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Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

by Paul Scott, Volunteer Watershed Ambassador

Bon Tempe and Mt. Tamalpais

Bon Tempe Lake on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed

Earth Day is upon us! This is the time to ponder our relationship with our one and only planet. In this regard a major force for me has been Mt. Tamalpais, the “crown jewel” being MMWD’s watershed lands.

The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed consists of five reservoirs and primarily the north-facing slopes of the mountain that shed rainwater into them. These “lakes” have been here long enough that they are now a focal point for the diversity of flora and fauna found here. Camping, hunting, swimming, and boating are a no-no and cars have very limited access, so it’s an oasis of sorts for natural processes to occur with minimal human disruption. While the “purpose” of these lands is to provide clean drinking water, requiring wise ecological practices, we are also blessed with their biodiversity and many recreational opportunities.

The natural resources staff work out of Sky Oaks Watershed Headquarters located in the hills above Fairfax and in close proximity to three of the reservoirs. Their volunteer program offers abundant opportunity for young and old, all geared toward environmental education, wise resource management, and furthering community spirit. As a volunteer and near-daily visitor to the watershed lands myself, I see folks come to visit with smiles on their faces. Many of them are “regulars” who tell me they feel the same way I do about the area—it is a place of peace and sanctuary. I’m amazed how many come from other countries, but I’m most surprised when I meet local people who had no idea all this was here.

Come develop your relationship with your watershed—for Earth Day and any day. Experience a fine example of how humans can make use of natural resources in an intelligent and sympathetic manner for everything and everyone to share.

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by Andrea Williams

This is installment three of a 12-part series on grasses. Read the previous installment here.

Last month I talked about California’s state grass, purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra, formerly Nassella pulchra). This month, California’s state rock, serpentinite (although we usually just call it serpentine since it’s made up of serpentine minerals), takes center stage. California was actually the first state to designate an official rock, but serpentine is special and, like our Mediterranean climate, helped give rise to plants found nowhere else in the world.

barbed goat grass

The spikelets of barbed goatgrass look a little like goat heads, although that’s not where the name comes from.

Because of the makeup of serpentine rock, and its slow weathering, serpentine soils are thin, poor, and high in heavy metals. The mineral balance is quite different from what most plants can tolerate, so many plants found on serpentine are endemics: they’re only found on this soil type. Others can grow on serpentine and non-serpentine soils, but may be stunted or appear different when living in the strange soil.

Many weeds take advantage of disturbance and can quickly use resources, outcompeting other plants. But serpentine’s qualities make it naturally resistant to invasion, with a few notable exceptions. That brings us to this month’s grass: barbed goatgrass (Aegilops triuncialis). Originally from serpentine soils in the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe/Western Asia, barbed goatgrass can thrive in our soils and climate. Not only does it do well on serpentine, the high silica content of the litter it produces is difficult to break down, further altering the soil and making it even harder for other plants to grow! Goatgrass also has a built-in seed stashing strategy: Each spikelet generally has two seeds—one germinates the first year, and the other lays dormant for a year—so even if you get all the plants in a year, the seedbank of this annual has a surprise waiting for you the next.

habitat restoration site

On May 17, help pull invasive barbed goatgrass in this beautiful spot.

Nearly half of our rare plants are found on serpentine soils, which makes these areas so important to protect. You have an opportunity on May 17 to help remove invasive barbed goatgrass from serpentine soils on Mt. Tamalpais, in the Azalea Hill/Pine Mountain area. We’ve been pulling goatgrass from this site for many years, and stemming the tide of invasion. Nine different rare plants call this spot home, and jackrabbits and kites are often seen as well—not to mention our state flower, state bird, and state rock!

 

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by Rosa Albanese, Watershed Stewards Project Member

I love frogs When I was asked to organize the 2014 Frog Docent Program at MMWD to get people on board with protecting Mt. Tam’s very own foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii), I was excited because, simply put, frogs are really cool and definitely worth saving. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • They are one of earth’s best indicator species. Their ability to breathe through their skin and their reliance on clean water and clean habitat free of toxics and pollutants means that they are extremely sensitive to changes in the environment. It should be a warning sign to all that if frogs are not doing well, then something is wrong.
  • They serve as a critical part of the food web. Not only do frogs provide a meal to other animals like fish, birds, dragonflies, beetles, and snakes, frogs also prey upon insects such as mosquitoes, which may be vectors for nasty pathogens such as West Nile virus and heartworm.
  • They provide medical researchers with the potential to improve human health. Many pharmaceuticals used to save millions of lives have come from the skin secretions of some very special frog species. Some examples include medicines that help block HIV transmissions, reduce high blood pressure, and treat antibiotic-resistant staph infections.

