2021 marks the Fifty-First Anniversary of Earth Day. It will occur on Thursday April 22 this year. It began as a “national teach-in on the environment” according to History.com. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin founded the day in 1970 as a day of education about environmental issues. The holiday is now global and sometimes is part of Earth Week, seven full days of events focused on green living. Because of the pandemic, the usual in-person events aren’t occurring this year. Yet in ways large and small, folks can participate. One local collaboration that is taking action to honor the environment and celebrate Earth Day is between the Earle Baum Center (EBC) and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation. Founded in 1999, EBC is a non-profit that has served folks with sight loss in Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. Their campus is located at 4539 Occidental Road in Santa Rosa, CA. Currently the campus is closed but their Low Vision Clinic is open. So, anyone who has been diagnosed and is experiencing sight loss can call EBC for an appointment. More information can be found at earlebaum.org or by calling (707) 523-3222. The Laguna Foundation is also a non-profit. It was founded in 1989. Their focus is on restoring and conserving the Laguna de Santa Rosa and surrounding wetland communities. They also hope to educate and inspire folks to join in; to help make a difference. Their Environmental Center is located at 900 Sanford Road in Santa Rosa. More information is available at lagunafoundation.org or by phone at (707) 527-9277.
These non-profits have collaborated for over ten years, according to Dr. Wendy Trowbridge of the Laguna Foundation. She said they have been “monitoring vernal pools” located on the EBC Campus. Laguna de Santa Rosa is the largest freshwater wetlands complex on the northern California coast. It has 22-miles of channel and forms the largest tributary to the Russian River. It’s 254-square miles of draining watershed is almost all the Santa Rosa Plain. It includes all or part of Windsor, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Forestville and Sebastopol. So, what the heck is a vernal pool?
Trowbridge said, “people drive by them all the time, but don’t know what they’re looking at.” According to epa.gov, Vernal Pools are “seasonal depressional wetlands that occur under the Mediterranean climate conditions of the West Coast” among other areas. These pools are covered by shallow water over differing periods of time in the winter through the spring. Their size can range from small puddles to shallow lakes, and they may be “connected to each other by small drainages known as vernal swales.” These pools that collect water during the winter and spring rains, then burst forth in the springtime with wildflowers often in brilliant circles of color. By early summer, with the water evaporated, they’ll appear as clay pools that are brown, barren and cracked.
But it’s not just about the flowers in spring. These pools provide habitat for numerous rare plants and animals. Birds such as ducks, hawks, and others use them as a seasonal source of food and water. The initial collaboration between EBC and Laguna Foundation started because of Laguna’s desire to monitor some endangered species and protect these pools. This year’s effort is being funded by a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It includes planting hedgerows along EBC’s Occidental Road which will shelter the campus from the road while also creating a diverse habitat for wildlife. Once complete, birds will be able to forage, hide and nest. They are also working together to populate the site with milkweed. This will help increase the habitat of monarch butterflies and restore a population of endangered Sebastopol meadowfoam. EBC is also home to a variety of wildlife that includes badgers, frogs, salamanders and migrating birds who need a place to come and rest.
Beyond monitoring the pools, the two non-profits came together in 2018 due to another grant that was provided by a private trust focused on helping the visually impaired and doing conservation. EBC’s Bob Sonnenberg, himself visually impaired and legally blind, said “our collaboration is a great testament of community organizations working together.” Trowbridge added “Earth Day comes at a great time of year for vernal pools – flowers are blooming, and it’s a great time for folks to get out and see them.” In more normal times, the EBC is accessible for visiting these pools. They have a parking lot and the walk on the trail to viewing benches is less than a quarter mile. For many, it’s a safe place to go enjoy nature.