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SEAL BEACH NWR: National Wildlife Refuge Week Events...Better Late Than Never!
California-Nevada Offices , November 23, 2013
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Refuge Manager Kirk Gilligan thanks the volunteers for all the hard work they put in that day.
Refuge Manager Kirk Gilligan thanks the volunteers for all the hard work they put in that day. - Photo Credit: Lisa Cox/USFWS
The boy scout troops and their families were having all the fun!
The boy scout troops and their families were having all the fun! - Photo Credit: Lisa Cox/USFWS
Environmental Education Specialist, Chantel Jimenez, plants succulent scrub with visitors in front of the San Diego NWR Complex Headquarters.
Environmental Education Specialist, Chantel Jimenez, plants succulent scrub with visitors in front of the San Diego NWR Complex Headquarters. - Photo Credit: Jill Terp/USFWS

By Lisa Cox

"Look they're planting! I want to plant, can I plant?" said kids arriving at Sweetwater Marsh on a cool, cloudy fall Saturday, during an event organized by the Living Coast Discovery Center.

Families were invited to take part in habitat restoration on the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge on November 16, 2013, in place of a National Wildlife Refuge Week event cancelled during the government shutdown. At Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, several volunteer and youth groups took part in the 10th annual planting event sponsored by the Navy, celebrating both Refuge Week and National Public Lands Day.

November 16, San Diego Bay NWR

Each year, the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex and Living Coast Discovery Center (LCDC) organize a day to visit the refuge for nature-related activities and also funds free entry into the LCDC. This year unfortunate events caused the cancellation of the annual celebration. The shrinking budgets of both organizations made the fee-free day at LCDC not possible, and the government shutdown caused the cancellation of the partner-organized event. In fact, the LCDC had become faced with the possibility of closing their doors at the end of October due to insufficient funds. LCDC partners and the general public scrambled to raise money for the only nature center of its kind in South County San Diego. From neighborhood lemonade stands and cart wheel-a-thons, to a fundraising swim across the San Diego Bay by a staff member, they did their best.

Due to the vigorous fundraising efforts and matching donors from the San Diego Foundation, UTC Aerostructures, Cox Communications, and San Diego Gas and Electric, the LCDC was able to double its goal in raising funds, allowing the center to remain open for another year and a half. To celebrate the success, the LCDC organized a fee-free event sponsored by the Port of San Diego. “Animals on the Bay Harvest Festival” drew in over 1000 people throughout the day who visited the different booths of partner organizations and interacted with live animals. The San Diego NWR Complex was invited to participate in the event and provided visitors the opportunity to take part in habitat restoration.  Kids and their families planted over 100 maritime succulent scrub and coastal sage scrub plants, such as dudleyas, bunchgrasses, and yucca. They also took home seedlings of common species such as California coastal sage brush and broom baccharis.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff from San Diego and San Diego Bay NWRs helped out with the event. Chantel Jimenez, Environmental Education Specialist said, “Some kids got down and dirty and wanted to plant more than one plant, while others were content to watch their younger sibling.” It is always a priority for the refuge staff to connect kids to nature by handing them a plant and a trowel and getting a little dirty.

November 23, Seal Beach NWR

The 10th annual National Public Lands Day event, sponsored by a Department of Defense Legacy Grant secured by Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, also had to be delayed due to the shutdown. The event usually takes place during Refuge Week, where hundreds of native upland plants are planted on the refuge property to provide habitat for pollinators, lizards, songbirds, and other animals. It is the largest public event of the year that the refuge, Friends of Seal Beach NWR, and the Navy host together; getting habitat work done that normally wouldn’t be accomplished at that scale in that short amount of time. About 200 volunteers and refuge/Navy staff planted 1,050 plants in just three hours.

Over the years, agricultural and industrial operations had turned this once dynamic wetland on the refuge into hard-packed and weed-infested fields. Through many years of hard work with staff and volunteers, the diversity of plants, and therefore usefulness to wildlife will return. White sage, black sage, goldenbush, mulefat, bladderpod, buckwheat, and California coastal sage brush were planted by the volunteers.

Volunteers included two Boy Scout troops, Cub Scout Troop #727 from Hacienda Heights and Boy Scout Troop #74 from Long Beach, whose Assistant Scoutmaster is Navy Biologist Bob Schallman. Twenty members of Disney VoluntEARS, five of them from Brazil, volunteered along with their coordinator Manny Kiesser. Manny, who is on Inside the Outdoors board of directors, secured funding from Wells Fargo Bank for transportation to the event for environmental education support. Inside the Outdoors, an environmental and outdoor education program, brought a live gopher snake and rosy boa to pet and hold, which the kids loved. Volunteers from Boeing, another organization connected with Inside the Outdoors and Disney, also participated. Simple Green, headquartered in Huntington Beach and a neighbor to the Navy base and the Seal Beach NWR, showed their support by sending volunteers.

Another youth group that participated, the National Guard’s Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe Academy in Los Alamitos, sent about 50 high school-aged boys to support the planting event. This residential daily boot camp seeks to intervene and reclaim the lives of at-risk youth in a 6-month program where they learn the values, skills, education and self-discipline necessary to succeed as adults and enter college. “Knowing that I’m going to help out, and give back to society, was my favorite part of today,” said Cadet Luis Barranco of Montebello. “I planted four or five trees by myself. I’ve never done that before.” Barranco enjoyed seeing how many people came together with a goal to get one thing accomplished. His favorite subject at the academy is biology, and he hopes to major in graphic design and photography in college. Luis Avil, from San Fernando Valley said his favorite subject at Sunburst is oceanography, and he hopes to major in medical and business degrees in college. “The best part of today was planting the plants, and helping the environment, helping the salt marsh. I've read about them, but I've never seen them.” With that, a flock of Canada geese flew overhead, fluting their soft calls reminding the volunteers that they were on a National Wildlife Refuge amidst all of the urban and industrial landscape.

Sunburst Academy is part of a three year program where Inside the Outdoors provides environmental education at the academy and cadets learn how to conduct a scientific study about the effects of soil health and plant growth. In addition, Boeing regularly provides mentors to the academy. It is a great partnership of local companies and nonprofits working together to accomplish science excellence and at-risk youth support.

The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex was happy to be able to put on these essential events for both habitat restoration, and connecting people with nature. The staff of all of our refuges remains fully committed to accomplishing its mission, and fostering partnerships that strengthen efforts in conservation and environmental education. The Complex thanks all of the organizations that made these events possible, and plan to continue these fun and family-friendly events in the future.

Lisa Cox is a public information and public outreach specialist at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Chula Vista, California.


For photos of the event, visit the San Diego NWR Complex Facebook page at:
www.facebook.com/SanDiegoNWRCompex
Contact Info: Lisa Cox, 619.476.9150 ext. 106, lisa_cox@fws.gov



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