The sad part is that on a global scale one-third of the world’s amphibian population is diminishing. On a local scale it is just as depressing. The foothill yellow-legged frog population has disappeared from more than 45% of its historic range in California and Oregon, in part due to habitat loss, pesticide use, introduction of exotic predators, disease, water impoundments, logging, mining, and grazing in riparian zones. Kermit was right when he said, “It’s not easy being green.” The current drought conditions are certainly not making matters any better for wildlife. All is not lost, however. There are many things you can do to give frogs a break and make it easier for them to survive and reproduce.

Here are just a few:

  • Conserve water: Clean, cool water is a precious resource and should be conserved at all times but especially during a drought. Simple graywater systems can be implemented around your home; some are as easy as using a bucket to catch water from your sink or tub to flush the toilet!
  • Avoid pesticides: They end up in waterways and harm amphibians. Don’t use them around your home and don’t support them by purchasing fruits and vegetables that are sprayed with them. There have been several examples showing declines in frog populations near agricultural areas and fatal mutations in frogs exposed to herbicides or pesticides.
  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle! Do these in that order and not only will your wallet thank you but the planet will, too.
  • Volunteer to become a frog docent at the water district. Spend a few weekends at Little Carson Falls, a popular hiking destination, informing visitors about the frogs’ plight and keeping foot traffic out of the frogs’ sensitive breeding habitat. The training will be held Saturday, February 22, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For more information and to reserve a spot, contact volunteerprogram@marinwater.org or call 945-1128.

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Photo 1 of work partyby Erin Tracy, Watershed Stewards Project Member

The Americorps California Conservation Corps Watershed Stewards Project in partnership with Marin Municipal Water District hosted a volunteer Lagunitas Creek habitat enhancement on Saturday, November 23,  and it was a huge success!  Following a large woody debris installation to improve coho salmon habitat in the creek, the disturbed bank was in need of some rehabilitation.  Thirty motivated volunteers spent their Saturday planting the creek bank with native trees, shrubs and ground covers.  Re-vegetating this bank will not only reduce erosion and excess sediment flow into the creek but will also provide shade and cooler water temperatures that salmon need to thrive.

The day started at the Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area parking lot, where volunteers could read interpretive signs about spawning salmon and try to catch a glimpse of one in the creek while waiting for everyone to arrive.  Sipping hot chocolate and tea, we huddled together in the cold morning to talk about our goals for the event.

Photo 2 - planting shrubWith the volunteers, we made our way down to the site and went straight to work planting the potted plants and transplanting sword fern, redwood sorrel, blackberry, and thimbleberry.  At lunch we gathered around the newly installed large woody debris structures and listened to Eric Ettlinger, an aquatic ecologist for MMWD, talk about the role of woody debris as winter habitat for salmon.  Lastly, volunteers helped with trash clean up and brought in woody debris to block off footpaths down to the creek to ensure their planting efforts would remain undisturbed.

At the end of the day a total of 48 plants had transformed the formally barren creek side.  It was an incredibly successful day and we are so thankful our volunteers came out to help the watershed.  We look forward to watching the progress of the plants and seeing this bank returned to the healthy ecosystem it once was.

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Introduction by MMWD Volunteer Coordinator Suzanne Whelan

For 16 days in October the federal government ceased all but the most essential operations. But our lands and the creatures that inhabit them do not curtail their operations when we humans hit a budget impasse. Luckily for MMWD, interns from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, who unexpectedly found themselves with free time, volunteered with MMWD for two days in October helping with habitat restoration and vegetation monitoring on the watershed. We were so happy to provide meaningful work and training for them and to benefit from their enthusiastic assistance.

The following summary of the two-day event is by Jaimie Baxter, a former MMWD Americorps intern and watershed aide. She is currently the trails stewardship manager for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy Joins MMWD for Two-day Habitat Restoration and Vegetation Monitoring Event
by GGNPC Trails Stewardship Manager Jaimie Baxter

Photo of GGNRA Intern pulling yellow star thistle

GGNRA intern pulling yellow star thistle.

