November 21st, 2016

San Diego NWR Complex Highlights November 10, 2016

San Diego NWR Complex Highlights November 10, 2016

D Street Fill Wetlands Restoration Project Gets Award from the Mayor of the City of Chula Vista

San Diego Gas & Electric and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service received the Mayor’s Neighborhood Revitalization Award for the D Street Fill Wetlands Restoration Project completed earlier in 2016 on the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The Mayor of Chula Vista, Mary Casillas Salas, presented the plaques to SDG&E and the Refuge at the Ribbons & Shovels celebration.  The master of ceremony was Channel 10 News Reporter Joe Little who previously reported on the restoration project (  In her comments, Mayor Salas spoke fondly about her childhood and exploring the marshlands of south San Diego Bay. “Many thanks to all that assisted in the completion of this project, especially Vicki Touchstone and Brian Collins, for their hard work and cooperation in the planning and design for this project,” said Andy Yuen, Project Leader for the San Diego NWR Complex.

Refuge Manager Brian Collins, Refuge Planner Victoria
Touchstone, and Project Leader Andy Yuen (USFWS)

Team Replaces Fencing to Protect Endangered Bird at Seal Beach NWR

Refuge staff and volunteers replaced the  fencing on NASA Island at  the Seal Beach NWR to help protect the endangered California least terns from ground-dwelling predators.  NASA Island is a fill area that was historically used by NASA to design and manufacture second stage Saturn V rockets for the Apollo program. Now, 3 acres of it are used as a nesting area for the terns.
Refuge Manager Kirk Gilligan estimated that the refuge saved at least $40,000 by doing the project in-house versus contracting construction out. Wildlife Biologist Rick Nye planned the project and led the volunteer team during the fence installation. Refuge Maintenance Worker Justin Solberg travelled from away from home base in San Diego for three total weeks. Volunteers like Joe and Carolyn were troopers and were helping almost every day of demo and construction.

The Navy was also a great cooperator in the project. “Special thanks to Mark Walsh from the Navy for his fence-building 101 class, and for his volunteer service this past Saturday. Also to Nick Traviglia at the Navy small arms range who worked graciously with us on scheduling and access,” said Gilligan.  Last but not least, Administrative Officer DeEtta Gibbons worked with the FWS contracting office to get the right supplies for the job.

Wildlife Biologist Rick Nye (Kirk Gilligan/USFWS)          Maintenance Worker Justin Solberg (Kirk Gilligan/USFWS)

Entrance to new fence on NASA Island after completion (Kirk Gilligan/USFWS).


Small Endangered Plant Gets Big Help at the San Diego NWR

Seven sturdy volunteers braved the heat and helped save the endangered San Diego ambrosia (Ambrosia pumila) on San Diego NWR on Saturday November 5 with the help of partner Earth Discovery Institute.  The small group had a tedious and important task: removing non-native grasses and weed seeds from a large, rectangular-shaped plot where this tiny plant was transplanted several years ago, as part of a preventing extinction project. This project involved taking a few of these delicate, pale-green plants from the Refuge, splitting the rootstock and growing them in pots, then transplanting to other suitable areas on the Refuge.  Now the San Diego NWR has eight locations instead of three.
As Refuge biologist John Martin explained to the volunteers, ranging in age from 7 to 70, instead of having all the ambrosia “eggs in one basket,” there are now more “baskets” of ambrosia and a reduced risk of losing the species. This weeding project will continue soon with high school students attending Outdoor Outreach’s after school activities which provide recreational and stewardship experiences outside.  These students will help weed the ambrosia, then enjoy a hike along the Sweetwater River, something most – if not all – have ever done before.
San Diego ambrosia perks up after having the weeds removed by the dedicated volunteers standing behind it (Mary Duffy/EDI).


SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project Brings Environmental Education to Underserved Areas of South San Diego County –

EL CAJON – The best nature learning happens outdoors, and that’s just where these students get to be from now on. At Anza Elementary School, students use their new Schoolyard Habitat for outdoor learning, a habitat they planted themselves.
During the past two weeks of October, 13 classes ranging from Kindergarten/Transitional Kinder to second grade were guided by instructors Vicky Bonnett and Mary Duffy from the Earth Discovery Institute (EDI) to explore seed characteristics, learn about pollinators, and native oaks and acorns. The second graders were encouraged to make their own observations like real scientists do. The first graders had a very interactive activity by making their own “proboscis” to collect pollen and nectar from flowers, and then make a native bee mask to wear for fun. It’s safe to say the students got to use all their senses while outside studying seeds and pollinators. They even made California poppy “seedballs” to share with family and friends.
All of the activities at Anza are in alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards:

  • Kindergarten: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems: Animals, Plants, and their Environment,
  • First Grade: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes, and
  • Second Grade: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems.

