Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Jenner Headlands

SSU Restoration Ecology At The Jenner Headlands
by Austin Duke

On the tenth day of October in the year 2014, the Sonoma State Restoration Ecology class took a nice day-trip out to Duncan Mills to learn about shaded fuel breaks and the work of the Wild Conservancy. We were greeted by two employees of Wild Conservancy, who showed us around the Jenner Headlands and taught us how to create and maintain a shaded fuel break. We spent most of our day helping maintain the shaded fuel break by cutting all the low level vegetation and stacking it on top of the exposed stumps. We were very lucky to be able to success this property on such a beautiful day. 

Climbing the hill to the shaded fuel break!

Tim looking for some more low level vegetation to cut!

Hard at work!

What beautiful Salamander!

Everybody is exhausted after a long day of work.

Zach and Meghan chatting it up before we left.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Sonoma Baylands
A Sonoma Land Trust 
Restoration Project in the making!
Located at Sears Point
By Kelly Simon-Coghlan aka the awesomest van driver ever (:

On October 3, 2014 The Sonoma State University’s Restoration Ecology class visited the site of a large restoration project being undertaken by Sonoma Land Trust (SLT), I got to be a part of this trip. When first driving up it looks as if you are entering a ranch, until you pull up to the main building (which used to be a barn or ranch house?) It was re-designed pro-bono by the renowned architect Olle Lundberg who is now designing the Twitter building headquarters in San Francisco. It may not look like much from the picture but I stole another picture from the designer’s blog shown below this one. It has a deck that looks out over the field and as we were told has breathtaking views in the spring with all the flowers in bloom. Currently with no rain and two years of ongoing drought, it looked pretty dead and dry out there.


Sonoma Baylands building 2014

Julian Meisler is SLT’s Baylands program manager and the person who gave us the tour around the Baylands as well as a lot of information about how the land was aquisitioned. He also told us about how the Rohnert Park Graton Resort casino was almost going to be built right there on that spot where we were standing. He said from a zoning point, it was a fine place to put a very large casino. The Bay Institute, Sonoma Land Trust and Sonoma Ecology Center put together an 18 page document stating why building a casino in this spot would be a bad decision. The Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria agreed. After seeing that the land should be protected, they donated their right to acquire the 2,327 acre Sears Point property as well as $75,000 (I looked the actual amount of $ money up). The tribe held on to five parcels totalling 321 acres of land but promised to donate it once they got their spot in Rohnert Park for the new casino, and in April of 2013 they did.

Another concern/problem was that there had been farmers on this land for generations and now people were coming in and telling them how they had to do things. Unfortunately a hunting area had to be closed down which caused a lot of friction as well. SLT works with the local ranchers and there are cattle that roam the property and help keep down many of the exotic weeds.

The area is broken up into sections of what will be done or is being done. The section closest to hwy 37 is the “upland enhancement” area, the middle section is the “seasonal wetland enhancement” area, and the area that is closest to the bay is the “tidal marsh” area. The marsh area is technically a “muted” marsh because the bay cannot come all the way in.


Here is the class hanging out on the back deck (yeah I know its dark)

We drove through a field (in the rented vans) through two gates and then to a large dug out dirt odd shaped pit in the ground. We were told it will be a red legged frog habitat. It also has variation in it’s depths. The problem is that last time it was filled with water the salinity was saltier than the ocean (which is not good for frogs). Julian told us the reason may be because of the salts left in the soil possibly from a salty aquifer underground, because the water that filled the pond was rain water. Hopefully that can be remedied. The odd shape/varied depths of the pond is to have special niches for the frogs. Julian told us an interesting fact about the red-legged frogs and the big problem of Bullfrogs being an invasive species and a huge threat. Red-legged frogs seem to do pretty well when ponds dry out for the season. They hide under leaves and are able to stay moist whereas the Bullfrogs take a long time to mature so if the pond dried up, they would all die as shriveled up little tadpoles.

Red-legged frog habitat

Below is a picture of a wetland area that they started working on in 1995. They had to bring in truck loads of sediment (literally). Cord grass is the first colonizer in mudflats and it eventually turns to pickleweed. They worry about perennial pepperweed, which is invasive. This area restored to this point quicker than thought because the allotted size for the bay water to get into the marsh was only 25 feet and that was not big enough. Nature had it’s own idea and after a few storms the hole was naturally altered to a great size of about 200 feet.

Restored wetland area! (:

On the other side of the dirt path we were walking on, next to this beautiful stinky area,
is an altered dirt area which is said to have been just what the above marsh looked like in 1995. This one will take a lot longer though because they are letting the water bring in the sediment.

