Jennifer Benson, STRAW project manager for Point Blue Conservation Science, discusses the Willow Restoration project with a group of students before planning shoots. See more pictures on page 4A. Photo by Susan Cort Johnson

Students participate in Goodrich Creek habitat restoration

Restoration of Goodrich Creek Riparian Corridor in Mountain Meadows continued this fall as students from schools in Chester and Westwood joined Point Blue Conservation Science staff in planting 1,200 Lemon Willow shoots along the creek banks Oct. 22-25. In the fall of 2018, a total of 800 willow shoots were planted. The shoots were cut from nearby live willows.

The willow restoration is a STRAW project, which stands for “students and teachers restoring a watershed.” The STRAW model was created 28 years ago by Point Blue Conservation Science, an organization based in Petaluma, California. The organization’s mission is to “conserve birds, other wildlife and ecosystems through science, partnerships and outreach.”

Using a digging bar, students prepare a 2-foot hole to plant a willow shoot along Goodrich Creek. Photos by Susan Cort Johnson

A crew from Petaluma joined Ryan Burnett, Sierra Nevada Director for Point Blue Conservation Science, to work on the STRAW project with local students the fourth week in Oct. According to Jennifer Benson, the project manager, STRAW will complete 68 student projects this year working with 200 classes from various California schools.

The four day project in Mountain Meadows involved eight classes. The hands-on willow planting enhances the students’ classroom lessons on habitat restoration, meadow ecology and the role of meadows in a healthy watershed.

Benson asked students to share some of their knowledge on meadow ecology during the opening circle each day they gathered to plant willow shoots.

At this time, students formed a circle to discuss the project and learn how to plant the shoots. At the end of the day, they held a closing circle to discuss their experience.

Willows provide important habitat in meadows that include covering for wildlife, support of insect prey for many birds as well as nest sites for birds.

Willows help hold stream banks together, shade the stream to keep it cool and promote complexity of the stream for fish.

According to Burnett, the willow component of Goodrich Creek was lost a long time ago.

However, willows are easy to grow from cuttings and, therefore, are being planted to jump-start the habitat restoration. The cuttings are about the diameter of a quarter to a silver dollar and 3 to 4 feet long.

The students dig a 2-foot deep hole with a digging bar, place the cutting in the hole and fill it back in with dirt.

The water table is 2-feet down, so the willow touches water which allows it to survive and grow.

Once willows take root, they grow about six inches the first year and a foot the second, reaching maturity in a mountain climate within five to 10 years.

About 75 percent of the 800 willow shoots planted in 2018 survived, said Burnett. The willows were planted in pods last year to form clumps of willows along the creek bank.

Each pod contained about 10 shoots. This year crews found the pods, and placed little plastic flags in the locations where students were to plant the shoots in order to enhance the pods, said Benson.

Outdoor education, such as the STRAW project, is one of the benefits of living in this region.