By Heyo Tjarks, Restoration Ecologist, and Jamie Meek, East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District
River Partners has recently partnered with the East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District (ESRCD) in Stanislaus County to develop a Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship (SLEWS) program. SLEWS is an award-winning program developed by the Center for Land-Based Learning designed to get high school students out of classrooms and involved with local conservation efforts. The program allows students to practice scientific skills, learn from natural resource professionals, and expand on classroom concepts while participating in habitat restoration projects. SLEWS programs also support a key element of the Common Core State Standards, College and Career Readiness.
Over the 2015/2016 school year, River Partners and ESRCD will be engaging local high school students in the classroom and at Dos Rios Ranch in order to enhance the students’ ecological knowledge, practical skills, and connections to large-scale restoration efforts in their local community. Dos Rios Ranch is River Partners’ flagship multi-benefit restoration project in the San Joaquin Valley, with 2,100 acres of riparian habitat undergoing restoration and enhancement to benefit people and wildlife species. Students will have the opportunity to be involved in many aspects of native habitat restoration including collecting native seed, planting seedlings, installing a water-wise irrigation system, and conducting basic wildlife surveys.
River Partners is excited to collaborate with ESRCD, which strives to be a local, on-the-ground advocate for resource conservation, while at the same time assisting with the preservation of the agricultural heritage of Stanislaus County. ESRCD’s mission is to address local resource concerns by working with landowners on conservation projects and to conduct educational outreach to broaden community awareness of priority concerns across the county.
Funded almost entirely by grants, the goal of ESRCD’s projects is to establish partnerships and working relationships that will provide sustainability, ensuring the best use of grant funding in ways beneficial to the community. Priority projects focus on addressing natural resource concerns, but ESRCD also recognizes the importance of projects that address increasingly important topics, such as education and the local food movement.
ESRCD also recognizes that educational outreach is a crucial element to achieving community support and resource conservation. For this reason, ESRCD provides workshops, field visits and information for area landowners on available practices that address resource concerns relevant to their properties and the broader community. In addition, youth education supports the preservation of local agriculture and interest in ongoing conservation issues and activities throughout the county.
The Dos Rios Ranch restoration project, through the SLEWS program, offers a unique opportunity for students to learn and gain real world experience in environmental and agricultural stewardship. The successful implementation of SLEWS in Stanislaus County will involve many partners. Mentors will be needed to assist with field days and donations towards the cost of SLEWS supplies, and student materials are also welcome. If you are interested in assisting with the SLEWS program and its sustainability for future classes, please contact ESRCD at (209) 491-9320 ext. 122.