Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

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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by Michael Paccassi and Ariana Chiapella

San Geronimo Salmon Habitat Enhancement Project flyer

Click the image above to view the event flier

As AmeriCorps members with the Watershed Stewards Project, we have had the unique opportunity to work with MMWD biologists in helping to protect, monitor and educate the public about the importance of salmonids like the coho salmon and steelhead trout. Though we aren’t all given the opportunity to work so closely with these beautiful and unique fish, as members of the community and stewards of the land we all share the responsibility of ensuring the survival and well-being of these endangered and threatened species.

Guess what? You’re in luck, because we’ve organized an event that will provide the community of Marin with the opportunity to do just that!

MMWD and the Watershed Stewards Project want to welcome you to a special riparian habitat enhancement project happening along the San Geronimo Creek. Come out and join us this Saturday, June 29, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. to show your support for the salmon you all know and love!

To encourage habitat recovery and reduce stream bank erosion, we will be removing non-native and invasive plant species along a section of the San Geronimo Creek. We also will be replanting with native California plant species and using tree shelters to encourage the growth of larger trees to provide shade and habitat for our finned friends in the creek.

We will meet a little before 9:00 a.m. across from the Two Bird Cafe at 625 San Geronimo Valley in San Geronimo. All ages are welcome, so please bring the whole family. Tools, water, snacks and lunch will be provided. All you need to bring is a pair of sturdy boots, some sun protection, a reusable water bottle and your enthusiastic, hard-working self.

To pre-register or for more information about this unique opportunity, contact us at volunteerprogram@marinwater.org or (415) 945-1188.

We look forward to seeing you out there!

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by Charlene Burgi

Spring—it’s my favorite season of the year. It is all about the freshness of new beginnings! Flower seeds lying fallow through the long wet and cold winter burst through the soil to greet us with new creations in the once drab landscape of our gardens.

Rose bush

Rosebush signs of life

Daffodils, crocus and freesia, among other spring bulbs, are resurrected nodding their pretty heads in the gentle winds and acknowledging the welcome sunlight. With great anticipation, I closely watched the roses that appeared beyond the living after weathering the brutal, below-zero winter temperatures. My faith waned this month as I eyed the ever-present dead leaves and brown stems. Yet, this morning I spotted new growth working its way through the stems, renewing my hope in their life! Perennials that appeared dead are also showing signs of new green leaves as they emerge from their roots nestled within the deep layers of protective mulch.

Grosbeak at feeder

Grosbeak at feeder

Spring also brings the robin—noted as the harbinger. In Lassen, we are treated by the visit of gorgeous evening grosbeaks. Various birds are constructing nests in nearby trees with building materials found around the property. Soon fledging baby birds will find their way to the bird feeders that seem to empty as fast as they are filled.

The warmer weather beckons me outdoors to discover the beautiful wildflowers popping up, or finds me planning and planting new sections of the garden. Bare-root season seduced me with five new blueberry and an equal number of raspberry plants, which are now looking for an ideal spot to call home and protection from the onslaught of hungry rabbits.

Additionally, spring cleaning is on the list this time of year, beginning with the forgotten, unheated garden shed. During the cold winter months, the greenhouse was filled with tools and materials used for gardening, leaving little room for newly seeded plants. To create space, I reorganized the garden shed and potting bench. Tools were oiled, empty pots were stacked and seed starter was mixed. More seeds were unearthed from forgotten containers, then scattered to find new life or filed with others with the promise of soon being planted.

As I looked around while working outside, it became clear it was time to sheet mulch over unwanted weeds that were springing up. If you have never tried it, sheet mulching is simple. The hoard of cardboard squirreled away in the garden shed will soon be put to use by placing it over wetted-down weeds. After covering the weeds with the overlapping cardboard, I will spray more water on top of the cardboard to help make a better connection with the soil below, then finish with a heavy layer of either mulch or composted material.

If planting in the sheet-mulched area is your plan, you can plant directly into the cardboard by cutting holes and backfilling around the rootball with a mixture of site soil and well-rotted compost material. If you are using recycled cardboard from saved boxes, be certain to remove any staples or cellophane as they will not decompose! You can also buy rolls of cardboard at local irrigation supply houses. The dastardly chore of weeding will be met with a grin when you see how simple this task becomes.

Yes, spring is a wonderful time of year. As a friend just wished me: “May your happy thoughts multiply like rabbits.”

Wishing you all a very happy Easter or Passover.

Volunteers Needed for Marin-Friendly Garden Tour May 18

If you enjoy hanging out in a beautiful garden and chatting with fellow gardening enthusiasts, have we got an opportunity for you! We’re looking for volunteers to work morning and afternoon shifts greeting guests at the Marin-Friendly Garden Tour on Saturday, May 18. You’ll receive a t-shirt and small token of our appreciation, and be entered into a drawing to win a Marin-Friendly prize. Volunteer half the day and spend the other half touring inspiring, environmentally friendly gardens! Learn more.

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by Eric Ettlinger

This post is the second in a year-long series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Read last month’s post here.

Peoples’ interest in frogs can be viewed as something of a leg obsession. The most obvious example is our insatiable appetite for frogs’ legs. During the California Gold Rush, populations of native red-legged frogs (Rana draytonii) were decimated by over-harvesting, leading to the importation of bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) from the eastern United States to help satisfy demand. These voracious predators (bullfrogs, not people) quickly spread to anywhere year-round fresh water could be found, and they continue to eat their way through native frog populations to this day.

