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ELLICOTT SLOUGH NWR: Restoration Education Efforts Support Endangered Salamanders
California-Nevada Offices , April 2, 2013
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Refuge Environmental Education Specialist Tia Glagolev talks with Renaissance High School students about the importance of Prospect Pond, a newly renovated breeding habitat for endangered amphibian species.
Refuge Environmental Education Specialist Tia Glagolev talks with Renaissance High School students about the importance of Prospect Pond, a newly renovated breeding habitat for endangered amphibian species. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Students from Renaissance High School plant native vegetation and learn about USFWS habitat restoration strategies.
Students from Renaissance High School plant native vegetation and learn about USFWS habitat restoration strategies. - Photo Credit: USFWS

By  Michael D’Agostino

Students from Renaissance High School in Watsonville, California, joined U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff to facilitate planting native vegetation on the Ellicott Slough National Wildlife Refuge.

In January, refuge staff and volunteers planted 130 individual pots consisting of California blackberry, coffeeberry, deerweed, coast live oak and sticky monkey flower. These native floras will supplement a newly excavated, manmade pool called “Prospect Pond,” a managed freshwater wetland providing critical breeding habitat for the federally-endangered Santa Cruz long-toed salamander.

Renaissance is an alternative, or continuation high school, providing small class sizes and specialized educational and counseling resources, allowing at-risk students to graduate meeting California State Standards. Students have been assisting refuge staff with habitat management efforts for about ten years, and the unique partnership is benefitting people and wildlife alike.

“This is an exciting project,” said Refuge Environmental Education Specialist Tia Glagolev. “We have the opportunity to track the changes of our restoration efforts from the very beginning. It’s a fantastic learning and management tool.” Renaissance students are the first volunteers to assist with enhancing this newest aquatic habitat.

Renaissance science educator Shoshana Coplan, who coordinates with Glagolev to make these restoration education efforts so fruitful, enthusiastically agrees. “I have been able to incorporate the native plant restoration and projects into my science curriculum,” Coplan said. “The students have benefitted by experiencing an on-going, real life scientific endeavor.”

Coplan’s pupils also develop a deeper understanding about local biota, protected species and environmental threats in their own suburban neighborhoods, such as chemical pollutants and non-native invasive plants. Such dangers are especially detrimental to the refuge’s delicate amphibian species.

In addition to safeguarding the imperiled Santa Cruz long-toed salamander, Ellicott Slough NWR is also home to federally-threatened California red-legged frogs and California tiger salamanders, making the students’ hard work all the more meaningful.

Refuge Biologist Christopher Caris explains, “By far, the most rewarding part of the project is seeing amphibian eggs deposited. Ellicott Pond (located near the new Prospect Pond site) did not get enough water to support breeding this year, so all breeding on the Ellicott Unit of the refuge will occur due to the addition of Prospect Pond.” Revegetating the surrounding wetland area with native flora is thus vital, because it provides an optimal habitat for the breeding and survival of rare amphibians.

Energizing and empowering youth through hands on habitat restoration efforts is a critical component in allowing the Service to accomplish its conservation mission. “When we engage our citizens and explain the how and why of species conservation,” Caris notes, “we secure a place in the future for wildlife and their habitats.”

Future projects on the Ellicott Slough NWR, planned  in cooperation with Renaissance High School students, include tracking native vegetation growth, checking cover boards to inventory additional reptile and amphibian species, and collecting new data on the number and variety of bird species present. Coplan then takes this environmental knowledge from the field and back into her classroom. “In our classes we talk about how ecosystems are all connected and how when one ecosystem is healthy and balanced all other ecosystems benefit. Ellicott is not a separate entity.”

Established in 1975, Ellicott Slough NWR today encompasses over 200 acres of land and water. It is one of seven refuges included in the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

“This is what it’s all about,” Glagolev says, “Getting people involved…volunteers assist us on every level. Their efforts are critical to our success.”

Michael D'Agostino is an environmental education intern at the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, located in Fremont, California.


Contact Info: Michael D'Agostino, 408-262-5513 ext. 103, Michael_DAgostino@fws.gov



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