100,000 plants and counting

IMG_9957_BM 100k.
It’s hard to visualize what over 100,000 California native plants looks like. But it’s exciting to think of the habitat they will create when fully established at our restoration sites around the San Francisco Bay.

Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration team is very proud of the accomplishments made this past planting season, reaching our most ambitious goals to date with a grand total of 103,770 plants installed from October 2015 to April 2016.

A bulk of these plants were propagated and planted for the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee, a project totaling 70,000 plants in itself. This innovative project is a multi-pronged approach to filtering waste water, mitigating floods due to sea level rise, and creating native habitat along the Bay’s edge. But it was no easy job installing 70,000 plants by hand. With long days in the field, rain or shine, hands and knees in the mud, the restoration team worked tirelessly to complete this project, and that we did. I’m happy to say the site is developing well and the native plants installed this winter are starting to spread over the horizontal levee’s surface.

Additionally, over 30,000 plants were also planted at our ongoing restoration sites around the Bay including the MLK Shoreline in Oakland, the Palo Alto Baylands, and Eden Landing Ecological Reserve in Hayward.

But regardless of however many native plants were propagated and planted at our sites, what’s truly inspiring is the community that joins together to make this possible. From our own staff, to 3rd grade students, to company employees, to families and college students, more than 6,000 volunteers each year help physically improve the shoreline of the San Francisco Bay, restoring vital habitat lost over time.

With the plethora of environmental problems we face, it gives me hope to see not all damage is irreversible; that with motivation, dedication, and getting your hands in the dirt, we can make real change.

Join us in the field this summer to help these native plants thrive! Sign up to volunteer.

Annie’s: Bringing Homegrown to the Marsh

Annie's granola bars
Coby enjoys one of Annie’s organic granola bars while volunteering at our Palo Alto Baylands site.

Recently I had the pleasure of leading a volunteer event with Annie’s Homegrown, Inc. at our newest restoration site at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. They showed up bright and early with positive attitudes and festive team shirts that displayed their iconic rabbit label (in case you were wondering, the rabbit’s name is Bernie).

As we drove out to our site through a maze of levees just south of the San Mateo Bridge we stopped to show them relics of the salt ponds that once covered the now ecological reserve and described future plans for the site, which will be open to the public in just a few years.

Once we arrived at our site we quickly got down to business. We worked hard as Willets searched for food in adjacent mud flats and flocks of sandpipers flew overhead in great numbers like a murmuration of Starlings. By the end of the day we were exhausted — and for a good reason. In total Annie’s installed over 100 native plants, including Marsh Baccharis (Baccharis glutinosa), Western Goldenrod (Euthamia occidentalis), and Creeping Wild Rye (Elymus triticoides). I am often impressed by how much gets done during our corporate volunteer programs.

After we cleaned up, we piled into our cars and drove back to the parking lot where we met. We said our thank yous and good byes and parted ways. My colleague and I reflected on the productive day and spoke longingly for next year’s program with Annie’s.

Little did we know we’d be hearing from them again much sooner than that. A little less than a month after our restoration event with them at Eden Landing, Annie’s sent us 2,500 organic granola bars to share with our volunteers! Now during our restoration programs we are proud to share these fantastic snacks made by a company that takes pride in sustainable, quality ingredients and cares as much about community as we do at Save the Bay. Our staff is so grateful for Annie’s contribution.

Come out and grab an Annie’s organic granola bar at one of our restoration events around the bay this spring!

Drought Puts Planting Season in Jeopardy

Habitat Restoration Volunteers Planting Native Seedlings
Volunteers plant native seedlings along the Bay shoreline.
Photo Credit: Dan Sullivan.

2013 was the driest year on record in California, leaving 87% of California in a severe drought. The drought we’re experiencing is caused by a massive high pressure ridge that has camped out over the eastern Pacific Ocean for 13 months. This ridge is pushing the jet stream that normally delivers our rainfall and snowpack up to Canada.

The State Department of Water Resources is likely to recommend that Governor Brown declare a drought emergency by February 1st. In a meeting with Central Valley farmers and water managers on Monday, Governor Brown responded to drought declaration questions with “not today, but we’re certainly getting ready.”  This declaration could loosen water quality regulations that are meant to protect endangered fish, allowing more water to be delivered throughout the state.

