Science for a Blue Planet

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

STRAW Program Celebrates 30 Years of K-12 Students Restoring Wildlife Habitat!

Melissa Pitkin, Point Blue Chief of Staff, speaking at the STRAW 30th Anniversary Celebration on August 8, 2023. Credit: Matt Lau.

Community members from around the San Francisco Bay Area gathered this past Tuesday at Stafford Lake Park in Novato to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed program (STRAW). Housed at Point Blue, the program leads K-12 students in professional-level habitat restoration projects. These projects restore wildlife habitat, conserve water, sequester carbon, prevent soil erosion, and provide learning opportunities for students and the community. The restorations happen on farms, ranches, and public lands and, since the program launched, nearly 70,000 students, teachers, and volunteer parents have participated in restorations.

“It was truly magical to bring together so many people that have been critical to the success of the STRAW program,” says Laurette Rogers, one of the program’s founders. “Not only were we joined by representatives from the non-profit organizations, public agencies, schools, and other partners who make this work possible, but we had a former student who was part of the 4th grade class that began the program as the Shrimp Club 30 years ago as well as the first rancher who agreed to work with us!”

Laurette’s 4th grade class started the program at Brookside Elementary School in San Anselmo in Marin County. After showing her students a video about endangered species, they asked what they could do to help, and the class collectively landed on habitat restoration as its path to action. Since then, the program has put 83,982 plants in the ground on the way to restoring over 42 miles of stream and wetland habitat.

“I knew I was dreaming big when I started the program thirty years ago, but I never let myself dream it would really get this big,” says Laurette. “It’s really been amazing to look back at not just the conservation impact the program has achieved, but also to think about how many lives were touched. We have heard so many stories of students who have gone on to careers in conservation or have active lives helping their communities, and that’s a really great feeling.”

John Parodi (STRAW STRAW Program and Education and Outreach Director), Nancy Scolari (Executive Director of Marin RCD), and Isaiah Thalmayer (Senior STRAW Project Manager) at the STRAW 30th Celebration. Credit: Matt Lau.

Over the past thirty years, the program has expanded beyond just just the North Bay and has now worked with students to conduct restorations in 15 counties, including work in San Francisco’s North, South, and East Bay counties as well as further afield, like mountain meadow restoration in the Sierra Nevada.

“Over the years, as the STRAW program has expanded we’ve included new priorities, going beyond just the restoration work itself,” says Melissa Pitkin, Chief of Staff at Point Blue and former program lead. “One of our big focus areas now is creating career pathways through STRAW. We engage apprentices through programs like our Community College Conservation Internship program. And many of those apprentices go on to become Point Blue staff, designing restoration projects and working with classes to implement them.”

Thanks to a recent block grant from California’s Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), the program is poised for even more growth. The block grant awards Point Blue $26 million over four years to build wildlife-friendly resilience and equity in California’s working landscapes through restoration projects on farms and ranches. Point Blue will prioritize outreach and funds to projects that are otherwise hard to reach through state funding mechanisms, with a focus on reaching disadvantaged communities.

“One of the most exciting things about this award is that it allows us to scale up the community-based restoration model we’ve created over years of development,” says John Parodi, the current program lead for STRAW. “We’ll now be able to implement restoration projects on far more farms and ranches, while growing our capacity for equity building and social science research and connecting to major conservation efforts, like California’s ambitious 30×30 goals.”