On Wednesday October 9, more than 15 Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) Park Stewardship interns and staff congregated near the top of Mt. Tamalpais at the Rock Springs area. This oak woodland and grassland area is known for its epic views, slabs of serpentine outcrops and hordes of rare plants. MMWD Volunteer Coordinator Suzanne Whelan and her two watershed aides explained the district’s mission of providing clean drinking water to their customers in south and central Marin County and protecting the 21,635 acres of watershed lands under their management. Director of Park Stewardship Sue Gardner then discussed the burgeoning Mt. Tamalpais Collaborative and the goals of all natural resource agencies in the area to join forces in the Mt. Tamalpais region.

Photo of Park Stewards

The thistle-pulling team of GGNRA and MMWD.

After all that talking, it was time to get to work! MMWD and the Park Stewardship team strategized their assignment for the day — removing invasive, non-native yellow-star thistle (Centaurea solsitialis). Spreading out like a fan, the group surveyed the area for this invasive species, pulled and eventually bagged the prickly plant. The group was later joined by MMWD Vegetation Ecologist Andrea Williams, who discussed the interesting geology and ecology of serpentine soils, what makes a plant rare and ways that MMWD manages invasive species. And this was just the first day Park Stewardship collaborated with MMWD!

The following day the same team plus a few Park Trails interns jumped to the north side of Mt. Tamalpais to the Sky Oaks Ranger Station. Thursday’s mission was to identify and map the non-native, perennial grass species in Sky Oaks meadow. This meadow ecosystem, which has been heavily managed in the past, is a good example of an oak woodland ecosystem. The meadow is relatively healthy as it is mostly free of French broom, has woody species that do not overcrowd each other and has at least three species of oaks.

However the meadow is not without its problems, including Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora ramorum) and non-native, perennial grasses. Our crew learned how to identify a multitude of these species including velvet grass (Holcus lanatus), sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), wild oat grass (Avena fatua) and many more. The team then split into groups and headed off to map the non-native grasses using GPS-enabled cameras, compasses and datasheets. The team worked all morning and after lunch until they became cross-eyed from looking at SO many grasses! The day ended with a hike to Alpine and Bon Tempe lakes where much of MMWD’s drinking water is stored.

The Park Stewardship team is grateful to have a partner such as the Marin Municipal Water District. Thank you, MMWD, for your time, expertise and hosting Park Stewardship during the federal shutdown. We welcome any opportunity to join you in your efforts on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed!

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Students volunteers on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed

Student volunteers on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed show off the results of their hard work—a mountain of non-native broom.

The Marin Municipal Water District honored 40 volunteers at a special recognition lunch recently for contributing their valuable time to the protection and preservation of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed during fiscal year 2012/13. These volunteers donated nearly 7,500 hours—the equivalent of $185,625 in labor—to activities like trail maintenance, habitat restoration and endangered species protection on watershed lands between July 2012 and June 2013.

MMWD manages more than 21,600 acres of land on Mt. Tamalpais and in west Marin and counts on its volunteer workforce to help maintain and restore these lands. The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed is home to more than 900 species of plants and 400 species of animals, including 77 rare, threatened and endangered species. This abundance of life is threatened by many factors, including increased recreational use, invasive species and global climate change.

Begun in 1995, MMWD’s volunteer program recruits individuals, students and entire classes to help improve trails and habitat; greet and educate visitors; restore habitat and collect biological data; and map native and non-native plants, sudden oak death and aquatic species.

The 2012/13 fiscal year’s 85 volunteer events resulted in the following accomplishments:

  • Dozens of trails were improved for visitor safety and erosion control;
  • More than 700 school children and their parents removed acres of invasive broom, young Douglas-fir trees and other invasive plant species;
  • 140 hours were spent monitoring native western pond turtles and educating the public about this species;
  • More than 200 hours were donated to keep people and their dogs out of the breeding grounds of the native foothill yellow-legged frogs;
  • One third of the 900 plant species on the watershed were surveyed; samples will be housed at the herbarium of the California Academy of Sciences.

Without the help of volunteers, many of the important preservation and stewardship projects on the watershed would not be possible. For more information about our volunteer program and to find volunteer opportunities, visit our website.

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Some of you may remember the ad campaign from 1971 of the Native American actor tearing up by the side of the road as people threw trash out of their cars. Unfortunately, the problem of littering persists and not just on our roads; even the trails and reservoirs of Marin get littered with food wrappers, plastic beverage containers, tissue, fishing line and bagged pet waste. The tagline of the 1971 ad was “Get Involved Now. Pollution Hurts All of Us.”

