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Preserving, Restoring & Appreciating the Wetlands of the Pajaro Valley | January 2023
Lower Watsonville Slough at the Shell Road tide gates.
Photo credit: Jonathan Pilch

Dear Friends,

As so many of us continue to be affected by the storms of the last weeks and the ongoing threat of flooding, whatever comes our way, our community is in this together. Our staff has been out in the community these last few weeks working to address drainage issues, checking sediment basins to reduce localized flooding, caring for parks and trails to prevent erosion and storm impacts, and working with farmers and ranchers to monitor and prepare for storms, prevent erosion, and protect water quality on farmlands and ranches throughout the Pajaro Valley.

The wetlands, creeks, and Pajaro River and the history of flooding in this valley have been fundamental to shaping the community we know today. As a place for floodwaters to go, wetlands play an essential role in protecting our coastal communities from flooding - more on this later in this newsletter. Their protection and restoration is an essential tool in ensuring that they can perform this service in the Pajaro Valley.

Our organization has been leading and collaborating with many other local agencies, organizations, and individuals in working to protect and restore local wetlands, habitats, open spaces, and urban environments, to ensure equitable benefits from this work for all in our community and to foster the next generation of environmental leaders to grow and continue this work. This work is even more essential in this moment.

As we start this new year under these uncertain times, let’s care for and support one another, volunteer, and deepen our work to build a community resilient to climate change and the challenges ahead. Let’s work together to restore nature in concert with and for the benefit of the community in this incredible place that we, and a biodiversity of plants, wildlife, and ecosystems, call home. 

If you would like to donate to local flood relief and recovery efforts, the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County has established a disaster fund.

Jonathan Pilch
Executive Director

The viewing platform at Pajaro River Picnic Area, submerged by the rising river level.
Photo credit: Cara Clark
Give Now to Support Our Work
In This Issue

Our Appreciation & an Invitation
 
On behalf of the Watsonville Wetlands staff and all the students we serve, we thank everyone who supported our successful holiday fundraising campaign, including Asayah, age 9, from Watsonville, who made a generous gift “because I want more places for birds and other animals to be able to thrive.” We truly appreciate you sharing our commitment to creating a healthy, thriving, and resilient wetlands ecosystem that supports the well-being of all in our community. 

Thanks to your partnership and belief in seeing our work grow in the year ahead, our year-end fundraising exceeded our campaign matching funds, and we are well positioned to develop our programs and increase our impact in the coming year!
 
Interested in getting more involved in our work in 2023?
 
We have a variety of volunteer opportunities in both restoration and education. Jose Alanis, our Education and Outreach Specialist, hosts a drop-in session from 10-11am on the 4th Friday of the month at the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center (or WERC), located at the top of the Pajaro Valley High School campus (500 Harkins Slough Road). The next session will be January 27th. Come and meet Jose, learn about our volunteer opportunities, and tour the WERC.

If you are a trained docent volunteer looking to re-engage with our education programs after taking a break during the pandemic, please contact our Education Programs Coordinator Stephanie Rios. Stephanie and the team would love to have docents support students in their hands-on learning experiences during wetlands field trips this winter and spring.
 
Our Annual World Wetlands Day Celebration is one great opportunity to volunteer that is coming up (see event flyer in the Join Us section below), and we’re also working with local organizations and partners to share and develop volunteer opportunities to volunteer related to storm impacts.  Please stay tuned and join us!

This Month in Restoration

Pictured above: A new wetland pond, filled with rainwater.
Photo credit: Cara Clark
 
One of the critical environmental services that wetlands provide is protection against flooding by storing excess water and slowing the progress of flows through the watershed. In our restoration projects, we work with the topography of the sites to incorporate new ponds that store water during storms and offer additional seasonal habitat for amphibians and fish. This new pond (pictured above) on the Bryant-Habert property - part of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County’s Watsonville Slough Farm - is helping to absorb some of the abundant rainfall this winter, protect surrounding farmlands, and buffer coastal areas from sea level rise.
 
The pond was excavated in September of 2022 and, as soon as it filled up, the shorebirds arrived to utilize the habitat during their fall migration. The ponds and surrounding wet meadows are in the floodplain of Watsonville Slough, which is inundated with rising waters from the recent storms. During the creation of the pond, mounds were created with the excavated soil, and these mounds act as refuge for wildlife during high water stages.
 
Ponds increase the capacity of the wetlands to accommodate flood waters. The wetlands act as a sponge to absorb water during the rainy season, which is released later in the spring and summer to sustain local habitats and wildlife.

