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Working in Urban Conservation: A New Experience For Me

From February to June 2017, I worked as a Park Enhancement Aide for the Livermore Recreation and Parks District. I applied to the job because I wanted to stay somewhere with constant, reliable internet access in order to respond to graduate schools promptly as I awaited their decisions. Because my parents are so generous, this job enabled me to live at home, saving money on rent and food. It was an interesting transition from working in a spider-filled cabin with ocean views to working to improve the habitats in my neighborhood. This happened to also be my highest paying job since graduating, despite it only paying slightly above minimum wage and providing me with about 20 hours of work a week. I made about $4,000 in the 4 months that I worked with the parks district, allowing me to volunteer in India for a month prior to beginning graduate school. Although I did not expect to learn much as a Park Enhancement Aide, I was happily surprised and thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

Much of the job involved maintenance of plants around the creeks in Livermore. This involved planting trees, mowing the grass around trees, placing mulch, watering plants in the summer, and monitoring tree health and growth. I was able to step up my native plant identification skills while becoming a little more adept in basic maintenance. I also had the opportunity to build up some muscles while hauling heavy loads.

Much of the work was difficult. Using a string trimmer to clear underbrush around trees on a steep, slippery slope was hard. The picture to the right shows how dense the slope was before mowing. But clearing the underbrush allows the trees to grow unobstructed and allowed us to monitor the height and health of the trees with ease. There are over 1,000 oak trees planted at one of the sites. Each tree had to be mowed around to decrease the height of the quick growing grass. Mowing was not my favorite activity, especially during a classic Livermore heat wave where temperatures reached about 100F. But with a good attitude, the job was fine, and we celebrated the completion of the mammoth task.

A truly difficult job was installing willow stakes in the bed of the creeks. I found the whole experience rather fun, waders and all. Willow trees are propagule plants, meaning you can cut off part of the tree, plant it in the ground, and it will grow into another tree! But pounding the stakes into a creek bed was hard work, especially when there was water flowing. But willow stakes are a necessity. Many of the creeks in Livermore are actually man-made flood control channels. Water is a powerful force, and does not often stick to a man-made plan. It likes to do what it wants, resulting in erosion and flooding. Willow stakes, and later trees, help stop bank erosion. They also slow down water before tight turns in the channel. The photos below show the erosion that water can cause and the willow stakes that we installed. Almost all of those stakes installed have since sprouted and it is promising that they will grow into strong willow trees.

We also installed fascines along the bank to decrease erosion. This was also a rather difficult task. Bundles of willow branches are placed together in a straight line about eight to ten feet long and about two feet in diameter. The bundles are tied together using rope and anchored in place with rebar and wooden stakes. The fascines will grow into willow trees, too, increasing the bank's stability. Each Park Enhancement Aide has the opportunity to adopt a tree at the end of their internship. I chose to adopt a fascine so I can check back on its growth in years to come.

By far my favorite part of this job was working with volunteers. I have been a volunteer in the past working in restoration and planting native gardens. It was neat to be on the other side of things. I loved chatting with our volunteers, especially our regular ones. People came from all over the Bay Area to help plant trees and spread mulch. It's impressive to me that people who don't work in the environmental sector can commit themselves to volunteer on a Saturday to help create a healthier habitat in someone else's community. I was also surprised at how comfortable I was talking in front of a group of volunteers and found at ease talking with strangers. This experience has made me consider working more with communities in my conservation career.

Although sometimes I would come home dripping in sweat or caked in mud, I still enjoyed my role in urban conservation. Although maybe not as glamorous as tracking birds in Yellowstone, I learned about an equally important area of conservation. As urban sprawl continues, it is important to maintain, restore, and conserve habitats to preserve wildlife in our neighborhoods. I learned about mitigation, erosion control practices, how to monitor plant growth, and how an organization runs when funded by multiple agencies. I hope never to use a string trimmer again, but I do picture myself reaching out to communities to help in my future conservation efforts.

All images on this blog post provided to me by Living Arroyos - Thank You!

Stuck in the mud on my first time driving this truck.


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