When I first saw an American Goldfinch nest carefully built in a young box elder tree, I knew that restoration really works. The bird was raising her chicks in a little tree planted just three years before by Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed, or STRAW.
|The American Goldfinch is one of the species that returns to newly restored habitat to breed. Photo by Tom Grey.|
This particular project was on a ranch in western Sonoma County, along Stemple Creek. STRAW has been working with ranchers and partners on this watershed every year for the past two decades, from our early life as the “Shrimp Project” to our current status as a project of PRBO Conservation Science.
STRAW coordinates and sustains a network of teachers, students, restoration specialists, and other community members as they plan and implement watershed studies and restoration projects in Marin, Sonoma, Solano, Alameda and Napa counties. We provide teachers and students with the resources to prepare them for hands-on, outdoor watershed studies including ecological restoration of riparian corridors and wetlands.
Since 1993, more than 27,000 students have participated in over 360 restorations on rural and urban creeks and wetlands, planting close to 30,000 native plants and restoring some 24 miles of creek bank.
|STRAW at work. PRBO Photo.|
Natural systems respond-by recovering rapidly! Wildlife diversity increases, erosion slows, and water flow returns to streams. Birds, such as the nesting goldfinch I saw and many others, confirm that the habitats re-created by STRAW are functioning well.
PRBO’s bird expertise has strongly influenced STRAW’s restoration techniques. In the early years, STRAW restorations were composed of fairly simple lines of willows planted along creek banks. In consultation with PRBO biologists, we modified our designs to plant willows and other trees in clumps and also a rich understory of natives like rose, elderberry, and hazelnut. The aim has been to create complex habitats that support wildlife diversity.
These science-based methods are producing wonderful results, as shown by PRBO bird monitoring studies on some ranch sites that were STRAW restorations. At one site, there were only eight species of birds nesting before the restoration. Five years afterward PRBO found 28 species of nesting birds. From seed-eaters to flycatchers, and from ground- to tree-nesters, our restoration is improving their habitat.
After a dozen years of close partnership, STRAW is now an integral part of PRBO Conservation Science. Working together, we can look forward to further adapting and expanding our restoration techniques: planting mixes of native plants that will flower and fruit over a longer season, providing habitat in a climate-changed future; removing invasive plants from an urban creek to “release” the natives underneath; and creating dense habitat along the shores of San Francisco Bay to shelter marsh birds such as rails, especially as sea levels rise. We use the latest science to inform our restorations and produce ecosystem function with the highest quality for birds and other native species.
Another of our new initiatives is to train others in the STRAW model, encouraging communities in other parts of the country and world to begin similar programs. Now that we are part of PRBO, we have begun a more robust intern program that enables young scientists to work with us and learn the STRAW model.
Involving whole communities in restoration is essential to STRAW. The students, teachers, parents, and many partners involved can see why the results are important—to birds and to all of us. Restoration works!