Meet 3 Bay All Stars

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Meet all-star volunteers Steven Russell, Steve Haas (pictured with Restoration Project Specialist Bryan Derr) and Sheldon Nelson

Save The Bay relies on our volunteers to restore marsh habitat around the Bay, and some go above and beyond in their time and effort spent. When tasked to plant 20,000 native plants at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, in sensitive habitat inaccessible to our large volunteer groups, three of our most dedicated volunteers were ready to help. Three “all-star” volunteers — Steven Russell, Steve Haas, and Sheldon Nelson — joined Save The Bay’s restoration staff in planting up to 1,500 plants a day in the field. Donating a full day of work, they not only provided physical labor, but great attitudes, humor, and camaraderie to the restoration team.

Steven Russell of Redwood City has been volunteering with Save The Bay for almost ten years! His favorite Save The Bay restoration site is Eden Landing Ecological Reserve because watching the restoration work throughout the site gives him great hope for the Bay’s future.

Steve Haas of Menlo Park has been a volunteer with Save The Bay for eight years, he enjoys returning to the many Save The Bay restoration sites to see the difference volunteers have made to establish native plants and remove invasive ones.

A San Ramon native, Sheldon Nelson has been a regular volunteer with Save The Bay for four years. His favorite site is Eden Landing Ecological Reserve because it is a beautiful place to work, and when the tide comes in he feels like he is standing in the middle of the bay.

Thank you Steven, Steve, and Sheldon for your dedication to Saving the San Francisco Bay! Visit www.savesfbay.org/volunteer to join our dedicated team of volunteers to help restore our Bay.

Reflections on a Day in the Field

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Save The Bay Office Volunteers (left to right): Melisa Lim, Jennifer Inman, Jennifer Braun, Daniel Adel. Photo by. Jon Backus

On March 19, I got the chance to engage in field work far out in the tidal marsh wetlands of Hayward’s Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, one of Save The Bay’s restoration sites. I spent much of the morning and afternoon feeling the bay breeze and soil. It was a welcome reprieve from communications work — writing, research, data entry, and online advocacy — behind the desk.

Accompanied by staff and fellow office volunteers, we each tended the soil and plants along the transition zone pictured above.

I earlier wrote how volunteering with Save The Bay was a way to connect with my Bay Area roots, but that was prior to getting my hands dirty. Growing up here, I’ve heard stories and been presented photographic accounts of habitat (specifically wetland) restoration all my life, but to take part in it myself was extremely rewarding and has given me a newfound interest in it.

As part of our experience, all office volunteers have the unique opportunity of working both in and outside an office environment. For some, this day was our first time working on a habitat restoration project.

Here’s what some of our volunteers had to say about their experience working in the field and in the office:

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Tending soil and plants, one-by-one. Photo by. Daniel Adel

“Being out on the Bay at a restoration site was an inspiring experience. Eden Landing is great because it has a “before” part which will be left unrestored for bird nesting and the levees which are starting to be colonized. So I could really witness the progress that comes from the restoration efforts of STB. Being close to the water and seeing all the birds also increased my sense of connection to the Bay and the feeling that it is a habitat for wildlife, in contrast to much of the shoreline which is so built and sterile.

Working in the development team, I get to see many of the grant proposals that were developed to request funding to support the restoration work.  Before our field experience, the project activities, objectives and outcomes described in the proposals lacked concreteness. I can now relate to what I read and I feel that makes me more effective in shaping future proposals.” – Melisa Lim, Grant Writing and Development Volunteer

“Overall, I have very much enjoyed my time at Save The Bay. I’ve been treated like staff and given substantive, interesting projects to work on. So far I’ve researched and written a blog on the threat from oil trains, have learned what the Bay Restoration Authority is all about, and even met a State Senator! My current project is to highlight some of the projects that might get funded if voters approve Bay restoration funding in 2016, and develop a set of materials and photos that create a vivid picture of the benefits of restoration in the minds of potential political allies.

Eden Landing was a magical day. It was a treat to be out on the levees in an area currently closed to the public, and see snowy plovers and the murmurations of sandpipers. I was amazed at how extensive the salt ponds are there and glad I could do my bit to help return them to tidal habitat.” – Jennifer Braun, Policy Volunteer

You’ve heard voices from volunteers working in communications (myself), development, and policy, but now hear from one of our habitat restoration volunteers who spends most of her time in the field:

“As a habitat restoration intern for Save The Bay, I am fortunate to work at our restoration sites twice a week and I have been to Eden Landing a handful of times. Every experience is unique in that I always learn something new about the reserve. I have removed invasive plant species and planted native plants such as California sage and Salt Marsh Baccharis along the site. Understanding the importance of how these native plants provide important habitat for endangered species such as the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse and the California Ridgway Rail has been very educational for me.  I have also had the opportunity help with watering and mulching native plants at our restoration sites and see the hard work that has taken place due to Save The Bay’s dedication to this area.

I am working along side the staff with the public, school and corporate programs; staff workdays which involve planting natives at our restoration sites; native plant collection for the Oro Loma project, as well as seed propagation and assisting in the nurseries.” – Jennifer Inman, Habitat Restoration Volunteer

Interested in Save The Bay’s Office Volunteer Program? Learn more and apply here.

What Is Life Without Transition? Why Estuarine-Terrestrial Transition Zones Matter

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Save The Bay staff and volunteers are restoring this slope adjacent to a newly restored wetland at the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve.

