Watershed Education Director Marie Butcher with a group of school students on a field trip
The Carmel River Watershed Conservancy (CRWC) team was able to reach over 350 children at 10 schools in the 2019-20 school year despite a shift to online learning late in the spring semester. Its newest addition was the Chartwell School, a school for children with language-based learning differences. CRWC is also expanding its outreach to schools in underserved areas such as Salinas and Seaside.
Illeana Alexander and Janet Kung, CRWC’s watershed education interns studying at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, had a blast visiting classrooms and doing hands-on activities with the kids. This included having the students make their own watersheds and learn about different animal track patterns. Janet and Marie Butcher, CRWC’s Watershed Conservancy Outreach Coordinator, and our wonderful volunteers, took students to Garland Ranch and the Palo Corona Regional Parks for outdoor field trips. During those trips, they identified insects and birds and learned more about the watershed they live in, including the lifecycle of the threatened steelhead.
California Wildlife Day 2020 was cancelled amongst Covid-19 social distancing measures, but all the students’ hard work and beautiful submissions are still being honored. We have an exceptional array of poetry, watercolors, science posters, and unique 3D projects – all displayed on our Digital Gallery. We encourage you to browse this year’s fine talent!
The Carmel River Watershed Conservancy and the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District are working together to display the student artwork at the Discovery Center once the County’s shelter-in-place order is lifted. The team will also be judging the top artwork and awarding prizes to the winners.
The mock up of the new business sponsor sign is now complete. Existing and new sponsors now have the option of being highlighted as “River Partners” on the current educational signs posted at the Carmel River crossings in our Watershed. These crossing are at: Hacienda Carmel, Valley Greens Drive Bridge, Robinson Canyon Road Bridge, Boronda Road Bridge, Esquiline Road Bridge, Rancho San Carlos, and Cachagua Road Bridge.
Businesses have the opportunity to donate at five annual financial tiers: $500, $750, $1,000, $1,500 and $2000. Businesses must contribute at a minimum of $1,500 to be featured on a “River Partner” sign. These sponsors are supporting the ongoing work to create a more resilient and prepared community in the face of increased wildfires in California as well as efforts to restore the Carmel River and education and outreach programs for regional students. Donations support preventative measures such as maintaining fuel breaks, applying prescribed burns, and community education surrounding fuel maintenance on private property and emergency preparedness planning. Business sponsorships sustain this critical work and demonstrate that the sponsors are invested in these ongoing efforts.
Many thanks to our current sponsors: California American Water, Carmel Meadows Association, Carmel Valley Ranch, Denise Duffy & Associates, Earthbound Farms, Mission Ranch, Monterey Peninsula Engineering, Peery Foundation, Quail Lodge & Golf Club, and Stonepine Estate.
Please contact us if you would like to become a business sponsor, and keep your eye out for our current business sponsor signage at the River crossings listed above.
This year 129 steelhead trout made it back from the ocean into the River and 126 made it over the Los Padres Dam. This is a dramatic increase over 2018 and a good sign for both the species and the health of the river. Just two years ago, only 29 steelhead made it over the Los Padres Dam. Steelhead are a hardy species, and with a little help from the CRWC, the Carmel River Steelhead Association and other local conservation groups, they are making a comeback.
This year we also had more than 18,000 trout rescued. 58 people assisted with rescues during the season, many of which were new volunteers. Brian LeNeve of the Carmel River Steelhead Association led these volunteers along the river to tributaries with low volumes of water to capture stranded youngling trout as small as a single inch long. Using nets, buckets, an electroshocker backpack, and quick reflexes, the fish were caught and rereleased near the Carmel River Lagoon. National Marine Fisheries assisted in rescues this year and their staff were also able to tag the fish. The trout are tagged with tiny chips, about the size of a grain of rice, and when they travel back up the Carmel River in a few years, fisheries scientists can track which individuals have come back up the River and potentially over the Los Padres Dam. Tracking fish can provide critical insights to when particular individuals return to their spawning ground and how many of those individuals who were saved return back up the River. This information is important for informing environmental policies, assessing the health of the species, and evaluating the work of these volunteer teams. This program is critical to the preservation of steelhead trout in the Carmel River and the continued increase in trout making it over the Los Padres Dam and potentially out to sea.
The return of steelhead indicates a significant ecological impact. Returning steelhead are a sign that water quality and riverbed quality are good enough to house both spawning fish and juveniles. This development signifies a positive shift in the overall health of the river. As Brian LeNeve says, “We’ve turned a river around from one of the 10 most threatened in California to one with hope.” CRWC thanks Brian LeNeve and his team for all the work they are doing and will continue to support the efforts to return the Carmel River to its former health and beauty, which includes the support of its threatened species.