Major Bay Area water agencies are expected to make decisions in the next few months about whether to impose mandatory summer water restrictions. Meanwhile, local water utilities in Sonoma and Marin counties have launched a campaign to educate the public about conserving water. Lake Mendocino, which supplies water to Sonoma County is at 38% of capacity. Reservoirs in the Mokelumne River watershed, which supply most of the East Bay’s water, are still two-thirds full. The ten local reservoirs in Santa Clara County are at 33 percent capacity.

The lack of rainfall is also having a significant impact on Save The Bay’s planting season. Our on-the-ground wetland restoration projects re-establish native plants in the unique transition zone habitat located between Bay water and land. Our Habitat Restoration team and thousands of volunteers restore the wetlands by growing seedlings in our nurseries, sowing the plants along the shoreline, and maintaining the sites by removing invasive weed species and cleaning up trash.

Donna Ball, our Habitat Restoration Director, wrote last year about the difficulty of planting and maintaining 30,000 seedlings without adequate rainfall. We plant during the rainy season because newly installed plants require water to ensure their survival immediately after planting. With an even drier winter so far and an ambitious 40,000 plants to put in the ground by the end of March, this planting season has proven even more challenging. Donna says that “due to the lack of rain this winter, our staff and volunteers have spent more time on watering instead of planting, jeopardizing our ability to plant all 40,000 seedlings.” We need more volunteers to help us get these plants in the ground and keep them watered.

Help us get through this drought with 40,000 healthy plants in the ground and intact by volunteering at one of our habitat restoration events! Visit www.savesfbay.org/volunteer to sign-up!



UPDATE – January 17, 2014:

Governor Brown has declared a Drought State of Emergency.  In his press release, the Governor said “We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas.”  The Governor called on all Californians “to conserve water in every possible way.”  Please visit the Office of the Governor’s website to view the press release and the language of the Governor’s proclamation.  



UPDATE – January 21, 2014:

“State regulators can now relax water quality standards, allowing rivers and estuaries to be saltier and warmer, as they try to manage the state’s limited supplies.”  A KQED article explains how the drought declaration will loosen environmental regulations.

Taking Ownership of Our Public Shorelines

This past fall, Woodside-Atherton Garden Club became the first community organization to adopt a section of Bay shoreline under Save The Bay’s new Adopt-a-Shoreline Leadership Program. What this means is that the Garden Club pledges to restore a section of the shoreline near our nursery at Palo Alto Baylands back to functioning transition zone habitat. The club will also use the site as a demonstration shoreline to connect the public to the processes of native plant propagation and habitat restoration.


At Save The Bay we are really excited about this new program for its potential to deepen our connections in communities around the Bay and create new opportunities for local civic organizations to get involved in Bay conservation.

But there’s an even bigger idea behind all of this. The Bay is a public resource and it’s the responsibility of everyone who lives here to do his or her part to make sure it thrives.

This idea of taking “ownership” of our public lands is hardly new. Communal management of land was the norm in many places around the world for centuries—though the stewardship ethic dramatically decreased with the rise of private property ownership.

When Save The Bay was founded, fewer than 6 miles of the San Francisco Bay Shoreline was publically accessible. The vast majority of the shoreline was privately owned and highly modified to make way for urbanization, farming, and salt ponds. Over 90% of the the Bay’s wetland habitat was lost and its shoreline became a dumping ground for waste and sewage.

Over the past 50 years, through the efforts of Save The Bay and countless other organizations and concerned citizens, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in our conservation and stewardship values of the Bay. Hundreds of miles of shoreline are now publically accessible. Tens of thousands of acres of critical wetland habitat have been restored, and although we have a long way to go to fully restore the remaining acres needed to provide habitat for the wildlife of the region, there is good reason to be optimistic. We are at a turning point in history regarding how we value our natural resources. Now is the perfect time to encourage our communities to take further steps to take back ownership of these precious public, natural resources.

The Woodside-Atherton Garden Club is an ideal group for pioneering this new partnership. As one of over 200 garden clubs affiliated with the Garden Club of America, the club is committed to connecting people to gardening and improvement of public spaces through horticulture, as well as conservation of native flora.