Wetland Stewards Alumnae Join Local Non-Profit Organizations

Pictured above: María Perez, Community Organizer with Regeneración
Photo credit: Regeneración


For over 15 years, the Wetland Stewards program - our flagship environmental education program training high school youth as environmental educators of middle and elementary school students - has offered paid internships to a cohort of 12 Pajaro Valley High School students annually.
 
Over the course of their year-long internship, the Wetland Stewards learn about the importance of preserving and restoring our wetlands and surrounding environment, become aware of the environmental challenges that our community faces, share their knowledge with students, friends, and family, and increase their skills and commitment to work toward solutions. While the Stewards teach lessons and lead activities in afterschool programs, on field trips, and at community events, they develop their leadership abilities as well. Our aim is to foster local leadership that will ensure the on-going care and stewardship of our wetlands and surrounding environment.
 
As they embark on their careers, a number of Wetland Stewards alumni are returning to the area to work with local environmental non-profit organizations and local government agencies. Here we highlight three program alumnae contributing to organizations with environmentally-focused missions in meaningful ways that involve today’s youth.
 
María Perez (pictured above) is working with Pajaro Valley-based Regeneración as a Community Organizer. María was part of the founding members of Regeneración, while in High School she planned one of their first community events, Healthy Children for a Healthy Planet. María obtained her Bachelors of Science in Conservation and Resource Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, with a focus on climate and energy policy. She envisions a healthy community and advocates for environmental justice because “for generations our families have been looking for a better life. We need to continue fighting towards this goal as we deal with the burden of the disproportionate impacts of climate change.” As a community organizer she is excited to empower youth in taking action.
Rocio Sánchez-Nolasco  (pictured above) is the Public Programs Coordinator with the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Rocio graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a B.A. in Art History and a minor in Digital Humanities. While at UCLA, she learned about the importance of museum education and public programming in helping bridge a sense of community among people of all walks of life and cultivating knowledge through different perspectives. “My favorite thing about museums is that they can provide a space for new knowledge and curiosities to spark intrigue, community, and learning in an unparalleled way,” said Rocio. Rocio brings the community together through outdoor events such as Saturdays in the Soil and Out and About. She is excited to share her passion for local ecology by helping others learn and connect to nature.
Maria Rocha (pictured above) joined the Coastal Watershed Council in Fall of 2022 as their Environmental Educator. Maria leads classroom lessons, field trips, and after-school programs with their Watershed Rangers program. She engages elementary school-aged youth across Santa Cruz County in hands-on lessons and explorations that support them in building their own connection to and curiosity about the natural world. Maria also teaches students about scientific concepts and actions we can all take to protect our environment.
 
Maria said, “I joined CWC after working previously with the Watsonville Wetlands Watch, Return of the Natives, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, organizations which all inspired me to become an Environmental Educator. All three organizations focus on different environmental locations (i.e. wetlands, dunes, ocean), but all of them had a way of conveying conservation in a way that stuck…. [and] opened my eyes into the possibility of being an educator one day. As [an] Environmental Educator, I get to share my passion with elementary school students who have that spark of wanting to learn and inspire those around them. [T]he biggest thing I am hoping to pass onto the next generation is that no matter what age you are, you can make a difference! You are powerful individuals with unique stories and when you care about something you care about … you will protect what you love.”

Watsonville Residents Vote to Renew Urban Limit Line

By Sam Earnshaw, Watsonville Wetlands Watch Board Member
Above: Urban Limit Line map.
Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Local


In February 2020, Watsonville Wetlands Watch (WWW) joined the effort to renew the City’s Urban Limit Line (ULL). Twenty years earlier, WWW worked alongside a diverse coalition of organizations, people, and government to craft and pass Measure U, which first established ULL. With the original Measure U starting to expire this past November, the Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection, which included WWW representatives, organized and placed Measure Q on the November 8 ballot, to extend our farmland protection until 2040. Its passage by over 67% of the voters showed that Watsonville citizens want to see the city grow in an orderly manner that preserves farmland and open space. This is a historic time - we just joined 58 Bay Area cities and jurisdictions that renewed their ULL’s.
 
Watsonville farmland is a major driver of the agricultural economy of Santa Cruz County. The total gross production value of Santa Cruz County agricultural commodities for 2020 was $636,032,000, equal to over $1.5 billion with the multiplier effect on the economy. The highest and best use of these prime farmlands is to grow food. Moving forward, the focus should be on infill development of the existing vacant and under-utilized parcels within city limits.
 
