Notes from the Field: Poppies Springing out of Dormancy

CA Poppies
Spring has sprung and so has the California poppy.

It’s hard to deny that spring has arrived in California. Our coastal areas and foothills are lighting up with the floral blues of miniature lupine (Lupinus bicolor), the vivid purples of blue-eyed grass (sisyrinchium bellum), the glowing oranges of sticky monkey flower (mimulus aurantiacus) and our state flower, the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Though the scientific name of the California poppy may be nearly impossible to pronounce — it gets its namesake from Livonian naturalist Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz — this doesn’t stop us from celebrating the beauty and resiliency of this iconic flower.

On April 6th, 70 Save The Bay volunteers gathered at Eden Landing in Hayward and the MLK shoreline in Oakland to celebrate California Poppy Day by participating in a public community-based restoration program. Though the California poppy is just one of roughly 30 native plants we propagate and install at wetland restoration sites around the Bay, it is certainly one of my personal favorites. Not only is the California poppy quite beautiful, it is also extremely hardy, making it a prime species for use in wetland restoration.

The California poppy is native to the west coast of North America, ranging from Washington state down through Baja California, and as far inland as Texas. Pollinated by beetles as well as introduced European bees, the poppy can exhibit the lifecycle of both an annual (living for one growing season) or perennial (living for multiple growing seasons) flowering plant. The poppy acts as an annual when in harsh, dry living conditions or during drought years, while it can function as a perennial when in more favorable conditions. This flexibility makes the California poppy a wonderful drought escaper, as it can remain in an area in dormant seed form until adequate moisture is available.

Though our restoration sites are a great place to see California poppies in bloom, true poppy enthusiasts recognize the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve as the Holy Grail of poppy populations. Located in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles, this state park’s rolling hills explode with acres of poppy fields every spring. Want to get to know the poppy a little better? Come join us for a restoration program?

Weekly Roundup January 25, 2013

weekly roundupThough scientists are saying that storms like Sandy are the “new normal” the public has not lost its appetite for shoreline living. As rebuilding continues apace, some are asking how long we can afford to subsidize and protect developments along our nation’s shoreline. The San Francisco Waterfront is not as immune to this threat as development plans in the city might indicate. Sutro Sam, the river otter living in the ruins of Sutro Baths is indeed cute, but the public should know that otters are wild animals that may bite. So don’t get too close! The abundant herring run in San Francisco this year is not only great for hungry birds, but it’s also a sign of improved water quality in the Bay after the fishery collapsed following the Cosco Busan spill. However, fisheries managers are concerned about the lack of older fish in this year’s run. Save The Bay hosted an epic group of volunteers at MLK Shoreline on Martin Luther King Day. Nearly 800 plants were put in the ground—a great effort toward our goal of 30,000 plants for the season.

San Francisco Chronicle 1/18/2013
Is Rebuilding in Hurricane Zones Wise?
Denise Tortorello, a real estate agent at Riviera Realty in Point Pleasant, N.J., said she can’t tell yet where property values are headed since Hurricane Sandy demolished a string of beach towns built on a slender strip of barrier islands in the Atlantic. “I’m sitting in my office, and I’m looking at the National Guard right outside out my window,” she said. On a December day, the temperature outside was 65 degrees.
Read more>>

San Francisco Bay Guardian 1/22/2013
Sea Level Rise and Development in SF
Naval bases, power plants, ports, highways – trillions of dollars of investment – sit on U.S. coasts because it once made sense to put them there. As people flocked to the shores, tiny beach towns became cities. Congress is hardly maintaining roads and bridges; its appetite for giant new sea walls around New York Harbor has yet to be tested.
Read more>>

One Earth Blog 1/21/2013
California’s Newest Star is Otterly Adorable—And a Biter
Does it sound like bragging when I say that I knew San Francisco’s celebrity otter before he was famous? A video posted on Bay Nature last fall led me to the Sutro Baths — a 19th-century swimming complex built on the coast and abandoned in the 1960s — in search of a male river otter who had been spotted hanging around the ruins. I headed out one day in early November, when the place was nearly deserted.

San Francisco Chronicle 1/24/2013
Lots of Herring Hit Bay Area
Great swirling schools of herring converged in San Francisco Bay this month, drawing fishermen, sea lions, harbor seals and thousands upon thousands of birds looking to fatten up for the winter.
Read more>>

Bay Nature 1/23/2013
Planting in Memory of MLK
Save the Bay rounded up 100 or so volunteers on Monday to help out with planting high transition zone plants, the drought tolerant varieties that are considered “ecosystem engineers.” Not only do they can outcompete the nasty invasives and flourish in disturbed soil close to trails, they provide habitat during high tide events and filter pollutants and trash before they reach the San Francisco Bay.
Read more>>

Notes from the Field | RAE Family Reunion in Florida

Save The Bay at RAE
Save The Bay reunited with our “family” of conservation organizations at Restore America’s Estuaries in Tampa. Representing Save The Bay were (clockwise from left): Donna Ball, Laura Wainer, Seth Chanin, Dylan Chapple, and David Lewis.

Family reunions can be wonderfully meaningful events, especially when they don’t involve awkward conversations and mandatory group photos with your distant relatives.  Last month, Save The Bay reunited with its “family” of ten community-based conservation organizations in Tampa, FL for their biennial conference.  The consortium, collectively referred to as Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE), was joined by hundreds of other participants from government agencies, academic institutions, consulting firms, and non-profits.  Representatives from Save The Bay included David Lewis (our Executive Director), Donna Ball (Restoration Director), Laura Wainer (Senior Scientist), Dylan Chapple (a past Restoration staff now getting his PhD at UC Berkeley), and me, Seth Chanin.

