Spaceship Earth

Solutions in Sight: Environment

Adobe Creek Restoration Project

A Conversation with
Jennie Furrer
May1997

The Adobe Creek Restoration Project was started 13 years ago in Cas Grande High School of Petaluma, California. Through the efforts of high school students, this once dead creek and ecosystem has been brought back to life. Jennie Furrer shares the impact working on this project has had on her life.

 

 

The InSite: How did you get involved in this project?

Jennie: Well, Tom Furrer, a science teacher who started this project 13 years ago, is my uncle. So ever since kindergarten I've seen it grow. It has just encouraged me and enhanced my life so I became a part of it when I was a junior in high school.

TI: How old are you now?

Jennie: I'm 18 years old.

TI: How did it get started?

Jennie: A group of kids in 1983 were learning about endangered species in one of Mr. Furrer's wild life classes. They did some research and they found that a creek right across the street from our school used to have Steel Head Trout running back and forth from the sea every year, to spawn. But for 100 years the water was diverted from the creek, so basically all life in the creek died. And the creek was declared dead. So the kids decided they wanted to do something about it. They went in and pulled out all the garbage. At least 10 truckloads of garbage. Everything from a dishwasher to tires. It was really gross. Then they planted trees. About 1,100 each year.

...the creek was declared dead.
So the kids decided they
wanted to do something about it.

TI: How long is this creek?

Jennie: Seven miles. Some of it is on private property. But when the creek comes to the old Adobe [General Vallejo's former home], that's a historical state park, so from that point on [about 5 miles] that's where we did all of the restoration.

TI: So what have you guys accomplished in the past 13 years?

Jennie: A lot! From having no fish in the creek we had 60 Steel Head Trout come back last year. Right now we have little baby Steel Head all through our system. We also took on a project in 1993 working with Chinook Salmon. They come down the Petaluma River and they would normally go into Adobe Creek but at the time of year they come [in the fall] the creek doesn't have any water in it. So now when they come down the river we've set up big, long containment nets and go catch the salmon.

TI: Why?

Jennie: Because they come down the Petaluma River and die before they get a chance to spawn because the waters are too warm and it doesn't provide enough oxygen for them.

TI: So you lift them out and bring them where?

Jennie: First we put them into our truck which has a tank with oxygenated water in it. Then we bring them to our hatchery. From that point we point them into our four "raceways." Then we'll check them to see if the females are ready to give their eggs and the males their sperm. Once they're both ready to do that then we'll do an "egg take." And that's combining the eggs and the sperm to form a zygote [fertilized salmon egg].

TI: How long do you keep the salmon before they are ready for this process?

Jennie: Well, because they've just come back from the sea when we bring them in, it will only be a day or two before they're ready. Salmon only spawn once in their life and then they die, so when we bring them in they are all deteriorating in our hatchery. Once they're ready we'll put them down because it's more ethical to them and it's easier on us to be able to perform the egg take.

Salmon only spawn once in their life and then they die.

TI: What do you mean by "put them down?"

Jennie: We kill them. But we kill them instantly so it's not like really disgusting. And they are going to die anyway as soon as they spawn.

TI: So even though the fish is dead you can still take the egg and sperm from them?

Jennie: Yes.

TI: What do you do with all of these dead fish?

Jennie: We have a permit with Fish and Game. We put them in a freezer until a certain time period and then we put them back into the Petaluma River. Because in nature, when the parent fish spawn and die and the babies get big enough to need some kind of food source, they will eat the bodies of their dead parents. So it's kind of a food chain kind of thing.

TI: So meanwhile, back at the hatchery, what do you do with the fertilized eggs?

Jennie: We put them in our incubation trays. We have 32 trays, so we put about 1,000 in each tray and they stay in there for about a month. They go through the egg stage, then they "eye up."

TI: What does that mean?

Jennie: They get a little black dot in their little red egg. And that's a sign of their eye. From that stage they grow into a fish form and they'll get a yolk sack, kinda like an umbilical chord and they eat that. After they eat that we put them into our trough because they need to rely on another food source. And that's when we hand feed them food.

TI: And then you release them back into the ocean?

Jennie: Yeah. We currently have about 4,000 in our hatchery. Then right before summer, actually this year we are releasing them on May 22nd, we will put them right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

We currently have about 4,000 [fish] in our hatchery... we will put them right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

TI: How big are they when you release them?

Jennie: About 5 inches long.

TI: Are they in danger of being eaten by other fish?

