This article was contributed by Jennifer Benson, senior project manager with the STRAW program for Point Blue Conservation Science.
On a warm October day, over a hundred local fourth graders traveled to the hills above Tres Pinos Creek toting backpacks, bagged lunches and water bottles. The kids were part of the Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed (STRAW) program, which has worked with local students and San Benito County community members for the last four years on various restoration projects in the region. The STRAW program is housed at Point Blue Conservation Science, a Bay Area nonprofit with over 160 scientists working on conservation issues.
Thanks to funding support from the Community Foundation for San Benito County, through their Community Impact Matching Grants, two restoration projects were completed this winter in partnership with landowners, local elementary schools, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Hedgerows Unlimited, the San Benito Working Landscapes Group, the San Benito Arts Council, and community members. These projects were initiated by San Benito County landowners who were interested in ways to improve water quality and pollinator and wildlife habitat on their properties, and also involve students through education and hands-on experience. STRAW’s role in these projects is to engage students through classroom lessons followed by field trips to do hands-on restoration. The classroom lessons and field trips taught students about watershed science and the importance of local agriculture. Ms. Wilcox, a teacher at Tres Pinos School, spoke about the program’s impact.
“The STRAW program provides a unique, rare opportunity for public school students to interact with nature in a well-organized, constructive outdoor experience and accomplish tasks through problem-solving as a team,” Wilcox said.
The fourth grade students were from Hollister’s Cerra Vista Elementary School and participated in a pollinator hedgerow planting project at the Lazy 8 cattle ranch in Paicines. Hedgerows are deliberate plantings of shrubs and trees in a row that serve as a windbreak, provide soil erosion protection and facilitate carbon sequestration. In addition to these benefits, the owner of the Lazy 8 Ranch also wanted to increase habitat for pollinator insects, which are important for crop and food systems. After the students met project partners and received training on properly planting methods, they spent the day planting 94 California native trees, shrubs and grasses along irrigation drip lines near the ranch headquarters. The drought-tolerant native plants were selected for their staggered flowering and seeding periods to provide year-round pollinator habitat and wildlife resources.
Further upstream in the watershed along the banks of the San Benito River, 26 students from Jefferson and Bitterwater-Tully Elementary Schools gathered at the Bar SZ Ranch for their planting project day. Students learned in their pre-restoration classroom lessons that planting trees and shrubs next to the river prevents soil erosion and enables water to soak into the ground more efficiently via root systems, helping to replenish groundwater supplies. The goal for this project was to plant fast-growing, on-site sourced planting materials to stabilize streambanks and enhance pollinator and wildlife habitat. Students planted 222 sprigs of cottonwood, willow and mulefat. Mulefat, a peculiarly named plant, is particularly beneficial to pollinators because it flowers year-round providing abundant nectar and pollen resources for native bees.
Between the two projects, a total of 950 linear feet was restored thanks to these San Benito community efforts!
For more information about the STRAW program or how to get involved as a landowner, teacher, or supporter, please email Jennifer Benson, STRAW restoration project manager, at email@example.com.