Our obsession with frogs’ legs is not limited to cuisine, however, and extends to the very names we’ve given them. Here in Marin County we have three native frog species: the northern Pacific treefrog (Pseudacris regilla), the California red-legged frog, and the foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii). We also have California toads (Anaxyrus boreas halophilus), which aren’t technically frogs, and since they don’t fit into this essay’s theme on leg obsessions, they will not be mentioned further.

Of our real frogs, two of the three are named for their legs, which gives the impression that there’s something quite distinctive about those springy appendages. On the contrary, the red and yellow coloration for which these frogs are named is generally confined to the undersides of their legs, which few can see.

Naming these frogs for their legs fails to capture what’s truly fascinating about them. The red-legged frog is most famous for being the central character in Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Given such celebrity, wouldn’t a more fitting name be something like “Twain’s jumping frog?”

Female FYLF on cliff at Little Carson Falls. Photo by docent Peter Barto.

Female FYLF on cliff at Little Carson Falls. Photo by docent Peter Barto.

Foothill yellow-legged frogs (FYLFs) don’t have a claim to fame but can perform feats like climbing slick bedrock cliffs and clinging to rocks at the bottom of waterfalls. “Clingy frog” is more apropos and interesting, and doesn’t require an acronym.

In recent years both of these frogs have  taken on new, more ominous, labels. California red-legged frogs have been listed as a federally threatened species, and FYLFs are listed as a “species of special concern.” The reasons for their declines include predation by non-native bullfrogs, crayfish, and fish; habitat loss; pesticides; and the modification of river flows. Their plight is a small part of an unfolding global amphibian crisis, which may result in the largest extinction event since the age of dinosaurs. A significant cause of the crisis is the global spread of a deadly Chytrid fungus, although FYLFs appear resistant to Chytrid infection and the role it plays in red-legged frog declines is unknown.

Red-Legged Frog in Lagunitas Creek

Red-Legged Frog in Lagunitas Creek

In the last decade, a single red-legged frog was seen on the Marin Municipal Water District’s watershed lands. That individual likely dispersed over a ridge from Point Reyes National Seashore, where a relatively large population uses managed stock ponds (artificial ponds for cattle) for breeding.

FYLF populations on MMWD watershed lands appear to include roughly 30 breeding pairs, which breed in only two locations. One of these breeding sites is Little Carson Falls, a popular hiking destination near Pine Mountain. On warm spring days when the falls are flowing, hikers and their dogs have been known to wade in the water and inadvertently dislodge fragile egg masses clinging to the rocks. Fortunately for the frogs, volunteer “Frog Docents” also hike out to the falls, educate visitors about the plight of the frogs, and collect data for the biologists monitoring the population.

Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog at Little Carson Falls. Photo by docent Matthew Sykes.

Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog at Little Carson Falls. Photo by docent Matthew Sykes.

Now in its sixth year, the Frog Docent Program is looking for volunteers to help conserve these rare frogs. If you’d like to help save this species from possible extinction by becoming a 2013 frog docent,  call our Volunteer Program at (415) 945 -1128 or e-mail volunteerprogram@marinwater.org.

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by Ariana Chiapella

Frog training at Little Carson Falls

Volunteers gather at Little Carson Falls.

We are approaching the exciting time of year when MMWD’s Frog Docent program returns. The foothill yellow-legged frog (FYLF) is a federally listed species of “special concern,” and here in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed we have only two remaining breeding sites for a species that is in decline throughout its range. The habitat at Little Carson Falls also happens to be a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers and dog-walkers.

Because of this, it is vital to have enthusiastic people at the falls to educate visitors about the importance of protecting this special spot and its inhabitants. This is where our volunteers come in. They have helped MMWD educate hundreds of visitors about the FYLF, why it is important to respect and protect their habitat, and gather data that has helped professional herpetologists monitor the population of the frogs.

Foothill yellow-legged frogs in amplexus

Foothill yellow-legged frogs in amplexus. Photo by Frog Docent Matthew Sykes.

The coming season looks promising for this unique program; we have had a few good rains so far, and for those who have been out on Azalea Hill, you may already know that this means that the falls have lots of water! In my opinion, there’s no better place in the watershed to volunteer.

We will have our initial training day for Frog Docents on Saturday, March 2, from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at the Sky Oaks Ranger Station in Fairfax. We’ll start off with some refreshments and a presentation from one of the biologists who is working with the district on compiling and analyzing the data gathered by our volunteers. We’ll then hike up to see the falls. Volunteers will sign up for their weekend time slots (March-June) at Little Carson Falls through Google Calendar. This will be a great opportunity to meet like-minded nature enthusiasts, help out a species in need, be active and spend time outside—so many New Year’s resolutions packed into one!

For anyone out there who wants to band together to protect this important native frog species and form a community of wildlife stewards, this program is for you. Please tell your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors so that they can join in the fun too! We love and are always looking for new volunteers. No special skills or experience are needed, but volunteers must be 18 years or older.

If you have any questions, comments or want to sign up for our training, email us at volunteerprogram@marinwater.org or call (415) 945-1128!

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