Save The Bay’s community-based habitat restoration program works with more than 6,000 volunteers every year to restore the tidal marsh-upland transition zone, important habitat for two endangered species, the California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. We propagate locally collected, native plants at two facilities: the MLK Jr. Regional Shoreline in Oakland, in partnership with the East Bay Regional Park District; and at the Palo Alto Baylands, through the City of Palo Alto. We welcome volunteers along the shoreline at all of our sites, as well as in our two nurseries.

To find out more about the Adopt-a-Shoreline Leadership Program, please connect Doug Serrill by email at doug@savesfbay.org, or by phone at (510) 463-6828. For other exciting volunteer opportunities to help restore this critical resource, please visit our website. I hope to see you at our nurseries and along the shoreline!

Notes from the Field: People and Plants Braving Cold Temperatures in the Bay

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Last week was cold! Our plants were dormant, but our volunteers braved the weather.

Brrrrrrrrrrrr. Has anyone out there in the Bay Area been feeling a bit chilly? The temperatures are starting to rise, but last week was cold! While my friends on the East Coast may laugh at the West Coast’s weakness to cold weather, temperatures in the Bay Area have been chillier than they have in years. San Jose broke a record low set 82 years ago when it recently dipped to 30 degrees, while cities such as Oakland, Mountain View, and Napa also reached lower temperatures than they have in almost a decade.

But while we blast our heaters, bundle up, and drink hot chocolate what are our plants doing?

At many of our restoration sites, our plants are going through a dormant phase to resist injury from freezing night time temperatures. When plants are exposed to low temperatures their cells can freeze, limiting water and nutrient exchange. This causes the plant’s leaves and shoots to become limp and blackened. Soils may also freeze, limiting the uptake of water through the roots. When the morning sun begins to defrost plants, the sudden change in temperature causes more damage as the cell walls rupture.

But rest assured volunteers — your efforts planting our native California plants are not lost because our native plants are very hardy and adapted to surviving cold conditions. Some native perennial plants will go dormant in colder temperatures to reduce metabolic activity and therefore save energy.

There are two types of dormancy — predictive and consequential. Predictive dormancy is when the plant prepares for the cold as temperatures drop or water is limited. The plant will shed its leaves and halt active growth to store energy until conditions are more optimal. Consequential dormancy is when the plant reacts to cold temperatures after they have been reached. This is more common with unpredictable weather patterns that can vary at a rapid rate.

Our vegetable gardens at home are at greater risk than the shoreline plants. The first frosts have damaged my hopes of overwintering my bell peppers and eggplants in south Berkeley. Normally California is lucky to have great growing conditions throughout the year, allowing even some summer crops to survive the winter and blossom again the following year. However, unexpected temperatures this year may mean I’ll have to stick to my usual winter leafy greens.

If one is prepared, there are several measures you can take to prevent the cold weather from damaging your plants:

  • In the fall, position plants more susceptible to low temperatures close to walls of you house, under trees, or near large rocks to protect the plant
  • Mulch with a thick layer of straw around the plant to protect and warm the soil
  • Continue to feed plants compost or a balanced organic fertilizer to give plants a boost through the winter months
  • Before frosts, water the soil thoroughly. Wet soils will heat up better than dry soil, which will protect the plants roots and warm air near the soil surface.
  • Use a permeable cloth such as bed sheets or drop cloths to cover the plants at night for insulation. Avoid the cloth being in contact with the plant by propping it up with stakes. Remove the cloths during the day, once the sun has warmed temperatures for some time.
  • Cluster potted plants close together or near a wall for protection and warmth
  • Leave wilted/damaged vegetation until the spring time. Removing leaves or dying stems adds stress to the plant in an already susceptible state. In the spring time cut back the frosted growth to allow new shoots and buds to emerge.
  • Near the end of dormancy is the best time to prune trees and shrubs. The plant already contains stored energy from its dormancy which will reduce shock and help wounds caused by pruning to heal faster as it enters active growth.

Unfortunately us humans can’t afford to go dormant for the winter (though it sounds great to lay in bed nice and warm all day) and the restoration department at Save The Bay isn’t slowing down. Big thanks to all our volunteers for braving the cold and helping to restore the Bay’s shoreline. We’ve successfully installed over 11,000 plants at our sites so far, and have a lot more to go. So bundle up and come plant with us this planting season!

Our full schedule of restoration programs can be found at savesfbay.org/volunteer.