Flyway Nights Speaker Series
Flyway Nights is a monthly speaker series highlighting environmental issues, current research topics in conservation, and natural history of Northern California. Flyway Nights has concluded for the 2022-2023 season. Check back in October 2023 for our 2023-2024 schedule!
The first Thursday of the month, unless otherwise noted, from November through April – 7 p.m.
Events are via Zoom. Registration is required.
Talks are an hour to 90 minutes in duration.
A $15 donation is suggested.
After the program, recordings are added to our
Recordings are available on our YouTube Channel
Habitat Corridors in the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area
Heather Nichols – Executive Director, Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Thursday, April 13
The Yolo County Resource Conservation District (RCD) has recently completed a pilot project with the Delta Conservancy to create several habitat corridors in the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. When Putah Creek, Cache Creek and the Sacramento River exceed capacity and flow into the Yolo Bypass, wildlife are often stranded. As flood waters rise from east to west, wildlife including deer, furbearers and ground nesting birds lack adequate cover to move out of lower areas or to escape aerial predation. This collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Yolo Basin Foundation, regional agencies and local partners has resulted in five new miles of habitat on the wildlife area, an 18-acre conversion to native grassland species, and a repurposing of remnants of the Lisbon Trestles that were used for train travel into the 1950s. There is demonstration area showcasing several of the flood-adapted native plant species in ‘Parking Lot A’ that can be visited when the wildlife area is open to the public. Heather Nichols, Executive Director of the RCD, will discuss the details of this work.
Heather Nichols graduated from CSU Humboldt with a B.S. in Sustainable Systems and a minor in Soil Science. She gained experience in small scale agriculture and habitat restoration as an AmeriCorps volunteer and went on to complete her Master’s degree in ecological design and planning from the Conway School of Landscape Design. Heather joined the YCRCD in 2008 and worked as a watershed coordinator and project manager before becoming the Executive Director in 2014. She works with the YCRCD Board of Directors and staff, NRCS, and other conservation leaders in the region to develop and carry out relevant and effective conservation programs. She serves as the district manager representative for the Northern California region on the California Association of Resource Conservation District’s Board of Directors.
Lookout Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration and Flood Improvement Project
Stephanie Freed, Patricia Valcarcel, John Pritchard
Thursday, March 2
The multi-benefit Lookout Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration and Flood Improvement Project will restore over 3,100 acres of freshwater tidal wetland habitat for the California Department of Water Resources within the Cache Slough Complex and increase the flood conveyance capacity of the lower Yolo Bypass. The project provides design elements for multiple species including Delta smelt, longfin smelt, steelhead, salmon, and sturgeon. Additional sensitive species considered in the project design that are known or presumed to use the site include giant gartersnake, western pond turtle, and Swainson’s hawk. Habitat design was a collaboration between species experts, agency personnel, the project design team, and a restoration contractor, to incorporate both aquatic and terrestrial habitat elements for species needs. In 2023, the project is entering its second year of construction and is anticipated to be completed in fall of 2024.
Stephanie Freed is the Assistant Director of Operations at Ecosystem Investment Partners (EIP), where she oversees restoration projects from baseline assessments at the early due diligence period, through project development of design and approvals, construction, and the post-construction maintenance and monitoring period. She is a registered Professional Wetland Scientist and Trainer of the California Rapid Assessment Method and previously served as a restoration ecologist in the private sector, working across a variety of ecosystems throughout California. Prior to her work in California, she worked throughout the northeastern U.S., as a consulting biologist.
Patricia is a Certified Wildlife Biologist who has worked in research and consulting for over 20 years. Her current position is Regulatory Program Director at WRA, Inc., where she focuses on wildlife regulations and permitting. She received her Master’s degree studying the spatial ecology of the giant gartersnake and is excited to be able to incorporate her species knowledge into habitat restoration efforts. Over her career she has specialized in wildlife in the Sacramento and northern San Joaquin Valleys, although her emphasis remains on reptiles and amphibians.
