rinsed them in clear water to disinfect them to help stop the spread of the fungal infection, chytridiomycosis, which threatens amphibians worldwide with mass extinction. It has been found in Elkhorn Slough and other nearby areas, according to Dawn Reis, biologist and walk leader. She stressed the importance of disinfecting footwear and tools prior to entering wetland areas, and asked us to help spread the word and this ‘recipe.’

“Frogs are sensitive to light changes, so we got training in flashlight ettiquette. Heading for under the bridge just north of the PVHS campus, we found a baby Santa Cruz Garter Snake under construction debris. Dawn showed us how to lift the side of a board that’s away from you to avoid a snake’s strike. Pacific treefrog calls filled the air. We found a frog that was an inch long and bright green to match its environment. The eyes of several bullfrogs glowed in our flashlight beams. Although 24 California red-legged frogs, a threatened species, were present prior to the bridge’s construction, last year only one was found. They eluded us on this trip, not surprising as they can travel several miles from pond to pond in a night, and there are so few of them left. The area under the bridge showed signs of current human presence: litter and grafitti. Habitat disruption is one of the primary causes of the red-legged frog’s population decline.”

Note: More information on the fungal infection threatening amphibians may be found in the April, 2009, issue of National Geographic Magazine.

The restoration work the students participated in is part of a long-term plan to help agriculture and the wetlands coexist in a more sustainable way — re-establishing the critical role wetlands play in the environment. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the RCD helped secure floodplain easements on the two properties visited, one of which is now owned by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County.
Watsonville Wetlands Watch is currently in the process of restoring native habitat and wildlife corridors on the properties. These projects represent a huge opportunity to make critical improvements to Watsonville Slough while improving some of the most valuable farmland in the State. It’s also very valuable for student involvement. As part of the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the NRCS is providing funds to assist with restoration work and water quality improvements.