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Archive for the ‘Delta Conservancy’ Category

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A view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has produced a video called Restoring California’s Great Estuary that explains the EcoRestore initiative which is one of the big, state-wide efforts that is aiming at restoring some fairly significant amounts of habitat to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Being that I work for a State agency called the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, this is something that I pay a lot of attention to. But there are a lot of reasons that everyone who lives in California, and many people who live outside the state, should also be interested in this video. A large portion of the people, farms, ranches, and industries in California rely, at least in part, on water from the Delta. That fact alone should make efforts like

Also, I work with many of the people featured in this video including my boss, Campbell Ingram. Seeing talented people that I know talking about an issue that I care about makes this video that much more appealing to me, but that probably won’t have much impact on you.

Enjoy!

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A study was published earlier this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment on the effects that invasive species have on other species around the globe. The study is by Tim M. Blackburn, Celine Bellard, and Anthony Ricciardi, and it can be found here.

The main thrust of the paper is that invasive species of plants and animals have been found to have a significant impact on the extinction of other plants and animals all around the world. Specifically, 25% of the plant species that have gone extinct in recent years have been the result, at least in part, of invasive species. Additionally, 33% of the animal species that have gone extinct in recent years have been the result, at least in part, of invasive species.

These numbers are pretty compelling components to the story of just how damaging invasive species can be. It is part of the reason I find working on invasive species control in California to be rewarding.

I am currently working on the control of Arundo (which is a large invasive reed), water primrose (an invasive aquatic plant), Phragmites (which is another invasive reed that is a bit smaller than Arundo), and Nutria (which is a 20 pound semi-aquatic rodent). Each of these species pose unique threats to the native species of California and to many other aspects of the ecosystem as well.

Hopefully, protocols can be developed to stop invasive species before they contribute even more extinctions!

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For the few years, one of the projects I have been working on at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy has been helping a team of dedicated individuals and organizations to cleanup a slough just south of the city of West Sacramento, where I live. The slough is named Babel Slough and it runs for about 3.5 miles through agricultural lands in the Clarksberg area.

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Tires and other debris freshly removed from Babel Slough

For well over 50 years, people have been driving past Babel Slough and dumping trash is it. All kinds of stuff has ended up in the waterway, with tires being a particularly big problem.

After getting through many hurdles, the first phase of the cleanup took place last winter, and the second phase is going on right now. The third, and final, phase will hopefully take place this coming winter.

As the phase 2 efforts are being made, a reporter from the Daily Democrat came to visit, see the site and the work being done, and to talk with the team. The piece she wrote can be read here.

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This is a link to a blog post I wrote for the UC Davis-USDA Delta Region Areawide Aquatic Weed Project website. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (the agency I work for) gets funding from the USDA to control Arundo infestations in the Delta.

Arundo (which I have written about previously here) is a highly invasive plant that causes bank destabilization, increased fire hazard, increased water use, and excludes native plants and animals. The Delta Conservancy has been coordinating with a the Sonoma Ecology Center and the USDA to apply treatments of herbicides and/or insects that are specific Arundo parasites to eliminate Arundo from as much of the Delta as possible. This work began last summer/fall at the Brannan Island State Recreation Area, as site that is owned by California State Parks and which has a lot of Arundo.

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Delta Conservancy Logo 3I have been working at the Delta Conservancy for just over two years, now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help our Program Manager and higher ranking staff to form the competitive process by which organizations can submit proposals for projects, the process of reviewing and ranking those proposals to determine which will be funded, and then the management of the specific grant awards to successful projects.

In 2015, just before I began working here, the Delta Conservancy received its first round of project proposals, in the fall of 2016 we received our second round of proposals, and we are currently reviewing our third round of proposals as I write this (there will be subsequent rounds in the fall of 2018, and 2019). I am very involved in reviewing these proposals and scoring them to determine which would go on to be awarded funding. We have now gone through the entire process of reviewing the proposals, recommending the most qualified proposals to our board of directors for approval, and then writing the actual grant agreements, two (-and-a-half) times. This is the exciting part because it now means we are able to move forward with giving funds to get projects accomplished.

I thought it might be interesting to introduce you to those projects as they get underway. I am going to be the grant manager for two of the projects from our 2015 batch of proposals and all four from the 2016 batch. The first to begin was the Lower Marsh and Sand Creek Watershed Riparian Restoration Planning Project that I wrote about here. The most recent grant funded project to be signed is one called the Restoration of Priority Freshwater Wetlands for Endangered Species at the Cosumnes River Preserve Project. It will restore about 110 acres of high priority wetlands in the Horseshoe Lake unit of the Cosumnes River Preserve. The main focus is to remove water primrose from Horseshoe Lake and build up the banks of the lake to provide habitat for Giant Garter Snakes. It is the one I will focus on in this post.

The Restoration of Priority Freshwater Wetlands for Endangered Species at the Cosumnes River Preserve Project was proposed by a the Sacramento County Parks Department. The site of the project is an area in an area of the Cosumnes River Preserve just east of CA-99 and a little north of Galt, CA in Sacramento County. This area of the Preserve is close to one of the largest remaining populations of Giant Garter Snake, which is a federal and state listed endangered species. The project area also has a large egret, heron, and cormorant rookery, and also provides habitat for many other species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

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Project site in the Cosumnes River Preserve showing extensive growth of invasive Water Primrose.

