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At Kirby Park, the accessible trail remains closed due to storm damage.

Hester Pickleweed Creek Transplants

Hester CCCs pickleweed science in action
article
bySusanne Fork
onMarch 21, 2024

One of the goals of the Hester Marsh restoration project is increasing the amount of high-elevation tidal marsh at Elkhorn Slough. Large-scale soil addition is the first step in returning formerly subsided marsh to high marsh. Next is recolonization of the bare soil with marsh plants, both from growth of nearby parent plants, or from seeds carried in by the high tide to germinate and establish seedlings in the bare soil. Natural colonization has occurred for some areas of Hester but large bare compacted areas have remained without plants, even several years post-restoration. Much of the bare areas has compacted soil making it harder for plants to become established in the new soil.

To encourage plants to grow in the hardened bare soil, some of these areas were worked to create furrows and ridges to improve chances of the nearby seeds in germinating and starting new plants. In other areas of Hester where pickleweed was thriving, as a pilot study, we tried transplanting pickleweed and alkali heath (plants plus a sizable soil rootball) to bare areas and found that this was a successful method to establish marsh plants at Hester. We decided to do a larger-scale project, to plant large areas of bare soil with pickleweed transplants. With this information in mind, we enlisted the help of the crew of the California Conservation Corps (CCCs) to help us transplant pickleweed plants growing along the edges of tidal creeks to nearby bare zones. Also, as an experiment, we flagged pickleweed transplants in both in ripped (loosened) and unripped (compacted) areas of Hester Marsh that we will monitor as they grow over the next couple of years.

In just four days of fieldwork with the CCC crew, we planted more than 1000 pickleweed plants, transforming what were once mostly bare areas to a polka dot-landscape of pickleweed throughout the Hester marsh restoration area. The hard-working CCCs worked efficiently and in good humor in the muddy and slippery field conditions.

Over the next few years we will monitor the growth of pickleweed transplants in ripped and compacted areas of Hester Marsh, to learn about the relationship between soil conditions and transplanting success and plant growth. The latest drone images already show the newly polka-dotted appearance of these formerly bare areas – a heartening sign, that the hard work of the CCCs is visible from the sky!

Seal laying in salt marsh

Photo by Kiliii Yuyan

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