Volunteering with Save the Bay

The company where I'm currently consulting had scheduled a day of service learning today. When I found out we'd go to the Save the Bay nursery, I knew I wanted to participate!

Here's what Save the Bay says about their mission on their website:

Save The Bay is the largest regional organization working to protect, restore and celebrate San Francisco Bay. As its leading champion since 1961, Save The Bay protects the Bay from pollution and inappropriate shoreline development, making it cleaner and healthier for people and wildlife.

We learned a lot more about the history of Save the Bay (Happy 50th!), the importance of wetlands (flood control, filtration, habitat), and the history of the bay. Did you know that we've lost 90% of the wetlands since the 1800s? It seems hard to believe, but it's true and the effect on the salmon fisheries and the bay's filtration capabilities is very noticable.

But back to my volunteer day - well, half day. We started with a delicious picnic lunch in the Palo Alto baylands near the duck pond with view of water and the clear blue sky.

Thus fortified, we walked over to the Save the Bay nursery.

Seth, our trainer and teacher for the day started out by playing a game of Save the Bay jeopardy with us. We were able to answer more than half the questions, which I found quite impressive. The next step was to do some work, and our task was to transplant grass seedlings from flats into tubes for later transplanting. We were transplanting Leymus triticoides (creeping wild rye), a cool season grass with upright green blades that reach 2 feet high. The roots of this perennial grass get up to 60 feet long, so it's excellent at stabilizing the ground and great at surviving dry years.

With a crowd of people, we were able to do the job fairly quickly. Here's how it worked.
  1. Find a single seedling with some roots and some green.
  2. Put a hole into the soil in the tube with a chopstick.
  3. Stick the seedling into the hole.
  4. Fill the tube with more soil.  
It looked easy. Of course, it didn't take long for us to find out that some of the grass had been sown in clay and was hard to find those single seedlings. The clay stuck to your fingers, glove or not. After only an hour, a few backs started hurting, but we perservered. We kept asking Seth for more flats of grass, and finished a respectable number of trays of tubes, which were then put into the greenhouse to be babied there for a little while.

After some final clean-up, I turned around just once more to imagine how our grasses would soon be in the nursery, together with the California poppies and other native plants.

I imagined how, in a little while, a different team of volunteers would plant our grasses near the Bay. Our grasses would give shelter and food to the different birds and other critters, including the two endangered species native to our region, the California clapper rail and the California salt marsh harvest mouse (photo from Wikipedia - isn't she cute?). Well, let me correct that, the mouse actually lives in the pickleweed, but if our grasses can keep the shore stable with their 60 foot roots, it helps the ecosystem overall and the mouse will be happy.

I was sorry to say good-bye to Seth and to my volunteer friends, but also happy to be able to ride my bike home along the baylands and Steven's Creek trails where I enjoyed the warm Indian summer afternoon and the first white pelicans.


Thank you for volunteering with us!