789 Local Kids Revive Quarter Mile of Stemple Creek
By Matt Dolkas,
Senior Manager, Marketing
February 15, 2023
With sleeves rolled, 789 kids from local North Bay schools descended the muddy banks of Stemple Creek the past few weeks to get their hands dirty and plant native vegetation. They are the latest members to join a broad coalition of ranchers, environmentalists and public agencies working to enhance this critically important waterway.
Winding its way westward for sixteen miles, Stemple Creek passes thousands of acres of verdant ranchlands before feeding its estuary in the Estero de San Antonio and the cold salt of Bodega Bay. As a watershed that spans more than 50 square miles and both Marin and Sonoma Counties, it is regionally unique in that more than 90% of the landscape has remained in agricultural production — a breadbasket for locally produced milk, cheese, meat and fiber.
“There are many opportunities for conservation within Stemple Creek,” shared Simone Albuquerque, Conservation Program Manager with the Marin County Resources Conservation District (RCD) and one of the project’s main coordinators. “With so much of the landscape unfragmented by suburban development, there is endless potential to enhance this watershed for both agriculture and wildlife.”
Coming Together for Stemple Creek
“I actually reached out to them about this project,” shared Linda Righetti Judah of the Lazy R Ranch just east of Tomales. As a school teacher in nearby Petaluma, Linda learned firsthand of Point Blue Conservation Science’s (Point Blue) Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed (STRAW) program, an initiative that engages local youth in hands-on ecological restoration projects.
In the fall of 2020, the RCD and Point Blue secured more than $800,000 — with $430,000 coming from a grant awarded by the California Department of Conservation with funds from the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate Coastal Protection and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018 — to enhance a quarter mile stretch of creek traversing the Lazy R Ranch. “It’s amazing today to see this all come to fruition,” Linda further shared “it’s truly like a dream come true.”
The view from the upper reaches of the Stemple Creek watershed — a safe harbor for a cornucopia of biodiversity, including at risk species like the northwestern pond turtle, tidewater goby, Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly, and the California freshwater shrimp and red-legged frog.
Learning By Doing
Through this project, students from across the North Bay helped plant more than 3,000 native plant species along a 4.3-acre stretch of creek. “As much as this work is about restoring the creek”, shared Jessie Ditmore, one of the project managers with the STRAW program, “it’s also about connecting local students with their watershed, instilling a sense of place, and getting students back outside again.”
Each plant these students installed over the 24-day period followed a carefully thought out design coordinated by the RCD and Point Blue, including native species that are well-adapted to the challenges presented by our changing climate. “For some students, this is their first time planting native plants, seeing worms, interacting with cattle; it’s incredible to see so many ‘aha moments’ as mutual residents of a county that both depends on and identifies so deeply with agriculture.”
For the first time in years, the main pond at the Lazy R Ranch is full — the resources needed for the livestock operation as well as the water needed to ensure this project’s planting can firmly take root.
Securing the Final Ingredient: Water
To be sure that these young plants survive their first few years of life, it was important to secure one of the project’s most important ingredients: water. The severity of the recent drought left little remaining resources in the property’s main pond to irrigate the project’s plants. To help bolster this water system, our team here at MALT stepped up to assist.
In April of 2021, amid one of the driest periods in record history, we launched our Drought Resilience and Water Security Initiative (DRAWS) to provide emergency relief to all agricultural producers within Marin County. Through $15,000 grants, we have helped more than 70 local farms and ranches develop water sources, add water storage and increase water distribution.
Through DRAWs funding, the Righetti’s were able to install a rainwater harvesting system on two of their buildings, a 5,000 gallon tank and pumping system to feed the property’s main pond. There are now enough water resources for both the livestock operation as well as the water needed to ensure this project’s planting can firmly take root.
Building A New Chapter for Stemple Creek
Over the next twenty five years, the RCD will be monitoring the health of these plants to evaluate the project’s success and to protect their investment. With time, this quarter mile of creek will blossom and decorate the banks of the creek with food for native insects, birds, bees, butterflies and many more—an invitation for species of all kinds to seek refuge and what they need to survive.
Our partners at the RCD are now looking to other properties within the Stemple Creek watershed, many of which are MALT-protected, to conduct similar initiatives to enhance water quality. It’s only together that we can chart this new course and a more vibrant future for this common ground.