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DON EDWARDS NWR: Eight youths from Peninsula communitycreate habitat for endangered marshland species during summer program
California-Nevada Offices , November 30, 2010
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The 2010 Youth Conservation Corps crew pose for a team photo at the end of a work day on dopn Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. (USFWS Photo)
The 2010 Youth Conservation Corps crew pose for a team photo at the end of a work day on dopn Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. (USFWS Photo) - Photo Credit: n/a

Making Their Mark on the Marsh

By Anna Peschel, Don Edwards-San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge

This summer eight high school students from East Palo Alto were hired to work in the United States Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  The YCC program was created in 1970 to introduce youths to natural resource management.

Through this program, teens learn how their work on federal lands benefits the site and the overall environment, and they also learn to appreciate and understand the ecosystems and the community. The crew from East Palo Alto had no prior exposure to natural resource conservation. They all lived within five miles of the work site, but prior to the program they did not know there was a National Wildlife Refuge in their community.

The work plan for the summer was ambitious. They were asked to create upland habitat on a levee of the Don Edwards Refuge located in East Palo Alto by removing nonnative vegetation, implementing environmentally sustainable weed control methods, and growing native plants. Every day the crew showed up at 7 a.m. and engaged in demanding, physical work. They were challenged to work as a team, to act professionally, to problem-solve, and to think innovatively. 

Over eight weeks the crew met their goals and accomplished so much more. Invasive vegetation was removed from the levee and solarization tents were constructed to contain the weeds. They learned how to propagate native plants from seed and transplanted 2,800 of the seedlings. They also constructed a salinization irrigation system with a pump powered by a bicycle.  Nonnative plants are not as tolerant of salt water as native plants, so irrigating the levee with bay water discouraged the weeds from growing.  Through all of the work the crew accomplished they learned the value of the natural environment.  
 
The crew’s recognition of the importance of the work they accomplished was evident from their thoughts.  At the end of every day they reflected upon their new experiences in their journals. One of the crew members, age 17, stated in her journal:  "This restoration project has helped me open my eyes and see the wonders the world has. It has taught me a lot that I didn’t know. Everything was interesting starting from the weed whackers to transplanting."
 
The projects were designed to teach the crew members about bayland habitats, watersheds, tides, and the importance of conservation and habitat for wildlife.  However, the program was not all work and no play.  The crew took numerous field trips that provided them with the opportunity to see more natural spaces in their community.

They kayaked in the slough while studying tides, bicycled around the bay looking at different habitats, and built solar ovens to learn about renewable energy. They also attended the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco to learn about biodiversity and conservation in a global context. 

The greatest accomplishment of this year’s program was that it connected a segment of the East Palo Alto community to nature and encouraged the crew to start thinking as steward of the environment. The crew’s experience on the refuge was an awakening for many of them. They gained a whole new perspective and appreciation for nature and the work it takes to protect and restore it.

Their newfound knowledge is already spreading into the community as they shared their summer job experience.  At the end-of-the-season barbecue where the crew made presentations to their families and to the community about what they learned and accomplished. At the end of the day, the crew and their families walked away with proud smiling faces knowing that their work had a positive impact on their community.

This has been a rewarding experience - connecting people in an urban landscape to the natural spaces around them. Inspiring people to become stewards of natural spaces helps to conserve habitat for existing ecological communities and for future generations.

                                                                                                        -- FWS --


Contact Info: Doug Cordell, 510-774-4080, doug_cordell@fws.gov



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