EDI is an important partner in helping the San Diego NWR Complex and the SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project reach its formal and informal environmental education objectives.
Anza first graders making bee masks, and reading about Mason the Mason Bee (Vicky Bonnett/EDI)


SPRING VALLEY – Nature learning also continued indoors at the Spring Valley Library on October 26, when 16 students from schools near the library participated in the “EDI Explorers Science Club.” The students learned what a watershed is and how human actions affect the quality of water in and around our homes, neighborhoods and cities. EDI instructor Vicky Bonnett used the Enviroscape Watershed Model so the kids could use various materials as pretend pollutants (imagined as sprinkles) found in the city, and how rain and other water runoff (spray bottle with water) can move trash and litter quickly through the watershed. Students were questioned how they could keep trash out of the watershed and they might share that message with their family and friends. Each student received a handout to take home that highlights positive actions for watershed health and resources, and information about EDI and its partners at the San Diego NWR Complex.


Spring Valley Library Science Club members learn about watersheds and how to protect them with
Vicky Bonnett, Earth Discovery Institute, photographed by her daughter Zoe Bonnett, EDI Volunteer.


Region 8 Public Affairs and Ecological Services Project Leaders Come Together in Santa Barbara

The annual Public Affairs conference for Region 8 was held during the week of October 24, scheduled in conjunction with the Ecological Services Project Leaders meeting. In efforts to share the new National Communications Framework, Assistant Regional Director Jody Holzworth spent time with the ES Project Leaders explaining the priority of storytelling as “One Service.”
Both teams also were able to join in the launch of the new “Condor Country” app with Hopper Mountain NWRC at the Santa Barbara Zoo, with the LA Clippers mascot, “Chuck the Condor!”
The Region 8 PAOs continued that week to share best practices on storytelling, working with the media, team-building, strategic planning on the regional website and social media, and future staffing.
In September prior to this meeting, all Public Affairs Officers from all over the Service gathered together in Denver, Colorado for the 2016 Public Affairs Workshop which hadn’t happened in several years. Both of these workshops together solidified priorities in communication strategy for the USFWS: storytelling.

Region 8 refuge and ES staff gather for a picture with LA Clippers “Chuck the Condor” at the Condor exhibit at the Santa Barbara Zoo (USFWS)


Region 8 Connecting People With Nature Team Meet in San Diego

The annual CPWN team meeting was held in San Diego this year, where a new leader, Mike Glenn from the Ventura FWO was assumed after all of Derek Carr’s hard work the past few years. The team has been together since 2008, so a discussion of next steps and future involvement as a team was discussed. Also in attendance was Assistant Regional Director of Refuges, Polly Wheeler, which was much appreciated in sharing priorities together. Other topics included the new Refuge Branding Strategy, and an update from Public Affairs and the power of storytelling. Lisa Cox and Pam Bierce emphasized working together across programs, and with your nearest Public Affairs Officer to get our stories told in Region 8.


Draft Environmental Impact Statement Released and Public Meeting Held for the Otay River Estuary Restoration Project at the San Diego Bay NWR

We held a public meeting for the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge’s newest project: the Otay River Estuary Restoration Project. This restoration project was created about five years ago in partnership with Poseidon Water to help fulfil their mitigation requirement for the construction of the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. The plan has developed into restoring about 125 acres of coastal habitats including areas of the Otay River floodplain and Pond 15 within the refuge.
Sixteen people attended, including residents from the Chula Vista and Imperial Beach areas. County of San Diego Supervisor Greg Cox and Field Representative Paola Guzman from Congressman Juan Vargas’ office also attended the public meeting. Concerns raised by the public included construction noise from trucks moving soil, and the types of birds that may be displaced into other ponds, as a result of Pond 15 transforming from a solar salt pond to salt marsh after being breached to the San Diego Bay.

Refuge Manager Brian Collins discusses the habitat types that will be created from the project and the bird species it will support (Lisa Cox/USFWS)
During October and November, we provided briefings to County of San Diego Supervisor Greg Cox, Mayor of Chula Vista Mary Casillas Salas, Mayor of Imperial Beach Serge Dedina, and to representatives of Congressman Juan Vargas and City Councilmember David Alvarez.


Quino Checkerspot Butterflies Will Have New Places to Flutter

For two days during the second week in November, collaborators working to recover the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha quino) came together to implement a USFWS Cooperative Recovery Initiative grant that will augment populations of the increasingly rare butterfly on the San Diego NWR. Service staff from the Refuge and Carlsbad Ecological Services, along with collaborators from the San Diego Zoological Society, Conservation Biology Institute, San Diego State University, San Diego Management and Monitoring Program, The Nature Conservancy, Creekside Center for Earth Observation, and Recon Environmental met to discuss the captive rearing program with the zoo, and environmental triggers for release of the larvae. The following day, the group visited release sites on the Refuge and finalized plans to monitor the released butterflies, and manage the habitat with a focus on Quino’s main host plant dot-seed plantain (Plantago erecta) and reducing weeds. With growth of the host plant during upcoming winter rains, about 1,500 larvae are expected to be released, with the goal of creating a Quino population that will persist and disperse to nearby areas on the Refuge.
The team visits suitable QCB habitat on the San Diego NWR (Jill Terp/USFWS)


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