Ella McDougall worked with CRWC for a year and a half as the Lawson Little III Memorial Watershed Intern. She had a wide range of responsibilities that included creating education curriculum and delivering class presentations at local schools, assisting with field trips to our regional parks, managing email campaigns and our websites, and creating quarterly newsletters.
One of her most interesting duties was creating a field trip curriculum for high-schoolers about sea level rise and community vulnerability. The lesson plan intended to teach the students about floodplain management, issues surrounding environmental management and species protection, and how to predict and avoid climate-related disasters. It was successfully presented to a group of 70 kids in Spring 2019 at Carmel River State Beach.
Ella was also highly involved in the organization and oversight of our annual California Wildlife Day (CWD) event. As a state-designated holiday, CWD brings together our local and regional community to celebrate and honor the biodiversity and ecosystems of California. For our annual event, Ella helped coordinate school children's art and science projects, select and organize food and service vendors, and manage day-of logistics. In 2019, our event drew more than 700 visitors!
During her time with the Conservancy, Ella learned heaps about the local Carmel River Watershed and its special wildlife, was able to combine work and play by getting to know the Carmel Valley ecosystem, and met some incredible conservation advocates and wilderness spokespersons. Her fondest memory will be fishing in Mesa Pond with Lorin Letendre, the former Executive Director and current CRWC President.
Wildfire prevention is a hot topic in California and a very real and pressing issue for local residents. In 2016 the Soberanes Fire came very close to home for many people, and in the wake of both the Paradise and the Carr Fires, community resilience and wildfire prevention are vital to future emergency planning and peace of mind.
With this in mind, the CRWC Advisory Council has been working with several key community members to address these concerns. Jamie Tuitele-Lewis, Monterey County’s Fuel Mitigation Coordinator, has been the cornerstone of this project. He has successfully brought in multiple grants to fund the mapping of fuel breaks – areas where brush and flammable debris has been cleared to create a pathway meant to slow or stop the spread of wildfire — in the south of Carmel Valley, and continues to work to fund education, controlled burns, and continued clearance to create barriers to fire spread on private property.
He is also working on a project to use Geographic Information System Mapping (GIS) to map fire infrastructure. This GIS project creates a map of fire routes, fire hydrants, water lines and fuel breaks, and will be used in future projects to maintain these fuel breaks. There is also discussion of how best to create a geodatabase to share this information with the community. Access to the database is important for all stakeholders, including the community members, the fire departments, and the individuals working on maintenance on both public and private lands. Access to information is key in preparing for emergencies and increases community transparency. Creating and maintaining fuel breaks is especially important and includes the clearing of invasive plants, many of which propagate very quickly and are extremely flammable. Many environmental issues are intrinsically linked and the health of our communities and our ecosystem are closely tied together.
There are other projects in the works as well. Jamie is concurrently working on other grants to fund education, outreach and the creation of an association to facilitate controlled burns as a method of fire risk mitigation. CRWC Advisory Council members are also researching Home Owners’ Associations to create comprehensive evacuation plans for the residents. Wildfire prevention is a statewide concern and our community, including CRWC, is proudly investing in proactive measures to prevent and limit the spread of wildfire. Keep an eye out for more fire prevention updates in the next newsletter!
The numbers are in, and they are looking good!
According to MPRWD monitoring, steelhead fish passage over the Los Padres Dam is rebounding. After three years of minimal to no observed steelhead population in the upper Carmel River, the number of fish sitings is on the rise. The seasonal total is 134 fish. The monthly counts for 2019 are as follows:
As of the first week of September 2019, 134 steelhead have been observed over the Los Padres Dam, a remarkable rebound from previous years! Let’s keep up the good work (and good environmental management efforts from our partners) to restore these numbers.
(Source: Kevan Urquhart, MPRWD)
A Wild Success!
CRWC hosted its second annual California Wildlife Day community event on March 23rd with the help and co-hosting of the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District. The event took place at the Palo Corona Regional Park in Carmel Valley under a clear blue sky. Lynn Cullens, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation was the keynote speaker. Remarks were also heard from the spokesperson of CA Senator Bill Monning, as well as two in-person elected officials: Assemblyperson Mark Stone and District Supervisor Mary Adams.
Get to know Mikaela Bogdan: environmentalist, researcher, CRWC intern
Today we spotlight one of our fabulous interns: Mikaela Bogdan, a senior at CSU Monterey Bay studying Environmental Science, Technology, and Policy with a concentration in watershed systems. In May, Mikaela will graduate with her Bachelor’s degree, and will continue to study as a Professional Master of Science candidate here in Monterey. An active researcher in watershed systems and geomorphology, Mikaela plans to use her education and training to launch a career as an environmental scientist in the local public or private sector. In her words, this work allows her to maintain ‘childlike curiosity and wonder’ while gathering scientific understanding of the natural world around her. She loves getting out into the field to connect with the environment and apply her knowledge to real-world restoration projects, particularly along the Carmel River.