Will be marsh land

Dittrichia graveolens (stinkwort) is another non-native that spreads rapidly and is also a worry. Below Julian is explaining to the class the details of the area pictured above while his assistant manager Rocky is trying to keep cool and still be adorable at the same time. In front is stinkwort!

Julian, Rocky and stinkwort

And now for what’s REALLY going on here.

Massive Demolition

Massive demolition. Some of the biggest machines I’ve seen digging up a humongous area. They need the waters from the bay to come in with lots of sediment but then they need them to be calm once they get in so that they can drop the sediment inside this area to help create the foundation for the habitat. In order to do this they have created massive amounts of mounds that look like little compacted islands as well as “side cast ridges” or the “comma curves” (I don’t know if that second one was my terminology or Julian’s).

Now for some last random pictures:
van peeps.jpg

Van peeps

Little bit of dirt love

Vita checking out the pickleweed       

The End of the Trail

A Visit to Jenner Headlands

         A Visit to Jenner Headlands           

Melina Hammar, Heather Wacker, Daniel Foley, Shiloh Vallentyne

For our next field trip outing, we made the trek from Rohnert Park out to Duncan’s Mills to learn about the Wild Conservancy’s property at Jenner Headlands.  This majestic forest spans approximately 3,000 acres of the property and is a home to numerous species, which include the Northern Spotted Owl.  Past land uses and extensive timber harvesting has altered the composition and integrity of this integral forest along the Sonoma Coast. Therefore, a set of restoration forestry goals have been established to encourage the historical nature of this forest and create a self-sustaining ecosystem that supports the growth of mature conifers, provides suitable habitat for the species present, and protects streams and water quality.  Currently, the forest is dominated by smaller, thinner trees, which have a tendency to overcrowd the landscape.  This makes the system especially vulnerable to fire.  So, for our day in Jenner, we pitched-in to help create a shaded fuel break.

The shaded fuel break is intended to produce more mature trees and reduce fuel loads by utilizing the shade from selected, taller trees to shade out the new growth of younger trees.  This will enhance the forest by supporting the growth of the older trees that are more disease-resistant and fire-resilient while decreasing the growth of smaller trees that would compete with the older stands.  Low growing shrubs such as huckleberry can then establish along the forest floor to further suppress the growth of smaller trees.   However, until the trees are large enough to shade out the growth of smaller trees, manual removal is a good alternative.  And that is where our fieldwork came in!!

Everyone listening to Zach as he explains how we will all be helping with the shaded fuel break in the Jenner Headlands.

Thanks Zach!

Getting ready to start our day of hard work chopping down smaller trees
to help support the growth of the larger trees.

Shiloh hard at work!

We had two different sides of the hill that we were working on.
Here you can see half the class working hard at trimming down the undergrowth.

Great job Kelsey and Ruben!
Vita working hard!!


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

When we first got to Point Reyes We gathered to listen to a Ranger Wild life biologist Dave. He was very supportive of the research and restoration that was happening at point Reyes and he was a key part in making it all happen. The ranger began our discussion by talking about the Elk and about how he became wildlife biologist. He also talked briefly about Elk exposure experiment that they are currently doing. The ranger grew up in the area and did his undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz. He really enjoyed the Santa Cruz Field Classes and began to do Elephant seal monitoring. He then got involved with a wild life team monitoring seals and he began examining salon bearing. His team and himself would traverse rivers counting salon and trout. He then applied and attended UC Davis for a masters ecology program. This program was fairly routed in marine biology. He worked with another member of the UC Davis team and listed endangered species and dealt with  Any wildlife issues that floated his way. Some of these issues had to do with spotted owls and establishing long-term wild life survey systems with cameras to record information on them and watch their long-term trends over time. 
            He then talked to us about the  repopulation of Tollie elk that was initially
one heard of 10 left. Tollie Elk is a subspecies of elk and is endemic to California. The Tollie Elk subspecies was thought to be extinct but a remnant heard survived the gold rush. There were 10 surviving Tollie Elk that were found on private property. The state then worked with ecologists to protect Tollie elk and made it illegal to hunt them until there were 2000 alive. Complimentary language was passed in congress to provide federal aid for potential restoration sites to reintegrate the elk. Pont rays was a chosen location to protect the heard. The Heard is contained with a 26,000 acres space and kept in with tall elk fencing,

 In this class we learned allot about the landscape, this history of point Reys, and some of the key issues that the park service is currently facing when dealing with  Elk population. Dave also talked in ddepth about how successful the Elk reintroduction has been. The Elk population has risen so drastically that contraceptive techniques were used to slow down their exponential growth. It has been determined that the Tomales point can hold roughly 480 Elk which was more than originally expected.