Infill development avoids many of the new infrastructure costs precipitated by continued urban expansion, or sprawl. In addition, sprawl encroaches on natural areas, including our unique system of wetlands that underlie and surround the city, stressing and even eliminating key ecosystem services, such as water filtration, storage, and runoff control, wildlife habitat, fresh air, erosion control, pollination, recreation, and aesthetic enjoyment. Other costs that don’t appear on financial statements include air pollution and climate change emissions. One acre of urban land with multiple households generates about 70 times more greenhouse gas emissions than agriculture.
 
One of the most significant benefits of renewing the ULL is that per the January 2022 California Blueprint proposed budget by the State, the City will be eligible for funding: $1 billion has been proposed from the State for new “infill” housing within developed areas and for the “Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities” program, which funds land-use, housing, transportation, and land preservation projects. Our City could financially benefit from continuing its infill strategies and supporting farmland preservation.
 
A thoughtful plan for growth that meets the needs of our community should be a primary goal with the drafting of the 2050 Watsonville General Plan. Working with our new city manager and new city council, this is an opportunity for a robust and inclusive community process. Let’s get started on understanding the Downtown Specific Plan, getting community committees working on the 2050 General Plan, looking at the industrial area along Walker Street for mixed use potential, and reviewing existing vacant and under-utilized sites throughout the City. Recognizing the interconnected nature of ecosystems and our shared climate destiny, perhaps it is time to consider regional open space and farmland preservation along the Central Coast, linked to the protections offered by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary as well.
 
The Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection is proud of what this electoral victory means, having engaged and hopefully energized Watsonville residents to continue defending our agricultural heritage and resisting urban sprawl. It’s time now to link and activate these efforts with steps toward increasing housing that is affordable to local residents and reducing pesticide exposure and its impacts on farm workers and other local residents. People on all sides of the recent vote to renew our Urban Limit Line have a lot in common in their visions for a healthy and resilient Watsonville. Now that Measure Q has passed, Watsonville Wetlands Watch and many of its individual organizational members will engage in the next phase of environmental work starting with urging all in the community: let’s work together and move forward.

Conservation News

California's 30x30 Goal

What is 30×30?
 
In 2020 Governor Newsom signed executive order N-82-20, committing to protect 30% of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030.  California’s initiative seeks to protect and restore biodiversity, expand access to nature, and mitigate and build resilience to climate change. This effort drives and aligns with broader state commitments to advance justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, strengthen tribal partnerships, and sustain our economic prosperity, clean energy resources, and food supply.
 
For the purposes of California’s 30x30 goal, conserved areas include land and coastal water areas that are durably protected and managed to support functional ecosystems, both intact and restored, and the diversity of species that they support. The Statewide biodiversity rating is determined by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Areas of Conservation Emphasis which considers native species richness, rare species richness, and irreplaceability. 30×30 is prioritizing protection of areas already adjacent to protected areas, or areas that provide important corridors to wildlife. The heart of the initiative is to prioritize nature based solutions to fight against climate change and protect California’s incredible biodiversity as it faces significant threats.
 
So far the state has roughly 24% of terrestrial areas (24.1M of 101.4M total acres) and 16% of marine areas (546.2k of 3.4M total acres) conserved. The marine areas include reserves, parks, and marine life refuges. The Watsonville Wetlands system is listed as part of the terrestrial conserved area.
 
Meaningful conservation that contributes to California's 30x30 goal occurs in many forms across a broad spectrum of ecosystems and conservation approaches, from strict protected areas to working lands and waters. California’s vast array of landscapes all play important roles in biodiversity conservation, climate action, and access. Together, they create a mosaic of conserved areas working synergistically to support connectivity and redundancy—two key components of resilience.
 
California’s strategy to conserve an additional six million acres of land and half a million acres of coastal waters includes supporting and accelerating regionally led conservation, restoration, and stewardship, executing strategic land acquisitions, increasing voluntary conservation easements, and strengthening coordination among governments. Funding, support, and resources are being allocated from the state to local regions through various agencies. 
 
Reaching the 30x30 goal will require collaborative partnerships and voluntary efforts from land managers, community conservationists, scientists, environmental stewards, California Native American tribes, and all Californians who enjoy the state’s unique natural resources. In the Pajaro Valley, Watsonville Wetlands Watch and our governmental, tribal, and non-profit sector partner organizations collaborate to sustain and expand our conservation efforts at the local level, which in turn contribute to statewide conservation and climate resiliency goals.
 
For more information about 30x30 California, visit californianature.ca.gov.
 
