Sonoma County Vernal Pool Monitoring
Story and photo by Hattie Brown
Conservation Science Program Manager
Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that form in depressions in the landscape where rainfall collects during the winter and slowly evaporates over the summer. This wet-then-dry environment is home to numerous threatened and endangered plants throughout California and springtime in vernal pools hosts a lovely display of color and activity as annual plants flower and set seed for subsequent years, amphibians lay eggs in evaporating pool water, and bees prospect for pollen.
Recognizing a need for current, accurate, and uniform data to inform management of native and endangered vernal pool plants across the Santa Rosa Plain, in 2007 we launched our Adopt a Vernal Pool program in partnership with the California Native Plant Society Milo Baker Chapter. Five years after the program’s inception, we’ve trained over 70 Citizen Scientist volunteers to monitor the endangered vernal pool plants Sebastopol meadowfoam, Sonoma sunshine, and Burke’s goldfields. We published a paper on Citizen Science, established a website for information exchange, led field trips and walks, and collected priceless data that helps assess if the endangered species are recovering or declining. Through repeated observations of the invasive species Pennyroyal mint in vernal pools, we launched a pilot study to remove the weed and will implement large scale removal next season. The future holds the possibility of a vernal pool field guide, a vernal pool conference, and the long-term data that will ultimately aid the recovery of endangered species.
Every year, a number of people ask the same question, “Was it a good year? Did a lot of endangered plants germinate and grow? More than in previous years?” Data from this 2011 spring are still arriving, but my own measurements show fewer endangered plants this year than last year. The more difficult question to answer is, “Is this normal?” A “bad” year does not mean a species is going extinct, and a “good” year does not mean the species has recovered. Only through long-term data, standardized data collection like that collected by Adopt a Vernal Pool Citizen Scientists do we begin to see a trend.
Thank you Adopt A Vernal Pool partners: CNPS Milo Baker, the City of Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County Agricultural and Open Space District, the California Department of Fish and Game, Audubon Canyon Ranch, and the many Citizen Scientists who slog through muddy field and tall grass, brave ticks and cattle to count flowers on their hands and knees.
Thank you 2011 Citizen Scientists: Joe Balestreri, Betsy Black, Denise Cadman, Caroline Christian, Wayne Clark, Frank Dono, Katie Elmore, Sheri Emerson, Kandis Gilmore, Sarah Gordon, Molly Graber, John Herrick, Lynn Houser, George Jackson, Michelle Jensen, Wendy Jones, John Krafft, Sara Lahman, Michele Lee, Teri Macias, Julian Meisler, Theo Michaels, Jana Muhar, Dan Noreen, Leah Ocean, Doris Parker, Jennifer Potts, Mary Rooney, Joan Schwan, Bryan Sesser, Patricia Sesser, Christina Sloop, Jean Terriblini, Kate Thompson, Bob Weis, and Darren Wiemeyer.
The Vernal Pool Monitoring program is part of Laguna de Santa Rosa's efforts to document, and therefore preserve - the delicate environment along Sonoma County's green corridor between the santa Rosa plain and West County communities. For more information, please visit www.lagunafoundation.org.
They will be hosting the 2011 Garden Art Gala on Sunday, September 11 from 2 - 6pm. at Vine Hill House in Sebastopol near Graton. Tickets for this fundraiser are $75. Please visit the web site or call 707-527-9277 x109 for tickets and informaiton.