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Volunteer Planting Day at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge

Native Plant Society Lends Assistancethroughout

By Julie Rentner, Restoration Ecologist

Field Manager, Stephen Sheppard (by the orange bucket) talks to volunteers at the San Joaquin River NWF Planting Day event. Photo by River Partners staff.

On Saturday January 30, 2010, 30 volunteers from Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, Madera, and Alameda Counties gathered at the Arambel Unit of the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge to plant more than eight hundred native trees and shrubs. Located along the floodplain of the San Joaquin River, one half-mile upstream of its confluence with the Tuolumne River, the plantings were a part of two different River Partners projects at the Refuge, both designed to benefit riparian songbirds, waterfowl, mammals, and endangered species such as the riparian brush rabbit. Several volunteers from the Northern San Joaquin Chapter of the California Native Plant Society provided valuable assistance in instructing volunteers about planting techniques and keeping the pace of the planting fast and fun.

Volunteers finished early (in just three hours!) and had a chance to reflect on their hard work while learning more about riparian forest restoration. Sandhill Cranes and Red Tail Hawks took to the skies above the planting location throughout the day, vocalizing the approval of our efforts. Luckily, the rainy skies cleared and the winter sun was able to warm volunteers up Volunteer Planting Day at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge

Native Plant Society Lends Assistancethroughout the day. Volunteers ranged in age from 3 to 63, some having never planted a tree before. As these trees and shrubs grow, volunteers may one day be able to revisit their hard work in a hiking or canoe trip to the Refuge, which will open to the public in 2010.

Restoration of the five-acre Arambel enhancement field began in 2008 with funding from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project Habitat Restoration Program. A late summer fire that year burned the field and killed a percentage of the remnant riparian forest there. River Partners biologists watched closely as the plant communities responded to the fire, coming up with a restoration plan for the field in 2009 that promoted the natural recruitment of native species while discouraging growth of non-native weeds. Our volunteers replaced dense stands of thistles and pepperweed with native blackberry, California rose, buttonbush, coyote brush, and Oregon ash. Volunteers also planted black willow, arroyo willow, sandbar willow, golden currant and cottonwood. 

Once the Arambel enhancement field planting was completed, volunteers moved on to the Lara riparian brush rabbit refuge (bunny mound) to complete the planting of sandbar willows around the base of the constructed mound, and golden currant on the slopes and the top of the mound. Riparian brush rabbit refugia or "bunny mounds" provide refuge to riparian brush rabbits fleeing rising flood waters and evading avian predators. Thirty mounds have been constructed at the Refuge to date, and the Lara mound is one of four funded through USFWS and Bureau of Reclamation endangered species recovery programs. 

The above article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of the River Partners Journal.