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Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed

Restoring Habitats with Many Hands

Laurette Rogers

Children plant native shrubs at a riparian restoration site. Photo courtesy The Bay Insititute.
“Why did we do this habitat restoration here today? Why is restoration important?” The muddy fourth-graders in our closing circle fidget a bit, and then most raise their hands. One of them calls out, “To help animals!”

“That’s right! And we know that habitat restoration works, because birds tell us that our projects are succeeding. In other sites where we’ve worked, scientists from PRBO have proven that restoration increases bird diversity. At one ranch, there were only eight species of birds before students like you worked along the creek, and now there are 28!”

The students, teachers, and parents here today are clearly awed.

Known as STRAW, Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed is a project of The Bay Institute. It depends on collaboration among partners. STRAW has coordinated creek and wetlands restoration projects with K–12 students and teachers in the North Bay since 1992, completing over 320 restorations and restoring over 21 miles of creek bank. With our partners, STRAW gives teachers and students the scientific, educational, and technical resources to prepare them for hands-on, outdoor watershed studies, including ecological restoration of riparian corridors.

For the past ten years, PRBO educators have been teaching STRAW participants about birds—through classroom visits, special bird lessons, and field studies. Education Director Melissa Pitkin initially developed the “STRAW Bird Program” with us, and it is integral to all of the work that we do. PRBO’s Conservation Educators, Missy Wipf and Lishka Arata, work intensively with teachers and students in our network to bring habitat restoration and the rationale for it to life.
Teachers learn birding activities with PRBO educator Lishka Arata (far right). Photo courtesy The Bay Institute.

Melissa, Missy, and Lishka also work with us to prepare and present Watershed Week, a three-day summer intensive training for teachers. They have linked us to PRBO scientists like Tom Gardali, enriching our knowledge about birds, restoration, and climate change. It is sometimes hard for laypeople to understand why restoration is important, and talking about the effects on birds can make this clear.

PRBO’s role in STRAW goes beyond education: it includes technical assistance in the design of restoration projects. We have changed our approach because of what we have learned from PRBO. Our first restoration projects were heavily planted to maximize cover and did not factor in what encourages bird populations to flourish. To better serve birds and other wildlife, we no longer plant native trees in long rows but clump them instead, with understory plants, to provide better habitat.
Laurette Rogers. Photo courtesy The Bay Insititute.

STRAW’s work is enlivened by the knowledge and support we gain as partners of PRBO Conservation Science. Our programs mesh together to form an effective, meaningful way for students, teachers and other community members to appreciate and connect to their local landscapes and bird species.