One of the most significant things we learned about was an experiment that was initially abandoned but has been brought back to life by Sonoma State Grad students. The experiment fenced off sections of land to find out what the landscape would be like if there wasn't any elk grazing on it. This study gathered information on the impacts of the Tule Elk on the landscape, and animals and plant populations within i. 

Ranger Dave talked about how important it is for elk antlers to be deteriorated and the nutrients returned back into the ecosystem. He told us that people come out the preserve to collect the Antlers
that have fallen off elk. Dave told us this has negative impacts on the ecosystem because so much nutrients go into the development of the antlers  that these nutrients need to be returned back to the soil. To make sure no one steals antlers the rangers collect them run them through a wood shipper and spread them out through the preserve.

one heard of 24 left. Tollie Elk is a subspecies of elk and is endemic to California. The Tollie Elk subspecies was thought to be extinct but a remnant heard survived the gold rush. There were 10 surviving Tollie Elk that were found on private property. The state then worked with ecologists to protect Tollie elk and made it illegal to hunt them until there were 2000 alive. Complimentary language was passed in congress to provide federal aid for potential restoration sites to reintegrate the elk. Pont rays was a chosen location to protect the heard. The Heard is contained with a 26,000 acres space and kept in with tall elk fencing,

Tomales Point

Friday November 7th, 2014

Field Trip to Tomales Point By Kylie Carpenter, Kelsey Cox, Syd Godfrey, Alec Moschetti, Kevin Gugerty

Majestic Tule Elk at Tomales Point
Ye Old Dairy (AKA Pierce Point Ranch)

On November 7th, 2014, Sonoma State University's Restoration Ecology and Ecology class combined for a field trip to the Tomales Point Elk Exclosure Experiments.  These experiments look at the consequences of the tule elk reintroduction for plant invasions and community composition in coastal grasslands.  


 Elk will shed and regrow their antlers next year. The park has a problem with poachers coming in and removing the fallen antlers. To combat this the park rangers will go out and collect antlers, grind them up, then spread the grindings out across the park.
Ranger Drew told us about the reintroduction of the Tule Elk.
This population was reduced to 10 individuals found in Bakersfield, and were
relocated to the Point Reyes reserve 17 years ago. There are now about 360 Tule Elk. 

ENSP 423 Restoration Ecology and BIOL 333 Ecology students at the top of Tule Elk Preserve at Tomales Point 

Each enclosure has an unfenced control with a 3m buffer 

Elk Exclosure 36x36 plot shows effects of elk on the community

Inside Elk Exclosure 36x 36 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sear's Point Bayland Field Trip By Sarina Healey, Kelly Kehoe, and Chelsea Garbarino

On October 3rd, 2014 the restoration ecology students at Sonoma State went to the Sear's Point Baylands located by the San Pablo Bay off of Highway 37. Julian Meisler, the Baylands program manager showed us around the site and explained what the restoration project was and how much progress they have made so far.
Old ranch building now renovated

In 2005 the Sonoma Land Trust obtained Sears Point, which is 2,327 acres. The site was originally an old ranch building which was renovated and completed in 2011. It was constructed by an architect from San Francisco for free, and made of reclaimed barn wood.It was supposed to be the location of our newest entertainment the Graton Casino! However the land was previously a tidal marsh and it was determined to be an unfit location by consultants and the Native American tribe.

Currently, Julian is working on the Sear's Point wetland and watershed restoration project, where he is trying to obtain 1000 acres to return to the tidal marsh. He will also be working closely with the agricultural workers and establish good relationships with them. The area is dominated with Italian vine grass, and they hope the farmers will help to desiccate the grass. 

Julian Meisler and classmate Vita holding a map of the Baylands

This photo is showing the storm water pump to help keep the water clear. The pumps are quite expensive running approximately $700,000 and they can pump 11,000 gallons per minute.

Other key components of the Sears Point wetland and watershed restoration project is to bring back species and open up the Baylands as a trail for public use. Julian talked to us about recreating habitat for the California red legged frog, as there are already some present in the watershed. He hopes to eventually establish breeding grounds and colonize the area for them.
California red legged frog. We hope to see more in the Baylands!

Classmate Amanda holding Pickleweed!
Lastly, we learned that the Baylands needed sediment to be brought in to increase elevation levels, but now the sediment has a deficit due to sea level rise. The increase in sediment has caused dominant plants such as pickle weed and cord grass to grow If sea level rises too quickly, it won't be considered a marsh and will be a levy. Julian and his team members will be working on how to mitigate these potential environmental changes and we hope to see the Baylands project complete in upcoming years!

We end our blog with some miscellaneous pictures from the field trip, such as the salt marshes some of the grass fields, etc!