Thursday, October 18, 2012

The foggy trail going towards the ocean
Students observing the experimental areas
Our field trip to Point Reyes was definitely one of the coolest field trips I've been on. The autumn weather couldn't have been more perfect given the usually windy and cold conditions. We heard about some of the difficulties of managing such a huge piece of land by park biologist Dave Press, such as what to do about the oyster farm that has been "grandfathered" in and allowed to operate within park boundaries. We also heard from Dr. Cushman about the experimental plots he took over in 1998 which have been used to gauge the effects that elk grazing have on the grassland/coyote brush that is the dominant plant community. It was evident that the fenced-in plots were much more dense with coyote brush and probably provided better habitat for some species of animals. The most important point I took away from this field trip is how hard it is to manage such an area after 150 or so years of human-caused changes to the landscape. As Dr. Cushman emphasized, we really don't know what is the "right" mix of plant species since we don't have historical references, and so there is much to be learned.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Point Reyes Tule Elk talk

Off we go to Tomales Point in hopes of seeing Tule Elk!

Felicia happy we have arrived and off of those windy roads! Look at that view!

We arrived at Pierce Point ranch where we were greeted with Tule Elk examining us as well. 

Dillon taking in Point Reyes beauty!

Dave Press telling the classes about Tule reintroduction, their life cycles, and how the National Park service has been dealing with them the last 30 years.
Dave making the Tule Elk impression. Look at that antler!
The classes we able to learn a lot about the landscape, the history of Point Reyes and some current issues that the park service is encountering. Dave taught us about how well the Elk reintroduction has been, maybe even too well, contraceptives were an experiment to help maintain their populations because NPS was not aware of how many elk Tomales Point could hold. As of now the point holds 480 Elk and they are doing better than expected.

The class climbing up to one of the experimental squares. 

Nick and Emma examining the shrubs and grasses inside the fence as opposed to the landscape we had just previously waked through. 
We learned about an abandoned experiment out at Tomales Point, which SSU has now adopted back into commission. Elk have a large impact on the lands due to their stomping, antler rubbing, wastes and constant stomping down the area. They are studying the impacts that Tule Elk have upon the landscape. By squaring off a portion of land, they are able to save the vegetation inside to study the soil, plant time, and ground cover just to name a few.

It was a gorgeous day out at Point Reyes!

Taking a hike out to our lunch spot.

Class at Point Reyes is awesome!

Point Reyes field trip, success!

Tule elk at Tomales Point

Studying the effects of reintroduced herbivores on the coastal prairie grasslands
SSU's ENSP Restoration Ecology class and BIOL Ecology class got together last Friday for a field trip out to Tomales Point, the northernmost tip of Point Reyes National Seashore, to learn about the Tule Elk reintroduction program, issues related to population biology, and associated community effects of the reintroduction. Wildlife ecologist Dave Press spoke of the extirpation and near-extinction of this subspecies of American Elk, and the successful reintroduction of these native herbivores to Point Reyes National Seashore. 
Professors Dr. Caroline Christian and Dr. Hall Cushman, with Dave Press, NPS wildlife ecologist, speak at Pierce Point Ranch.
The day began at Pierce Point Ranch, where students learned about the history of land use and mammalian occupants over time, as well as techniques for surveying the populations of elk and some of their life history characteristics.
Pierce Point Ranch was a dairy and also had steer prior to the reintroduction of the native Tule elk.

An elk antler found recently.
After the introduction, the group hiked cross-country to visit the research sites, 36x36 meter plots with 8 foot-high elk-proof fencing and matching control plots. This is a paired block experiment that was established in 1998 by the National Park Service. Four pairs of plots are in lupine-dominated grasslands, four are in coyote bush-dominated grasslands, and four are in open grasslands. Dr. Hall Cushman and his research team have been doing community sampling to determine the long-term effects of the reintroduced elk.

The elk exclosure serves to keep the humans out as well. But not the deer--as we were surprised to see one inside an exclosure as we approached.

Gorgeous views make this a coveted research spot.
Tomales Point makes an excellent reintroduction site due to its topography--it is a long pennisula surrounded on three sides by the ocean, with a narrow stretch of land that was fenced to form the southern boundary. A cattle guard on the road is sufficient to keep the elk from crossing over to the cow fields. This boundary is visually stunning in the difference in vegetation.

The "elk guard" keeps the elk in. (But not the humans.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Trip to the Jenner Headlands: A Focus on French Broom Control

OFF WE GO! After a short van quiz testing our knowledge of French Broom, the class loaded up in a van and BMW and set off to the Jenner Headlands, which is located approximately one hour from the campus entrance.
Friday, September 28th was a day of exploration for the Restoration Ecology students of Sonoma State University. The class (including myself) visited the Jenner Headlands, a privately-held 5,500+/- acre preserve located a few miles north of the small town of Jenner, CA that is not normally open to the public. Beyond the rewards offered by the beautiful, awe-inspiring views and unique forests of the property, the students had the opportunity to get their hands dirty while participating in an ongoing effort to control French Broom (Genista monspessulana) on the property.
The Jenner Headlands property is located a couple miles north of the town of Jenner, CA. Situated between multiple protected areas, the property is an important coastal corridor that boasts coastal prairie, redwood forest, and more. The 5,500+/- acre property was a former working ranch which is now being jointly managed by the Sonoma Land Trust and the Wildlands Conservancy.

In addition, the students were able to strike engaging conversations, applying what they have learned with regard to resource and public lands management, conservation, restoration, and the application of sound ecological principles when pursuing the implementation of a restoration project.
The students were able to get hands on experience with invasive species removal and the use of a "weed wrench", a metal tool that helps lift mature plants and their roots out of the soil. The weed wrench struck one student (Todd Harney) as an important tool that comes with an excessive cost to restoration projects and practitioners, which has potential to be lowered. Todd plans to craft his own weed wrenches at a lower cost in his brothers welding shop, where he may be able to offer the tools to future restoration projects at a reduced price.

We had the opportunity be educated by both Sonoma Land Trust and the Wildlands Conservancy staff about the property and why it is a unique area worthy of protection. The property was originally slated for sale for any purpose, including development for homes, a bed and breakfast, or world class resort. You can see the original "For sale" ad here, which really brings to terms just how important the actions the Sonoma Land Trust and other partner organizations took to protect the property were.

A good portion of the class on the hunt for French Broom to remove with their newly minted weed  wrench skills.
We are lucky enough to have a class member, Ingrid Stearns, who is a staff member at the Sonoma Land Trust and who was able to obtain permission for us to enter and tour the property. We then got a short overview of the French Broom control program the managing organizations had implemented since the property changed hands. Groups had visited the property on multiple occasions over the past few years to remove French Broom. To the classes surprise, control efforts seemed to be effective. The class was informed by Caroline Christian and program staff that broom invasion had been much worse in previous years class trips. This brought up questions that the group approached during their lunch break. What might be causing broom to appear in lower numbers than past years? Could the restoration efforts to control french broom be working? What should the partnered organizations do in the future to prevent french broom from reappearing?
The students regrouped for lunch to discuss the questions listed above, among others.

In addition to our french broom control activities, we were able to simply enjoy a piece of property on the coast of Jenner that most citizens cannot yet explore. We saw many bird spp., a few snakes (spp.), a bobcat on the way there and back, one of the oldest Mahogany trees in the area, and much, much more. Check out the slideshow below to see all the images taken on the trip (More to be added from Caroline and other classmates when they become available.)

After an excellent day and a lot of broom removal, the time came to go home. It was a hot day and most of us were exhausted, but it also gave us an idea of the types of experiences we can look forward to as we enter the workforce over the coming years.