Michael Miller

Retired accountant Michael Miller regularly cleans 50 to 60 miles of Marin trails and roads.

San Anselmo resident Michael Miller has taken this motto to heart. He’s been picking up litter all his life and took on the Mt. Tam Watershed and other sites in Marin in earnest after he retired in 2012. He spends about 20 hours a month cleaning the roads and parking lots along Sky Oaks Road and the Lake Lagunitas picnic area and an additional 20 hours a month on trails. He says the most littered natural area on the watershed is Natalie Coffin Greene Park in Ross and the roads around Phoenix Lake.

Michael also spends a lot of time cleaning litter from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from the bottom of White’s Hill through Lagunitas because it’s also a heavily littered area and as a San Geronimo Valley resident for 25 years he still considers it a special place.

His work was recently featured in the West Marin Citizen in an interview by Larken Bradley, who saw Michael cleaning trash by the side of the road. When asked what sorts of reactions he gets, he said “Motorists, hikers, bicyclists, fishermen, MMWD folks and sheriff’s deputies who patrol MMWD land always say thank you. I appreciate those words a lot.”

We’d like to acknowledge Michael’s volunteer work as well. His efforts are greatly appreciated and we admire his fortitude and commitment to keeping the watershed litter free. Better still, it would be great if there was no litter for Michael to pick up, so we encourage all visitors to set a good example and be responsible for your own trash.

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National Public Lands Day 20th AnniversaryMMWD and Mt. Tamalpais State Park are pleased to host a volunteer habitat restoration event in celebration of the 20th anniversary of National Public Lands Day on Saturday, September 28, from 9:00 a.m. – noon. REI of Corte Madera is donating raffle prizes!

National Public Lands Day is the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands. 2012 was the biggest NPLD in the history of the event. Let’s help make their 20th anniversary even better!

Volunteers will help restore shrinking native grassland and chaparral habitat along the Matt Davis Trail by removing outcompeting, young Douglas-fir seedlings. Grasslands provide habitat for native plants and animals and hunting grounds for birds of prey. Chaparral provides shelter for birds, foxes and small mammals.

We will meet at 9:00 a.m. at Bootjack parking lot, located on Panoramic Highway above Mill Valley. Please wear close-toed shoes and long pants and dress for variable weather. Mt. Tamalpais State Park will provide breakfast snacks. Bring your lunch and a reusable water bottle. MMWD will provide water and tools. Habitat restoration events are generally suitable for ages 8 and up. Volunteers under age 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

For more information about this event, contact the district’s Volunteer Program at (415) 945-1128 or e-mail volunteerprogram@marinwater.org. For possible cancellation and fire closure information, call after 7:30 a.m. on the morning of the event.

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by Michael Paccassi

western pond turtle on log in Lake Lagunitas

Western pond turtle in Lake Lagunitas (Photo courtesy of Sami Kreling)

As California’s only native freshwater turtle, the western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) isn’t really getting all the attention it deserves. This unique and charismatic creature is listed as a vulnerable species in California, making it only one step away from joining the far-too-massive list of endangered species. Although the western pond turtle’s native habitat extends from northwestern Washington down to northern Baja California, habitat fragmentation, human catch, pollution and non-native turtle introduction are increasingly causing them to disappear.

In case you were unaware, many western pond turtles also call MMWD’s Mt. Tamalpais Watershed their home. In fact, each spring you can go out to one of a few specific locations on the reservoirs and witness dozens of turtles basking in the sun. Aided with a pair of trusty binoculars, one might notice a plethora of exotic turtles as well, including sliders, cooters and others. These non-native species are not merely living harmoniously with the western pond turtles, but rather outcompeting and, according to data, now greatly outnumbering them on our watershed. How did the non-native turtles get here in the first place you ask? Pet release, of course! Free Speedy and never look back.

For years MMWD has been training volunteer turtle observers to help educate the public and monitor the status of the western pond turtle on the watershed. The goal is to utilize volunteers as citizen-scientists in helping us keep an inventory of the turtle populations on the watershed, and to educate the public on the dangers of exotic species release. This year I trained 60 new turtle observers in turtle biology, species identification and observation skills. Forty-five of these volunteers actively participated throughout the duration of the program along with three returnees. Needless to say, the turtles were shown a lot of love from volunteers this year.

