Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
TIJUANA SLOUGH NWR: UC Boulder Students Spend Spring Break Helping Habitats
California-Nevada Offices , March 28, 2014
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The students spreading native mulching material around the restored Maritime Succulent Scrub habitat on the refuge.
The students spreading native mulching material around the restored Maritime Succulent Scrub habitat on the refuge. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Installing signs cautioning the public about the tiny and well-camouflaged snowy plovers, which are listed as federally threatened on the refuge.
Installing signs cautioning the public about the tiny and well-camouflaged snowy plovers, which are listed as federally threatened on the refuge. - Photo Credit: USFWS

By Lisa Cox

Twelve energetic college students made the most out of their spring break this year by planting 485 plants and restoring two acres of wetland habitats on the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. The students were part of the Boulder Alternative Breaks Program.through University of Colorado (CU).

The group removed invasive weeds and cleaned up the Monument Mesa native plant gardens at Borderfield State Park. They pulled weeds in another restoration site where very stubborn mustard plants are being eliminated, repaired fence adjacent to the Goat Canyon sediment basins (which capture sediment and trash from upstream the Tijuana River) and removed a small dumpster’s worth of trash from around the perimeter of the basins.

“They were a proactive team and had a positive attitude, it was great working with them!” said Cara Stafford, Stewardship Program Leader for Borderfield State Park. They were a motivated group of individuals and all of the staff enjoyed working with them on their “alternative break.”

Alternative Breaks at CU Boulder provides opportunities for students to learn about social and environmental justice issues faced by members of diverse communities through education and service. Immersion in new environments enables students to experience and discuss social and environmental issues in a significant way, ultimately moving students toward action to make positive impact in their own communities.

Most of these students were Resident Assistants at the dorms on campus and signed up for the program through the National Residence Hall Honorary program. Students went through an interview process for the trip and only 10 students and two leaders were chosen. During their trip they hope to accomplish a “triangle of service” which entails education – learning the why, direct service –doing the physical work and reflection – discussing their impact and the social/environmental issues from their day. They stayed in a hostel in downtown San Diego, further experiencing the diverse culture of the region while working hard each day of their visit at the refuge and surrounding reserve. For many, it was their first time ever to visit the Pacific Ocean, and for some, it was a return visit to San Diego. However, none of them had been to the refuge and they enjoyed their experience in new natural and arid habitats.
Mackenzie Senn, a junior majoring in Integrated Physiology, said she was no stranger to volunteering on National Wildlife Refuges. She has made many memories at the Soldotna NWR in Alaska. “We cleaned trails, wetlands, and some interpretation and education for high school field trips. I went there as an elementary school student too because I grew up there.” Still being very interested in education, she is currently getting her teaching certificate and teaches biology at a local elementary school.

Tk Coody, a sophomore studying Molecular Biology and Business, said that this trip gave him a new outlook on what service means and new ideas about how to volunteer in the future. “I’ve done service before in humanitarian efforts, but the outdoors side of service draws me in. It’s my first time here in Southern California, and I love the vibe and the people here. I’ve really been inspired in my personal goals for the future to volunteer with the local parks and nature preserves in my area before I go to grad school. I know that I want to contact with the open space rangers at the Chitaqua Park and see if they need help with trail work there, now that I know how to do it!” Coody said he had fun working with the docent Dick Pilgrim, and Cara who said to “Listen for the birds” when in a weed-infested area compared to a restored area with native plants. He was amazed and made a connection with the land right then and there. When the group went to visit the San Diego Zoo, he said everyone was pointing out the native versus non-native plants!

On the last day of their trip, the students embarked on a beautiful refuge beach walk to search for the federally threatened Western snowy plover, and install signs. These weren't just any signs though. Funded by Audubon California’s “Share the Shore” environmental education program and administered by the local San Diego Audubon Society, the signs were hand-drawn by local elementary school students to creatively encourage people to respect the snowy plovers’ space on the beach. These signs are respected far more than the usual regulatory signage on the beach and people can enjoy the student’s artwork as they stroll along. The signs were created by students, installed by students, all providing an essential volunteer service for the snowy plover.

It was a long week of hard work, but the CU students will remember it for a lifetime. The students will carry their new knowledge of plants, habitats, and birds with them wherever they go. They will ask questions about the habitats, ecosystems and the reason why native species exists in some areas… and also why not.

Thank you to the CU Boulder Alternative Breaks Program and the California State Parks staff and volunteers who made it possible!

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

Photo album from the trip on our Facebook page:
Contact Info: Lisa Cox, 619.476.9150 ext. 106, lisa_cox@fws.gov
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