The majority of Bay Area residents live and work within a half mile from the Bay, which makes the San Francisco Estuary one of the most urbanized estuaries in the world. Humans have valued the Bay for various ecosystem services throughout history and have modified the Bay to take advantage of some of those services. For example, humans have diked large areas of the Bay for commercial salt production and duck hunting, and have built trails close to the Bay so that they can enjoy the cultural services that the Bay provides. They have also hampered some of those services by filling and paving over large areas of the Bay to build urban infrastructure, and until the 1960’s, used the Bay as a place to dispose of garbage and sewage. It has only been the last several decades that the general public began to realize the importance of the natural ecosystem services the SF Bay provides.

San Francisco Bay was once ringed by healthy wetland habitats. Those wetlands, in many cases, gradually transitioned from tidal wetlands to upland terrestrial habitat. Those areas of gradual transition would often extend for a mile or more, comprising large expanses of native grasses and salt tolerant plants utilized by abundant wildlife populations. Over time, those transition areas have been squeezed between urban infrastructure and the Bay. These areas at the marsh-upland interface, that we call estuarine-terrestrial transition zones, are important because they provide important and unique ecosystem functions and services. Faced with climate change, transition zones can provide important ecosystem services, including buffering hazards associated with sea level rise such as flooding and erosion, and providing a place for wetlands to migrate inland. In addition, the transition zone provides nutrient cycling, filtration of pollutants from urban runoff, and support for biological diversity.

Save The Bay focuses its restoration effort on creating functional transition zone habitat in areas that lack transition zones. Using a carefully selected site-specific plant palette, we restore transition zone vegetation in areas such as the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve (ELER) in Hayward adjacent to recently restored salt ponds where transition zone habitat is lacking. Several of these former salt ponds are being breached to restore natural tidal flow as part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration (SBSPR) Project. Save The Bay has been working with the SBSPR Project at the ELER to vegetate the slopes adjacent to these ponds in order to provide functions such as high tide refuge and cover to avoid predation for marsh animals during high tides. Sign up for a volunteer program and join Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Team to learn more about functional transition zone habitat and important ecosystem services at our sites throughout San Francisco Bay.

Watch this PBS NewsHour clip about the importance of restoring transition zones for wildlife.

Surveying Birds at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

The freeways might be less crowded at sunrise, but our restoration sites aren’t.

Early morning and late evening are typically the busiest times of day for bird activity. That’s why I’ve been heading out to Eden Landing Ecological Reserve (ELER) at dawn once a week since starting to work with Save The Bay’s restoration team. Save The Bay volunteers and staff have planted thousands of plants in an effort to give native plants the advantage in colonizing this newly reclaimed land. Now it’s time to take a preliminary look at how this habitat is being used—specifically, how birds are using the sites in which Save The Bay has begun work, compared with unrestored sites.

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Bird surveys involve observing a certain area for a specified amount of time. Count the birds in this area, observe behavior, note interactions with habitat and other organisms, and take down some details about weather conditions. Translation: soak in the beauty of Eden for 20 un-interruptible minutes at a time. While I marvel in the artistic contrast of dark water-worn mud channels against bright dawn-lit clouds and creeping tidewater, the egrets and sandpipers read the landscape in a concentrated search for food.  With hundreds of shorebirds calling all around me plus the occasional curious jackrabbit, focusing on just the survey area can be a challenge! But my immediate reward might come in the form of catching a Song Sparrow sneaking around with a large beakful of invertebrates, a couple of gulls bullying an American Avocet at the edge of the water, or a House Finch pair pulling silky nesting material from a seeding thistle. I surveyed birds at 4 sites at ELER: 2 sites in which restoration planting is well underway, one future site now just bare ground, and one overrun with invasive plants. All of my survey sites were located in the transition zone, the ground between the highest tide line and the upland, where Save The Bay does restoration work.

There is a lot more to learn, many more questions to ask, but a look at the results of this preliminary study is exciting. I definitely notice more bird activity in the vegetated sites. Songs sparrows pop in and out of the marsh gumplant volunteers planted in the ground two years ago. White-crowned Sparrows line up along the fence bordering the restoration site. A Yellowlegs might wander along between water and vegetation looking for breakfast. Zipping above the plants, Barn Swallows and a lone Black Phoebe catch insects mid-air. In fact, I saw an average of 5-6 birds per survey in the vegetated sites but only 1.5 birds per survey in the un-vegetated site.

Bare soil, by contrast, is less hospitable for many transition zone species.  Song Sparrows, for example, need shrubs and grasses in which to build their nests, and the seeds and fruits of plants comprise a large part of their diet. The transition zone is also an important refuge for small mammals and birds during storms and the highest tides. The site I surveyed without vegetation only turned up 7 species during 6 surveys, most of them aerial foragers who flew over the site.

Species diversity appears to be greater on both of the restored sites compared to the area with mostly invasive plants and the un-vegetated area. I saw total of 11-12 different species of birds in the locations where restoration work has begun, compared with only 5-7 species in the unrestored sites.

Peaceful mornings monitoring birds are interspersed with busy volunteer workdays in my schedule at Save The Bay. As the community comes together to improve tidal marsh transition zone habitat for species like Song Sparrows, it’s exciting to be able to share with them my findings from bird surveys: Yes, your work is making a difference.

If you enjoy bird-watching and are able to identify local birds, you can contribute your findings to inform research! Visit ebird.org to learn more.

 

Annie’s: Bringing Homegrown to the Marsh

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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!