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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

SAN DIEGO NWR: Two Local Students Complete Successful Stewardship Projects on San Diego National Wildlife Refuge

Region 8, October 2, 2010
Taylor Winchell, a local high school student, works to assemble the PVC structures around oak seedlings, in order to ensure protection from predators and for regular watering at San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. (USFWS/Clark Winchell)
Taylor Winchell, a local high school student, works to assemble the PVC structures around oak seedlings, in order to ensure protection from predators and for regular watering at San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. (USFWS/Clark Winchell) - Photo Credit: n/a
Before installation of the burrowing owl nest boxes on San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, volunteers from Boy Scout Troop 895 in Chula Vista listened to a presentation by refuge biologist John Martin. (USFWS/Edalia Gomez)
Before installation of the burrowing owl nest boxes on San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, volunteers from Boy Scout Troop 895 in Chula Vista listened to a presentation by refuge biologist John Martin. (USFWS/Edalia Gomez) - Photo Credit: n/a

By Lisa Cox, San Diego NWR

Seeking to make a long lasting contribution, two local high school students completed successful stewardship projects recently on San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. 

Acorns to Oaks

Taylor Winchell, a local San Diego student at Patrick Henry High School, started a project in 2006 to rejuvenate Coast Live Oak trees whose habitats are threatened by development, ranching, and invasive species.   Taylor was looking for a service project that would have lasting results.  Since the San Diego Refuge was needing some oak trees to be planted, it became the perfect partnership.  Planting oaks that would last more than his lifetime was a natural project to partner with the Refuge.   Taylor’s father, Clark Winchell, is a Biological Monitor for the Carlsbad Ecological Services Office, and introduced Taylor to San Diego Refuge biologist, John Martin.  John and Clark oversaw and worked with Taylor on the design of the project.   

Starting his freshman year, Taylor collected about 200 acorns per year, treated them for parasites, and planted a batch of 25 oak saplings each year for four years. The success rate for these 100 oak saplings so far has been at about 40 percent; much better than the usual success rate in nature.  Taylor carried water out to care for the trees and built cages to protect them from threats such as weeds, rabbits, and beetles.  He also created a video of his project for his Advanced Placement Environmental Studies class in his junior year.  “I have greatly enjoyed the work that I put into this project,” Taylor said as he prepared to leave for college. “It has been a great experience and I look forward to monitoring these trees and the wildlife that they support for many years to come.”

Taylor continued to participate in the project until the week before he left for the University of California at Berkeley, where he will continue his interest in science.  He believes that the care he has taken with the project over the past four years will help the trees thrive well into their maturity.

Burrowing Owls get new homes

In May of this year, Adrian Gomez of Boy Scout Troop 895 in Chula Vista, Calif., became the Eagle Scout leader for a project that entailed building Burrowing Owl nest boxes and installing them on the San Diego Refuge.  The owls have lost much of their habitat to urban development. Gomez learned about the need for the boxes from project from refuge manager, Jill Terp during another activity when his mother asked Jill about potential scout projects.  The Gomez’s were familiar with refuge projects because older brother Gabriel had an Eagle Scout project in 2009 on the refuge, where split rail fence was installed to protect San Diego Ambrosia, an endangered plant.    

Adrian, with help from refuge staff and his troop, built and installed 10 nest boxes.  Refuge staff provided the box design/materials and used a trencher to pre-dig holes in the hard-packed clay dirt.  Refuge wildlife biologist John Martin verified a prototype made by Adrian and made sure it met the proper specifications so that the volunteers could use it as a template.  Adrian and his father Jose built the boxes, then 15 scouts with their leaders installed them with the help of four Refuge staff, and backfilled the holes.  Rocks were placed over the holes to restore the site to pre-construction condition, and to give the owls a place to perch.

Adrian logged more than 250 hours on the project.  On October 2, his Eagle Scout award passed the Eagle Scout Board of Review, and he received his badge.  Also that same week, at least one burrowing owl has checked out two of the nest boxes Adrian and the troop installed since then; proven with evidence of owl droppings.

The hard work performed by these dedicated students will be appreciated for years to come, and their actions are inspiration for other young people to follow.  Projects such as these create the opportunity for young people to connect with nature in a lasting and meaningful way – and to enjoy being in the great outdoors.

-- FWS --

Contact Info: Lisa Cox, 619.476.9150 ext. 106, lisa_cox@fws.gov