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A return to native habitat

Posted: Monday, Feb 6th, 2017

Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian The Gilroy mariachi band, Alma de Mexico, delivers a string of sprite tunes at Upper Struve Slough Saturday in Watsonville during a mass planting of native plants by volunteers in celebration of World Wetlands Day.

WATSONVILLE — More than 250 community volunteers rolled up their sleeves, grabbed shovels and tromped through the mud Saturday to help restore Upper Struve Slough to its natural setting.

Thanks to the help of a large crew from the California Conservation Corps who had previously dug 2,800 holes on a sloping bank of the slough behind Nob Hill Foods, the volunteers were simply tasked with placing the starter plants properly in the trenches and covering the root systems with soil.

“It’s World Wetlands Day — that’s why it’s important to be out here,” said Jessica Bukowinski, who came with her 18-month-old son, and several members of her church, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Aptos. “There are so many people out here today that we have to take turns with the shovels — I like that. It’s so important for the kids of our community to see everyone out here helping our environment.”

Jonathan Pilch, executive director of Watsonville Wetlands Watch, was on hand to show people how to correctly plant the 45 different kinds of native plants, which are grown from seedlings, harvested from area wetlands. About 2,800 plants went into the ground in the rain or shine event that included educational trail walks in Spanish and English.

World Wetlands Day is now celebrated in 169 nations. The Convention on Wetlands of 1971 initiated an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and use of wetlands and their resources.

The 800 acres of Watsonville’s wetlands represent the third largest freshwater wetland complex on the California coast and support more than 250 resident and migratory bird species and 23 different native plants and animals that are listed as threatened, endangered, or species of special concern, Pilch said.

The City of Watsonville and WWW have partnered for many years on the restoration of the Watsonville Slough Trails. More than seven miles of trails near the wetlands offer places to get in close to the water.

“This is pretty amazing to see a record number of people show up,” said Tami Stolzenthaler, Environmental Education Coordinator for the City of Watsonville. “You know, 15 years ago we didn’t have this trail. Now we have a generation that has grown up with the sloughs and have learned from them and know how to protect them. Years ago the sloughs were seen as junk yards, a place to dump your mattresses and old TVs. Now we have young people that are becoming the new stewards of our wetlands.”

Kathy Fieberling, volunteer coordinator with Watsonville Wetlands Watch, said she was working with about 20 new docents Saturday, teaching them the ins and outs of the slough.

“I do this because at my age I want to do work that is important,” she said. “I’m really inspired by our volunteers. It is amazing to me just how much people will do. This is such a great event for everyone to learn about how to protect our environment. I love the people I work with; it’s a unique opportunity.”

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