Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Team adapts to severe drought

The lack of rain has severely impacted our planting season.
The lack of rain has severely impacted our planting season.

Did anyone notice that wet stuff coming out of the sky over the weekend? That inch of rain brought all bay area residents some hope, but California will need much much more. So while the Midwest, east coast and even the south are experiencing polar vortices and freezing artic storms, out west we are baking under 80 degree weather.

The drought, now officially designated by Governor Brown, has become THE topic of conversation. From farmers in the central valley to ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada everyone seems to be feeling the effects of this drought.

The lack of rain has certainly affected Save The Bay’s community-based habitat restoration programs. If you have signed to volunteer with us recently, you may have noticed a disclaimer that reads: Attention volunteers! Please note that due to the drought, all restoration activities are subject to change. 

The winter marks the most exciting time of the year for the thousands of volunteers who have worked so hard to remove invasive species and grow native plants for our restoration sites. During this stage of the restoration cycle, volunteers and restoration staff work together to plant 40,000 native seedlings along the Bay shoreline. But after two months of negligible rain the planting season has ground to a screeching halt. Instead of spending my days planting with volunteers, the drought has forced me to focus on watering the plants that have already been planted.

Jon Backus, Save The Bay’s Restoration Project Manager explained the difficulties to a recent volunteer, “We depend on the winter rains for supplemental watering after the volunteers have planted. The lack of rain has created a daunting task. We have 6 restoration sites around the Bay and thousands of little seedlings that are struggling through this dry weather.

In order to reach our goals for the year and give the plants the best chance of survival Save The Bay’s Restoration team has become a mobile rain cloud, driving around to our various sites with hundreds of gallons of water in tow. Instead of having volunteers plant 1,000 plants during a program we stick with a more manageable goal. Quality over quantity is our mantra.

Many volunteers are surprised at the amount of water we are giving the seedlings. The common misconception is that because a plant is a California native or drought tolerant that the lack of rain will not be a problem. But, the reality is that even drought tolerant plants need water to become established. It can take up to 5 months for a little seedling to take root, especially in the degraded soils that we are trying to restore.

Even with some sprinkles in the forecast for this week, the only way to ensure the survival of our remaining plants is to hold them over for another year. Instead of planting, some volunteers will be giving the plants more room to grow by transplanting them into larger containers. With our nurseries already full I encourage any tetris or jigsaw puzzle champions to join in helping us fit these plants AND the new plants for next season! In the meantime let’s keep our fingers crossed and those rain dancin’ shoes on and maybe mother nature will surprise us.

We need your help more than ever during this dry winter. Sign up to volunteer with us this season.