Over the course of five days, conference attendees exchanged restoration strategies, community-based program structures, experimental outcomes, and educational techniques.  Laura delivered a wonderful presentation on the experimental planting work we are doing at Oakland’s Arrowhead Marsh, and Dylan shared the results of the work he is doing to test the use of soil amendments at Eden Landing in Hayward.   I also had a chance to present at the conference, joining educators from the Galveston Bay Foundation and North Carolina Coastal Federation to teach a workshop on education program evaluation techniques.

Though the conference sessions at Restore America’s Estuaries were tremendously informative, the most valuable aspect of my time in Florida was the opportunity for networking and informal sharing of experiences.   Field trips, meals, and explorations around downtown Tampa provided ample opportunity for memorable conversations with peers from other organizations, many of which have continued over email and phone.

I hope to reunite with the RAE family again in 2014!


Beyond the Parking Lot: Finding Peace in the Tidal Marsh

Eden Landing
This beautiful marsh is tucked behind the urban landscape in Hayward.

If someone had told me before I visited Hayward’s Eden Landing, that I’d see dozens of graceful white birds swooping over the marsh, or that a feeling of complete peace would wash over me once I stepped onto the levee, I never would have believed them.

As a San Franciscan who avoids freeways whenever possible, I’d never even been to Hayward before my first field experience as a new Save The Bay employee. All of my prior experience with wetlands had been in areas close to heavily populated urban areas, and well-used by the public, such as the Berkeley Marina. I didn’t know what to expect.

When I first turned off the freeway and began to make my way past the shopping centers and dense housing developments toward Save The Bay’s restoration site at Eden Landing, I have to admit I wasn’t expecting to experience beauty or peace. The area is both industrial and heavily residential. There didn’t seem to be space for nature. To my surprise, as I drove into the parking lot, and saw the Bay and its wetlands tucked away behind the homes, it was easy to leave the built world behind. I joined the group of Safeway employee volunteers in the park adjacent to the site for a quick orientation. Our job that day was to remove invasive plants to give the native plants room to grow. As we walked out onto the levee, the quiet was palpable despite the chattering volunteers.

Eden Landing in Hayward
The Bay literally sits in the backyard of Hayward residents.

We spent the morning scraping up the shallow-rooted slenderleaf iceplant (a plant that Seth Chanin, our Restoration Program Manager, describes as “plants with glistening vampire skin”) and pulling Russian thistle out of ground, concentrating on areas where the invasive plants were crowding out the pickleweed, California sage, salt marsh baccharis, and California goldenrod. These native plants provide important habitat for endangered species such as the salt marsh harvest mouse and California clapper rail. As quickly as the invasive weeds grow, it seems like a losing battle at first glance, but once the natives gain a foothold, they’ll do their own work to crowd out the invasive species.

One of my responsibilities in my new job is to explain to the media and the public why the work we do to restore our wetlands for people and wildlife is so important. Healthy wetlands are crucial for Bay habitats to thrive. But that’s not all. They also provide an unexpected source of quiet and stillness for humans to enjoy. A bit of wild nature in the midst of densely populated communities. Something I, for one, know that I need in order to thrive in my urban habitat.


Notes from the Field: Sharing our Blueprint with the Bahamas

Young Marine Explorers
Two Young Marine Explorers examine a mangrove seedling before planting. Photo courtesy of Young Marine Explorers.

Envision the Bahamas.  What do you see?  Unspoiled white sand beaches?  James Bond in Thunderball, License to Kill, or Casino Royale?  How about sprawling resorts and communities built on top of mangrove forests?

Though the Caribbean’s tropical wetlands may seem like an idyllic and faraway vacation land, these areas face many of the same threats from human interference as wetlands in the San Francisco Bay.  They also represent a prime opportunity for Community-based Restoration.  For this reason, I was excited when the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program invited me to share Save The Bay’s Restoration Education Program model with two Bahamians seeking to strengthen a community-based mangrove restoration program on Paradise Island.

Home to the famous Atlantis Resort and connected by bridge to the Bahamian capital city of Nassau, Paradise Island’s 1.1 square miles have been highly developed to support a booming tourist economy.  Just like San Francisco Bay’s wetlands, the mangrove forests present on Paradise Island provide valuable ecosystem services such as erosion control, storm protection, pollution filtration, and wildlife habitat.  These mangrove ecosystems have been severely degraded or destroyed by coastal development and pollution.  They are now being targeted for restoration by student volunteers with organizations such as the Young Marine Explorers.

Now in its fourth year, Young Marine Explorers engages local students in marine science education and restoration during after school programs, summer camps, and docent trainings.   While Save The Bay’s student volunteers may not don masks and snorkels to do restoration, the structure of our programs are quite similar.  This year, YME will be piloting a student mentorship program based around a mangrove restoration project on nearby Bonefish Pond.

Sound similar to Save The Bay’s Bay Environmental Stewardship Training (B.E.S.T.) program?  It is!  In fact, one of the most rewarding aspects of meeting with Sophia and Nikita was sharing our blueprint and best practices for implementing a youth mentorship program.  I can’t wait to check-in with Nikita next year to hear how the program is going.

Click here to support Save The Bay’s wetland restoration education.