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Archive for the ‘Restoration’ Category

While I worked at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (Delta Conservancy) I managed a grant funded by Proposition 1 that sent money for improvements to the water management system of the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. The organization managing the project was a nonprofit called Ducks Unlimited, and they worked with the wildlife area staff, several other funding agencies, and other nonprofit organizations to make these improvements happen.

Image showing a small drainage pipe that existed before this Ducks Unlimited project was undertaken. The pipe is small and easily choked with vegetation and debris. Photo courtesy of Ducks Unlimited.

The improvements that were needed all focused on allowing the wildlife area staff to be able to move water on and off the wildlife area when they needed to. To manage a site like the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, a lot of water needs to be brought onto and off of different sections of land at different times of year so that the different areas can be flooded to different depths for different amounts of time and in different seasons. All those differences mean that to move water around a lot of canals are needed that trace their way across the wildlife area, and a lot of pumps are needed that are scattered along those canals.

The particular issues that this project set out to fix were two points along some of the larger canals in the wildlife area were water flow was limited because of small pipes and shallow canals. These pipes were taken out and replaced by wider bridges and the canals dredged deeper. Further issues that this project addressed were the moving of one pump and the installation of a new one.

All this work took on the order of $5 million and about five years, but it is now complete! In early December of 2021, I joined a group of people including Ducks Unlimited staff, funders, other agency staff, elected officials, other nonprofit staff, etc. to take a tour around the wildlife area to see the improvements that were built! It was pretty great to see the completed project and think back on all the effort that went in to bringing the project to a successful close. To learn more about the project with really nice visuals that allow you to really get a sense of the work that was done, check out this YouTube video that Ducks Unlimited created.

Image showing a bridge that was built as part of this Ducks Unlimited project. The bridge is wide enough to allow for higher water flow to occur uninhibited by vegetation or debris. Photo courtesy of Ducks Unlimited.

This project is a great example of how changes to an area can sometimes be very important, yet not very exciting or dramatic to look at. These improvements are not as beautiful as planting oak trees along a stream, nor are they as interesting to look at as installing boulders in a river to create more habitat diversity, yet without improvements like this thousands of acres of land would not be providing the food, shelter, and other resources that are needed by thousands of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, etc!

So, congratulations to Ducks Unlimited and all the other organizations and agencies that were involved in this project for getting a lot of hard and complex work done and allowing this wildlife area to continue to be the amazing resource for wildlife that it is!

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I have a new job! After over five years working for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy as an Environmental Scientist, I have accepted a promotion and changed agencies. I am now a Senior Environmental Scientist (Specialist) managing the Stream Flow Enhancement Program at the Wildlife Conservation Board.

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The mission statement of the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) is: The Wildlife Conservation Board protects, restores and enhances California’s spectacular natural resources for wildlife and for the public’s use and enjoyment in partnership with conservation groups, government agencies and the people of California. The WCB was founded in 1947. The Board itself is comprised of seven members including: the President of the Fish and Game Commission, the Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Director of the Department of Finance, and four public members, two appointed by the legislature and two by the Governor. The primary roles of the WCB are to select, authorize and allocate funds for the purchase of land and waters suitable for recreation purposes and the preservation, protection and restoration of wildlife habitat. To these ends, WCB has numerous grant programs that focus on various different aspects of California’s landscape and the needs of the people and other species who call this state home.

Central Valley Tributaries Program

The Stream Flow Enhancement Program (SFEP) is one of those grant programs. It is funded through Proposition 1 (under which I was also working at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy and have written about before) which was a water bond passed in 2014. Proposition 1 allocated $200 million to WCB to fund projects that result in enhanced stream flows (i.e., a change in the amount, timing, and/or quality of water flowing down a stream, or a portion of a stream, to benefit fish and wildlife). Basically, these Proposition 1 dollars are to be spent to make the streams and rivers across the state of California better for fish and wildlife.