Sources: Golden Gate Audubon Society, Golden Gate Birder blog 11/16/2022
30x30 California Conserved Areas explorer dashboard and user guide
Final Pathways to 30x30 - online at CaliforniaNature.ca.gov

Nature Corner

Photo credit: Brooke Sampson


Birding Update
By Nanci Adams, Watsonville Aptos Santa Cruz Adult School

 
If you’ve nearly fainted when opening your PG&E bill recently, you know that we’ve had, for us, some very cold weather. Now we’re all brushing up on our ark building skills! How do birds cope with such severe weather changes?
 
Just as with humans, advance preparation is often key. Some of that is built into the bird’s body. Birds like our common resident Song Sparrow vary considerably in size, shape, and color in North America. Birds such as the Song Sparrow subspecies that lives in colder climates generally have smaller feet and bills, which helps reduce heat loss in these uninsulated body parts. Birds also grow more feathers in winter, mostly downy ones, since down is the best insulator.
 
Many birds fluff up when it’s cold, and that can be confusing for birders; remember that if it’s cold, especially in the early morning, birds’ sizes may seem larger. Birds will also tuck bills, legs and feet, although birds do have a special countercurrent circulation in their legs to reduce heat loss. Intertwined arteries and veins in birds’ legs and wings are very effective for heat transfer.
 
Birds will head into bushes and trees, including tree cavities, for protection. Even unused nest boxes can provide shelter, another good reason to do fall box cleaning. Ledges under eaves are a great place to tuck away, and you may even run across a bird in torpor, such as a hummingbird. Its heart rate and body temperature will drop drastically overnight; shivering in the morning will generally revive the bird. Other small bird species employ torpor also, but the hummingbirds are the best-known example.
 
During these bad storms, look for large gull populations to head to more placid inland waters, such as our sloughs, or to land such as pastures. This is a classic harbinger of upcoming bad weather. It may provide a chance to find more unusual gulls, such as the little wintering Short-billed (formerly Mew) Gull away from the coast.
 
Birds sense barometric pressure changes of storms, so they stock up on food, creating fat reserves, and then they take shelter. If you have been feeding birds in your backyard, you may have noticed some unusual visitors, and you may have witnessed the quick disappearance of suet blocks and freeze-dried mealworms, both high-energy foods. Don’t expect a gull to pop in, but you just may find a White-throated Sparrow, an unexpected treat, among the usual suspects. And, when the weather clears, by all means, go birding! You’ll be well rewarded with so many sightings of feathered creatures hungry for food!

ACT For the Wetlands

Flooding on the Struve Slough trail, during the recent storms.
Photo credit: Cara Clark


 Stewarding Our Wetlands for Flood Protection
 

Wetlands offer many environmental benefits including flood protection, water purification, erosion control and shoreline stabilization, and groundwater recharge and stream flow maintenance. During rain storms, the amount of water running over the surface of the land increases, and in severe storms, flooding may result. Many wetlands, particularly floodplain wetlands, have the capacity to temporarily store flood waters during high runoff events.
 
Although wetlands are often referred to as natural sponges that soak up water in their soils, they also function like natural tubs, storing either flood waters that overflow riverbanks or surface water that collects in isolated depressions. As flood waters recede, the water is released slowly from the wetland soils. By holding back some of the flood waters and slowing the rate that water re-enters the stream channel, wetlands can reduce the severity of downstream flooding and erosion.
 
Wetlands that provide for the temporary storage of floodwater or stormwater runoff reduce risks to public safety, reduce damage to public or private property, reduce downstream erosion, and enhance the stability of habitat for aquatic life. Wetlands within urban areas - like ours - are particularly valuable for flood protection. The impervious surface in urban areas greatly increases the rate and volume of runoff, thereby increasing the risk of flood damage. In watersheds where wetlands have been lost, flood peaks may increase by as much as 80 percent.
 
As recent storms show, our wetlands will be a critical part of our environmental infrastructure and key to our collective resilience as we face more extreme “atmospheric river” weather events in the years to come. We can all play a role in strengthening our community through stewardship of our wetlands.
 

  • Keep storm drains clear of litter and debris and avoid flushing chemicals and toxic substances down the gutter. 70% of the City of Watsonville’s storm drains flow untreated to our wetlands.
  • Join us for our 4th Saturday Wetland Habitat Restoration projects. By restoring native plant communities, we can increase habitat areas for native wildlife and increase the health and resilience of our wetlands.
  • Educate others about the importance of wetland ecosystems and advocate for their continued protection.

 
Sources:
https://dec.vermont.gov/watershed/wetlands/functions/storage#:~:text=By%20holding%20back%20some%20of,as%20much%20as%2080%20percent.
https://ecology.wa.gov/Water-Shorelines/Wetlands/Education-training/Functions-values-of-wetlands

Join Us Around the Community!

