Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

An Abundance of Insight into Community-Based Restoration

by Celida Moran, Restoration and Education Technician

For many people on the San Francisco Peninsula, Half Moon Bay has long been a weekend destination to enjoy locally caught seafood, coastal hikes, accessible beaches, and plant nurseries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the area has only increased in popularity as people continue to seek outlets for outdoor experiences and plants for their growing indoor collections.

However, the region is much more than just a tourist destination. It harbors a great variety of agricultural operations that not only generate local produce and employment, but also provide habitat for wildlife including birds, bobcats, deer, mountain lions and possibly the threatened California red-legged frog. These agricultural open spaces also can provide benefits like carbon sequestration into plants and soil as well as generation of clean air and water if managed well. It is no wonder then that Point Blue Conservation Science’s Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed program (STRAW) has started working with one such operation: Potrero Nuevo Farm (PNF). With them, the San Mateo Resource Conservation District (RCD), and an organization called Abundant Grace Coastside Worker (AGCW), we are working to bring habitat enhancement, environmental education, and job-readiness training to the Tunitas Creek Watershed just south of Half Moon Bay.

Point Blue STRAW staff Celida Moran (left) and Josh Nuzzo opening the gate to the Potrero Nuevo farm. Photo by Cleopatra Tuday, San Mateo RCD.

Our initial plan was to involve 300 k-12 students from local schools, teachers, and community members in the planting process. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, working with schools was put on pause due to social distancing protocol and safety considerations for students and staff. 

However, a kismet connection opened another door in the absence of STRAW’s usual student engagement. Abundant Grace Coastside Worker is an organization in Half Moon Bay that, in partnership with Potrero Nuevo, provides employment training opportunities for farmworkers and people who are experiencing houselessness. Throughout this Conservation Crew Internship Program, the Potrero Nuevo team trains Abundant Grace participants on planting, maintaining and harvesting crops. As Suzie and Jay Trexler, farm managers at Potrero Nuevo, describe, the internship also incorporates land stewardship projects like trail maintenance, erosion control and most recently, native plant restoration with STRAW.

Thanks to great coordination and collaboration, the Conservation Crew joined STRAW staff for two out of the six planting days. At the beginning of each planting day, STRAW staff held safety talks to remind folks to stay six feet apart, keep masks on, mitigate the sharing of tools and handle tools with gloves at all times. With safety protocols in place, STRAW staff got to know Abundant Grace interns during planting and discussed topics that ranged from ecology to agriculture to socioeconomics.

Point Blue STRAW, and San Mateo RCD restoration crew! Photo by Cleopatra Tuday, San Mateo RCD.

A goal for STRAW and Point Blue is to build relationships with new communities in order to create foundations for restorations that will support the integrity of coastal ecosystems and connect communities to each other, agricultural areas, and outdoor natural spaces. Our work in San Mateo County is part of that effort. Engaging with the Abundant Grace group, listening to them share about their life journeys, and immersing in our shared connections to the land has been a valuable reminder for STRAW that successful restorations can happen with more than just student groups.

The Abundant Grace Interns gained a deeper connection to the land and also a sense of pride from the accomplishment and from having the chance to work with the professionals at RCD and Point Blue. We all felt like we were part of a larger environmental community, and the opportunity stimulated good follow-up questions and conversation,” say Suzie and Jay while reflecting on their group debrief with the Conservation Crew.

We at Point Blue plan to apply our newly acquired knowledge gained from project partners and our experience meeting community members where they are at in terms of understanding and experience to engage more deeply and impactfully with folks in the area. Abundant Grace and Potrero Nuevo have helped STRAW staff plant about 125 plants for the 2020-2021 planting season and think differently about who we can collaborate with to restore ecosystems. STRAW will be returning to the farm to install irrigation for routine watering throughout the summer. Stay tuned to see how STRAW’s Potrero Nuevo Farm project team finds more ways to collaborate!

More about the Potrero Nuevo Farm Restoration Effort

In 2018, Jennifer Benson of Point Blue’s STRAW Program, along with Cleopatra Tuday of the San Mateo RCD, began exploring a partnership around community-based habitat restoration with Christine Pielenz, Bill Laven, and Jay and Suzie Trexler of Potrero Nuevo Farm, located along Tunitas Creek ten miles south of Half Moon Bay, CA. The 300-acre farm boasts organic and sustainable farming, charitable work, and open grazing lands for wildlife and cattle managed by neighboring TomKat Ranch.

The property is protected under an agricultural conservation easement through the Peninsula Open Space Trust that provides for its 2 acres of farming and 100 acres of grazing.

Point Blue’s main collaborative project goal in this partnership is to improve habitat health by bolstering plant numbers, increasing species diversity, and controlling invasive species. Our restoration work in this coastal grassland and scrubland ecosystem will provide carbon storage, soil stabilization, and habitat for common and threatened wildlife species. With the help of community members over the course of the project, we will plant at least 225 native trees and shrubs over a total of 1.05 acres along two ponds, both of which were historically used for cropland irrigation on the property, and in a strip of open space at the top of a ridge.

Both STRAW and the San Mateo RCD will actively maintain plantings for 3 years, including control of weedy species and irrigation of plants.

Point Blue STRAW staff Celida Moran planting a native plant at the PNF restoration site. Photo by Cleopatra Tuday, San Mateo RCD.

In line with Point Blue’s strategic initiative of catalyzing climate-smart restoration, STRAW staff member Celida Moran began project implementation this fall 2020 with a climate-smart approach to the selection and sourcing of 18 California native plant species.

The 18 species – including Coast Live Oak, Toyon, Red Elderberry, California Sage, and Tree Lupine – were chosen for a number of reasons:

    • Their ability to withstand warm and dry weather in the current coastal climate bodes well for their resilience to hotter and drier conditions that are forecasted to become more common in the Tunitas Creek Watershed. 
    • The variety in each of their blooming periods, to ensure the planting as a whole could provide food for migrating and resident birds, pollinators, and other wildlife year-round.
    • They were collected as seed or as cuttings from the same or similar ecoregions as the one Potrero Nuevo Farm is located in so that they are accustomed to the environment of the area (More on what an ecoregion is here).

They were also tested negative for Phytopthora to protect the PNF site from the plant pathogen (More on Phytopthora here).

It’s . . . exciting to see a project borne of the expertise of RCD & Blue Point, specifically a planting plan that creates a rich multi-season environment at the pond informed by science and an understanding of local conditions,” Laven shared.