Jennie: They do have a chance of being eaten... we haven't really done any research on it, but I think they are okay.

TI: So you guys are working with two different kinds of fish. Tell me more about the Steel Head Trout?

Jennie: That's a separate thing from the Chinook Salmon. Like I said, the salmon would come up Adobe Creek but they can't because there's no water. But now the creek is starting to replenish its water so hopefully we'll have water in it year-round.

TI: Doesn't the creek's water level depend on rainfall?

Jennie: Yeah, but it's also because the water has been diverted [to the city of Petaluma]. But two years ago we got the water diversions knocked down because they were on an earthquake fault.

TI: What are water diversions?

Jennie: For 100 years Petaluma has relied on Adobe Creek for their water source for the town. But they found that it was only providing 2 percent of the city's water, it was like a hopeless cause. And 7 percent was drying up through evaporation, so they kind of gave up on it. So we knocked down the water diversions, and now the creek is able to run free. And the water can come down from the mountain and is able to stay in the whole system.

For 100 years Petaluma has relied on Adobe Creek for their water source.

TI: What purpose do the trees you've planted serve?

Jennie: We planted Willows because they grow really quick and they reproduce really fast. They serve as a canopy so once they grow over the water they provide shade and the water won't evaporate as quickly.

TI: These trees probably create a place for land animals to live too.

Jennie: Yes! Since we've been in there we've basically created a whole new kind of ecosystem, because all the life can come back. Birds can build nests in the trees and lay eggs. There are now a lot of tadpoles in our system, which is really neat to see. Everything is coming back because of our efforts.

TI: How many students are currently involved in this project?

Jennie: About 20. The reason we keep it smaller than a normal class is because it's really hard for our advisor to keep watch over more than that number. Also when it's small we get to know each other better and it's a better working atmosphere for all of us.

TI: So this is a regular class that you're taking along with say, Math and French?

Jennie: Yes. It's called Field Studies. It's a class but it's also a club and you have to work to get in. You sign up in whatever year you want to take it. Often times we have only juniors and seniors in our group but we will have a sophomore or a freshman if they show a strong desire for the group. They'll fill out an application, then they'll go through an interview process with our current members. Then once they've done that they'll have to do some work over the summer, like on the landscaping and the hatchery. Then when they come back to school that next year they go through all the lessons - learn about the fish, our history, and the creek. Then once they pass three tests on all those things, 100%, they go through a check list of certain things that they have to accomplish. Once they have done all of that and they are approved by our advisors then they officially become United Anglers.

TI: It sounds like this is a commitment.

Jennie: Oh yeah! We try to get the kids who show the most love for it because we do a lot of the stuff on the weekends. So the kids have to be willing to give up their free time to come help this project. As long as they show a love for the group year after year and prove they can do it, they can take the class as long as they want.

... kids have to be willing to give up their free time to come help this project.

TI: You said you are 18. When you go to college are you going to continue studying about the environment?

Jennie: Yeah, I want to be a teacher but I also want to work with animals in some way so I'm thinking, environmental education, or something like that.

TI: It sounds like this whole project has really influenced your life.

Jennie: It changes almost everyone who comes through this group. You not only become better able to work with animals but they become a better person. They become associated with a lot of people in the community. It's a wonderful thing because to see something actually change in front of your face. Something that wasn't there come back to where it once was.

TI: Isn't part of your goal to inspire other student groups around the world to take this kind of active interest in their own environment?

Jennie: Different groups call us for advice. Basically we tell them that they can do it if they are willing to put in the time. In our own area, there's another hatchery called Warm Springs Dam, and because of the interest in the environment and fish that we've brought into our community a lot of elementary school classes are taking in salmon eggs and Steel Head Trout eggs into their classrooms in their own little aquariums and raising them. That's something that has happened because of us.

TI: So you guys are learning and doing something that is making a difference.

Jennie: And you also get to meet people that you would never think you would get to be friends with. But you become really close, kinda like a family. So it's a lot of fun because you get to be with them a lot.

TI: Well, it sounds like, even though there might be lots of differences, what you all have in common is the desire to work on this project and see that you can actually change things.

Jennie: We have a saying, "Keep the dream alive." Basically it's a dream that we're going to make a difference in this community if we keep trying and keep educating. If we just keep trying and making a difference then we'll be able to change the world.

...we've basically created a whole new kind of ecosystem... Everything is coming back because of our efforts.

 

 

Want to find out more about United Anglers?

Write to:
Casa Grande High School
333 Casa Grande Rd.
Petaluma, CA 94954

 


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