Virtual Event


Transforming Taxidermy - Remembering Richard Gurnee
Virtual event - Tuesday, January 24th 6-7pm
 
Watsonville native Richard Gurnee pioneered a freeze-drying technique that revolutionized the field of scientific taxidermy. Though he passed away in late 2022, his legacy will live on through the many organizations that share his specimens with the community through nature centers, museums, and educational programs.
 
Join the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, Watsonville Nature Center, and Watsonville Wetlands Watch for a look back on his life and celebrate his lasting legacy.

Register online: 
https://www.santacruzmuseum.org/1-24-transforming-taxidermy-remembering-richard-gurnee-online/

World Wetlands Day 2023

Saturday, February 4th
Join Watsonville Wetlands Watch and the City of Watsonville for our World Wetlands Day Celebration on Saturday, February 4th, 2023 at the Struve Slough trail. We will restore the wetland habitat from 10am-12pm and celebrate the wetlands with fun activities including environmental education booths, storytelling, birdwatching, music, and crafts from 12-1pm. This event is fun for the whole family!
 
Meeting location: Lower Nob Hill shopping center parking lot. Please carpool, bike, or use public transit if possible.

Gloves and tools will be provided. Please bring a filled water bottle and dress in walking shoes and layers to be outdoors.

For more information, contact us: jose@watsonvillewetlandswatch.org or 831-728-1156 x3.

New Volunteer Orientation


New Volunteer Orientation
Friday, January 27th from 10-11am
 
We have a variety of volunteer opportunities available in both our restoration and education programs. If you would like to learn more about how you can get involved, please join us for our monthly new volunteer orientation on Friday, January 27th from 10-11am at the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center (WERC, located at the top of the Pajaro Valley High School campus, 500 Harkins Slough Road, Watsonville).

Our Education and Outreach Specialist Jose Alanis will provide a brief overview of our organization, programs, and volunteer opportunities, as well as a quick tour of the WERC. He will have volunteer registration forms available.

New volunteer orientation sessions will be taking place at the WERC every 4th Friday of the month at 10am (with some exceptions). We hope to see you there!

For more information, email jose@watsonvillewetlandswatch.org.

4th Saturday Restoration Day

Join us on Saturday, January 28th, from 9am-12pm to help restore our wetlands. We will meet at Ramsay Park to install native plants in the riparian area around the new lookout platform. Please use the Main Street entrance and parking lot (1301 Main Street) and meet our staff near the bathroom building.

Fruit Tree Adoption Workshop

This month’s fruit tree adoption workshop will be Saturday January 28, at 2 pm at River Park (100 E. Front Street). Watsonville residents who attend can receive a free fruit tree to plant in their garden. For more information about the Watsonville Community Forest program, visit watsonvillecommunityforest.org.

Featured Photo

Thank you to Deb Menicos (@fragaria_papilionoidea) for sharing this striking photo of an Eared Grebe with bright red eyes, taken this winter in Moss Landing. Scientists believe that red eyes help waterfowl see their prey in darker conditions. Grebes usually dive for food, so it may be that having more light-sensitive vision aids them underwater.
 
Local birding instructor Nanci Adams shares that eared grebes are “charming winter visitors to our area that look completely different in their breeding plumage. We sometimes get to see that just before the birds head north in spring.”


We'd love to feature your wetland and nature photos! For a chance to have them appear in an upcoming newsletter, send them to Brooke@watsonvillewetlandswatch.org.

Fee Free Days at the National Parks in 2023

Our national parks are offering five free admission days in 2023, including the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday this Monday, January 16th. Make a plan to visit a favorite park or check out one for the first time.
 
Be sure to check on park access before your journey, as some locations may be damaged or temporarily closed due to the recent storms.
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Watsonville Wetlands Watch works to preserve and restore the Watsonville wetlands, expand Watsonville’s tree canopy, and inspire environmental stewardship through the education and leadership development of local students.

We maintain trails and steward open spaces, plant and maintain shade trees throughout the City of Watsonville, and restore watersheds and habitat areas for wildlife and people throughout the Pajaro Valley. Our accessible, hands-on, outdoor environmental education programs for Pajaro Valley Unified School District students develop their knowledge, skills, and commitment to act on behalf of our environment. Our programs are engaging our community in creating a healthier, more climate resilient, and more biodiverse Pajaro Valley for all residents to enjoy.

Join us in our work by donating here! Together, we are creating a thriving local wetland ecosystem, with the community at the center of its conservation.

Watsonville Wetlands Watch is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
Federal Tax ID #77-0519882
Copyright © *2022 Watsonville Wetlands Watch, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
P.O.Box 1239
Freedom, CA 95019

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