The project will remove thousands of pounds an invasive, aquatic plant called Water Primrose (Ludwigia peploides) that is currently clogging the lake and surrounding waterways. By removing this vegetation, a large area of open water will be created that will improved the water quality and habitat quality of the lake. All the removed plant mass will be piled along parts of the lake sides. This will decompose and increase the elevation of these areas making them into uplands habitat that Giant Garter Snakes need for when they go dormant in winter. Some of these raised areas will also be planted with oak tree to increase the area of the rookery.

Over the next three years that the Delta Conservancy will be funding this project. It will be amazing to see this habitat come into being.

PrintThis project has a budget of $942,631 awarded from the Proposition 1 Grant Fund by the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy.

As of this writing, we are in the midst of our third cycle of proposals, and are discussing the fourth. I am looking forward to seeing what projects are proposed and which are successful and will be funded by the Delta Conservancy.

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Delta Conservancy Logo 3The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (the state agency where I work), which is based in West Sacramento, is currently looking to hire a Senior Environmental Scientist (Specialist)! The position is heavily involved with invasive plant work, particularly focusing on Giant Reed (Arundo donax) in the Delta. It will also be quite involved with managing Proposition 1 grants for habitat restoration, water quality improvement, and sustainable agriculture projects.

If you are interested, or know someone who might be, please check out the official job posting here. It is a great agency to work for!

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IMG_20170829_091735[1]Along with about 125 other scientists, researchers, and managers, I spent most of last Tuesday attending the Delta Invasive Species Symposium hosted on the U.C. Davis campus and organized by the Delta Stewardship Council, U.C. Davis, and the Delta Interagency Invasive Species Coordination Team.

It was a very interesting symposium that included talks, posters, and a terrific panel discussion. Topics covered a wide range of invasive species ecology, invasive species management techniques and efforts, the effects of invasive species on natural communities and human society, and how invasive species are likely to be effected by climate change.

There are a huge number of invasive species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This list includes plants like Water Hyacinth and Giant Reed, vertebrates such as Northern Watersnake and Stripped Bass, invertebrates like Asian Gypsy Moth and Spotted Lanternfly, and many many others.

Dealing with the effects of these invasive species, and attempting to control their populations, costs millions of dollar every year.

Given these high costs, prevention is without doubt the best technique when dealing with invasive species. The costs of measures that are undertaken to prevent an invasive species from entering an area, the Delta for example, are certainly going to be less than the costs of controlling that species once it becomes established. Many efforts are being undertaken in the Delta to keep new invaders from entering. This is especially important because many invasive species are currently found near the Delta, that could become huge problems in they show enter the Delta system. Nutria are an example of this. The Nutria is a large rodent native to South America. A population was established in the southern Sierra in the hope of crating a source for furs, but the furs of Nutria did not catch on in the market place, and the effort was abandoned. The Nutria that had been released were hunted and almost completely exterminated in the 1960s, but small numbers have started showing up along the Merced and  San Joaquin Rivers. If those populations are allowed to grow and spread, they will cause massive damage to the Delta ecosystem because of the feeding habits of Nutria which can leave extensive tracts of wetlands denuded of vegetation.

The next best technique is early detection and rapid responses. If an invasive species is expanding its geographic range, having lots of observations of where it is occurring is immensely useful. Knowing exactly where, when, and how many individuals are out there can mean that, with a swift response, it may be possible to control their numbers. This is where the value of citizen science networks is particularly dramatic. There is no way that professional biologists will be able to cover a whole area at small enough detail and high enough frequency to realistically be able to watch for any and all invasive species. But with online databases and citizen scientists out in the field, there may be enough eyes to pick up on new invasive arrivals. Projects like eBird, Calflora, and others allow individuals to add their observations together to form an enormous and very thorough observation net.

One reason that tracking and responding to invasive species is so important is the effects that they have on native species. Competition with invasive species is the second most common reason for species to be placed on the Endangered Species List (behind habitat destruction), and invasive species interactions are a contributing factor for listing 1/3 of all listed species!

And it is only going to get worse. Global climate change is opening up large areas that used to be unlikely places for invasive species to get a foothold. Alaska is just such a place. Historically, places like Alaska had harsh enough environments that, generally speaking, only species that had evolved with those conditions did well. With the warming climate, these harsh conditions that have protected such areas are becoming less harsh. Elodea is an aquatic plant that is often considered an invasive due its rapid growth rates and its tendency to exclude other species from an area. Historically, it was not found in Alaska at all, but in the past few years has started to appear in parts of the state.

All in all, I learned a lot at the symposium. There are definitely a lot of threats and dangers posed by invasive species in the Delta and many more from invasive species that are not currently present should they enter the Delta ecosystem. But there is also so much that can and is being done by dedicated professionals in the field, and also by communities and citizen scientists who care about the natural ecosystems in which we all live.

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