Unfortunately, the results of this year’s program paint a concerning picture about the status of non-native turtles on the watershed (see graph below). While it seems that western pond turtle (AM) populations are relatively stable (excluding 2012, which had low volunteer participation and high “unknown” turtle observations), non-native (NN) turtle populations seem to have sky-rocketed. The 2013 data also show that non-native turtle populations are nearly twice the size of western pond turtle populations on the watershed. A consistently growing non-native turtle population can only mean less food, shelter and habitat for the native western pond turtle.

Turtle native and non-native species count

(Click on graph to view full size)

non-native and western pond turtle

Non-native and western pond turtle (Photo courtesy of Sami Kreling)

It seems obvious that we have a problem on our hands, but what can we do about it? First of all, we need volunteers like you to help us continue monitoring and educating the public for years to come. Were it not for the benevolence of hard-working volunteers wanting to make a difference, we might not even know just how urgent the need for action is. Furthermore, turtle trapping (which was not done in 2013 and only cursorily done in 2012) should be, and hopefully will be, continued if we wish to keep non-native populations in check.

Stay tuned for the full 2013 Turtle Observer Report which will be available to read online. Also, be on the lookout for information about the next turtle observer training happening sometime next spring! TURTLE POWER!

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by Ariana Chiapella

It is truly amazing how much work a group of motivated, enthusiastic and hard-working volunteers can achieve in just a few short hours. On June 29, my site partner Michael Paccassi and I organized a salmonid habitat enhancement event along San Geronimo Creek. This project, called an Individual Service Project (ISP) in AmeriCorps lingo, was a requirement during our term of service with the Watershed Stewards Project (WSP). On paper, this event seemed like only a small piece of our mandated work for the ten months we’ve spent at MMWD, but in reality it was a perfect snapshot representation of everything we have done throughout our time here.

The majority of our work has been “stream restoration,” which at the water district includes spawner surveys, smolt trapping, snorkel surveys, analysis of engineered woody debris habitat, and the ensuing data entry. As a result, we in a way have been inducted into the fragile lives of the endangered coho salmon and have formed an intimate relationship with all of the factors that they depend on for survival. Consequently, the work our volunteers completed during our ISP was directly related to these important aspects of a salmonid’s habitat.

Another large piece of our required work has been community outreach and education. We developed and taught a six-week curriculum to third and fifth graders at a Title One school. The lessons were based in environmental science and included the relationships between watersheds, the water cycle, fish biology and human activity. The key messages of this curriculum were also shared at multiple outreach and community volunteer events throughout the year.

The skills we gained by engaging with the public and communicating WSP’s mission were crucial in our recruitment of over 30 volunteers for the San Geronimo Creek project. Of course it certainly helped to already have so many dedicated MMWD volunteers! We were so excited to see such a strong community turnout at the event. In addition to some familiar friendly faces from other MMWD volunteer events, we also had a great turnout of new volunteers.

The landowners’ property that we worked on was the perfect fit for a volunteer project such as this, not only because of the manageable projects it presented, but because it showed community members how they can make a difference on their own properties and most importantly because of the graciousness of our hosts.

We all banded together to tackle the invasive plants that were growing throughout the riparian corridor and squelching the vital native species that contribute to the habitat that salmonids need for survival. After eradicating the vinca, cape ivy, English ivy, Japanese knotweed and others, our group replanted the entire riparian area with fast-growing native trees, shrubs and perennial plants that, if all goes well, will take hold and restore the biodiversity needed for complex habitat and stable, non-eroding stream banks.

San Geronimo Creek habitat restoration

Before, during, after: Volunteers did a fantastic job of eradicating the Japanese knotweed and squelching the English ivy.

Thanks to a donation from Good Earth for breakfast, lunch from MMWD, and cookies and watermelon from the landowners, our volunteers were rightfully rewarded for their hard work. We could not have asked for a better group of volunteers!

In all honesty, I at first doubted the point of an ISP at the beginning of the WSP term. It seemed so unrelated to the overarching basis of our work here in MMWD’s Fisheries Department. In retrospect, it encompassed everything: endangered species protection, community outreach and education. Not only were we working to improve riparian habitat for the benefit of the coho salmon and steelhead trout, but we were doing so through community organization and action. These principles are laced within WSP’s mission, and we strongly believe that they also will be carried with anyone who has been involved with our program during the past ten months, whether through our education curriculum, field surveys or volunteer events.

Check out MMWD’s Facebook page for more photos of the event!

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