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Bringing oaks back to the Bay

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California’s Napa County Resource Conservation District (RCD) is spearheading oak restoration efforts after its success in gaining volunteers and performing education outreach for its Acorns to Oaks program.

In the past seven years, the district has planted 5,105 acorns – many of which have taken root and grown – in 21 locations across Napa County. About 2,800 students and more than 700 volunteers have assisted in the program. Now, the district is branching out in the hopes of including more counties so that the effort may stretch, eventually, across the entire North Bay.

“We really want to promote education around oak woodlands,” said Napa County RCD Program Director Frances Knapczyk. “We want to get trees in the ground. One of the strongest goals is to have a viable valley oak population that produces the most benefits as possible for our ecosystem and for our neighboring wildlife.”

Knapczyk had been talking with the Friends of the Napa River about data found in the Napa River Historical Ecology Atlas on the valley oak decline. Seeing an estimated 90 percent loss from the early 1800s, she decided the two agencies needed to work together to address the issue.

“Our job is to empower people to make good decisions about how to manage the land,” Knapczyk said. “We both were looking for a solution on how we can put more trees in the ground, and at the time, we were both focusing on youth education. We thought it would be a really good fit.”

The program has grown to include weekend and adult volunteering and has taken on a citizen science monitoring program to assist with monitoring the planting and tracking data to determine success, Knapczyk said.

Annually, volunteers across the watershed collect acorns and deliver them to the RCD office. The acorns are then cleaned, sorted and labeled to prepare for planting. Students, volunteers, partnering agencies and landowners then plant, mulch and weed in parks and private lands to promote foresting.

The re-oaking effort began in Napa as a pilot program, and this year, the district is using a $50,000 grant from the North Bay Watershed Association on a strategic development plan for oak restoration in watersheds in Napa and Sonoma Counties that drain to the San Francisco Bay.  The strategic plan would identify and prioritize areas with the greatest need for oak restoration and serve as a starting point for the district to begin engaging with landowners directly, rather than waiting for people to volunteer. The plan is meant to be a model for neighboring counties in the North Bay, in particular, Solano and Marin, who are also interested in re-oaking.

“The oak is the iconic tree, and planting native trees, in general, really goes a long way in providing a region with resiliency,” Knapczyk said. “Trees give us the ability to adapt. They can do everything from sequestering carbon and providing habitat and wildlife corridors to filtering water and providing groundwater recharge and soil stability on rivers and creek banks. They are our heritage.”

Tags: Forestry, Forestry Notes

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