Swanton Pacific Ranch welcomes a wet winter with lots of work ahead. Our first rains were a month ago, but since then nothing but drying wind – until December 12 when things got rainy again and we watch as the fields begin to green. We won’t have any cattle back for some time as the fences and livestock watering systems still need extensive repair from the fire. But, out on the rangeland a different sort of action: research! Swanton Pacific Ranch’s Agricultural Management Specialist Aaron Lee is becoming another example of the ranch’s Learn by Doing contributions, not only helping Professor Stewart Wilson with a cutting-edge research project, but he is also entering the graduate program in the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department. Lee has been hard at work spreading nearly 200 tons of compost in 24 carefully placed treatment plots in the artichoke pastures. Meanwhile, Wilson finished an exhaustive baseline soil sampling for the project. We’ll soon know more about our rangeland soils than ever before, and students in the campus soils lab will get hands-on training in lab routines.
The research isn’t all in the rangeland — there’s plenty of research taking place in the Little Creek basin. For instance, this past (rainy) weekend, Professor Chris Surfleet placed stream monitoring devices in Little Creek and in other Scott Creek tributaries to monitor stream height. His graduate student, Ky Dupuis, joined with the (soggy) work and will return throughout the winter to monitor precipitation and stream characteristics.
The CZU Lightning Complex Fire is still very much on our minds. Given the only very recent rains, the ranch still looks quite bleak: the browns and blacks of post fire dominate the landscape. With shortening day length, growth rate has slowed with resprouting redwoods and brush. Hungry deer and/or woodrats are browsing heavily on tan oak sprouts. Some redwoods are pushing tiny green shoots out of their blackened trunks, and way, way up, post-fire bottle brush trees are forming. When we ask our National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration colleagues about the fish, they say they had good counts way up in the streams – the young, rare fish survived the fire!
Behind the scenes, staff are busier than ever. We are down to five staff now (we had 10 before the fire) due to retirements and season employment. Half the staff and quite a bit to do! Besides supporting research, we are working on the cleanup and repairs. Soon, we will have internet service back at our office. Also, we hope to soon see some additional debris removal. A metal scrap recycling contractor has been hauling off hulks of burnt up metal or machinery. Along Swanton Road, the utility line and culvert/bridge crews have wrapped up and it is easier, and safer, to pass. Thanks to our eternal heroes at the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County, any sites that burned near streams were contained with straw and such before the rains.
Photo caption: Ky Dupuis works near the newly installed streamflow equipment.