I am really excited about this new position. The opportunity to work on projects that range throughout the entire state, the larger pool of funding that I will be overseeing, and the new set of challenges associated with protecting the waters of the state are all components of this new job that very much excite me. Some aspects will be hard. I am certainly going to learn a lot. And I think I am up to the challenge! I will keep you posted on how the job develops, what I learn and experience, the state of the streams and rivers of California, and how the many interacting forces at work impact the status of these vital ecosystems.

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I have been working at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (Delta Conservancy) for about five 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 form the competitive process by which organizations can apply for this funding, and then to manage the grants that fund the selected projects.

One such project is the Dutch Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration Project. This is a project being organized by a team including staff from the Department of Water Resources (DWR), the local reclamation district (RD 2137), and several consulting firms.

This project is a huge one! About 1,160 acres in size, this project represents one of the larger habitat restoration projects occurring in the Delta. And it is restoring extensive amounts of tidal habitat, which makes it an even bigger deal since tidal restoration is difficult from both technical and political standpoints. These difficulties help to explain why it has taken about 15 years for this project to go from concept to implementation. Since it is so large, funding has come from several different sources with funds from the Delta Conservancy awarded to cover the costs of the revegetation phase.

Partly as a result of how high profile a project this is, DWR has created some great materials for telling people about the project. One of the best is a short video about what the project is, how it came to be, and what the hopes for the project’s future include. I highly recommend giving this video a watch. Another amazing way to explore the project is their YouTube channel. This channel has dozens of videos. They are drone flights over the project taken over the past three years. Going and watching some of the earlier videos and comparing those with more recent videos is pretty breathtaking. These before and after videos provide a wonderful example of how dramatically, and relatively quickly, habitat restoration projects can change a landscape and create habitat.

I hope you enjoy the virtual exploration. The project will have trails that are open to the public when it is completed (likely next year), and I encourage you to head out to the site in person when that happens.

Image taken from one of the drone flight videos from 2020

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In 1982, the year I was born, there were only 22 California Condors alive in the world. Those 22 birds were all that remained of a population that once spanned the western US, and bits of Canada and Mexico. The Condor population plummeted as a result of lead poisoning, hunting, habitat loss and pollution.

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Geographic range of the California Condor in the 1880s

By 1987, the world population of California Condors was 27 birds. Since the causes of the California Condor decline were distinctly human activities, it only seemed appropriate for humans to step up and attempt to fix what they had broken. To that end, the 27 birds were captured and taken into a captive breeding program run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The goal of that captive breeding program was to first raise Condors and establish multiple captive breeding populations, and then to establish multiple wild populations. It was an ambitious plan.

Over the last 37 years, the program has overcome countless challenges from figuring out how to hatch condor eggs, to how to raise babies that will grow into wild adults, to teaching those young adults to find food. California Condors are not fast breeders. A pair will only lay one egg each year, and they sometimes skip years. The young birds take several years to grow and gain full independence, and will begin to breed after about five years. It has taken extensive amounts of money and time, but success after success have become realities.

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An adult California Condor

A small number of captive breeding populations were established in zoos raptor breeding facilities. In 1992, Condors began to be released into the wild. Additional releases established small populations in California, Arizona, Utah, and Mexico.

Now a new milestone has been reached. In March of this year, the 1000th California Condor chick has hatched since 1987 when the captive breeding population was initiated. This brings the living population to around 500 individuals, since numerous chicks, juveniles, and adults have died in the last 37 years. The 1000th chick hatched in the wild to a pair of Condors living in Zion National Park in Utah.

A population of 500 individuals is still not big enough to be out of danger of extinction, and as such are still protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. But it is certainly a wonderful accomplishment, and the 1000th chick born is also a occasion to be celebrated. Hopefully, the California Condor population will continue to grow, and the amazing birds, the largest in North America, with their 9 foot wingspans will be circling 15,000 feet over our heads in greater numbers and across greater areas as the next 37 years unfold.

California Condor 02

 

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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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