John is a civil engineer with over 20 years of experience specializing in habitat restoration, hydrologic, and hydraulic analyses in natural and urban settings throughout California. He has extensive background conducting engineering studies, as well as using numerical models to support the design and permitting of projects that improve public safety and ecosystem function. Having called the Central Valley and its foothills home for over 30 years, John is passionate about the land and water that gives it life. As a civil engineer working on California’s rivers and streams, he has found himself drawn to multi-objective projects that seek to reconcile society’s needs for flood safety, productive agriculture, and clean water supply, while also enhancing fish and wildlife habitat by allowing rivers and floodplains to function more naturally.
Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area Updates
Joe Hobbs, Area Manager, Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, CDFW
Thursday, February 2
Joe Hobbs will give updates on the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area Habitat and Drainage Improvement projects by Ducks Unlimited, Infrastructure projects by California Waterfowl Association, drought updates, and future projects within the Wildlife Area.
Joe Hobbs has been the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area Manager since 2018. Previously, he was the Statewide Elk and Pronghorn Coordinator. Joe started with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in January 2000. He has worked in the wetlands program, timber harvest review, and the private lands management program. He also worked for the Department from 1992 to 1997 in Wildlife Management as a student assistant while going through undergrad and graduate school at California State University, Sacramento. Joe Hobbs completed his M.S. on the Fall and Winter Distribution and Habitat Use of the Tule Greater White-fronted Goose in the Sacramento Valley.
Fremont Weir Big Notch Project
Josh Martinez, Restoration Ecology Unit Manager, CA Dept. of Water Resources
Thursday, January 5
The Yolo Bypass Salmonid Habitat Restoration and Fish Passage Project, or Big Notch Project, is a joint State and Federal project between the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the United States Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). This project provides essential benefits to various native fish species, including threatened and endangered Chinook salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon. Since the construction of the Fremont Weir in the 1930’s, the northern Yolo Bypass has been a literal dead end for many adult fish migrating upstream to their spawning grounds. The Big Notch Project provides a critical point of entry back into the Sacramento River, allowing these fish to continue their migration. Additionally, juvenile salmon and steelhead journeying downstream to the Pacific Ocean will have access to thousands of acres of Yolo Bypass floodplain rearing habitat through the operable Big Notch gates. Off-channel rearing habitat, such as floodplains, provides juvenile fish access to an abundant food supply not available in the mainstem river. Considering nearly 95% of historic off-channel salmon rearing habitat has been disconnected from the river by dams and levees, the Big Notch Project represents a significant recovery of this important ecosystem function.
Josh Martinez is a Senior Environmental Scientist with the California Department of Water Resources. As manager of the Restoration Ecology Unit, Josh has spent the last 14 years working on habitat restoration and fish passage projects in the Yolo Bypass.
Yolo Basin Foundation Graduate Student Fellowship Recipients
Thursday, December 1
“Yolo Basin Foundation Graduate Student Fellowship Fund” provided support for selected graduate students who are working in the areas of environmental education, public use, environmental sciences, or environmental/conservation policy. www.yolobasin.org/graduatefellowship/
In December, we hear from the recipients from 2021.
Stephen Gergeni is a graduate student studying for his MS in Biology (Ecology, Evolution and Conservation) at California State University, Sacramento. Stephen’s study focuses on increasing the understanding of how the giant garter snake and western pond turtle distribution changes and evolves during current climatic conditions in comparison to historical distribution data in the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. He is determining species distribution within the available aquatic habitats using environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling.
Brian Lee is a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara. Brian’s project utilizes ground-based weather radar and computer vision to identify bat signatures across space and time in California’s Central Valley. The goal of this project will involve recording when and where bats are present, and eventually quantify their effects on agriculture throughout the region. He is creating the computer vision model and designing the data pipeline necessary to process the large amounts of data required to train and implement such a model.
Mackenzie Miner has completed her graduate research at UC Davis and will be presenting more finalized data during this, her second presentation, at Flyway Nights. Mackenzie now works as Environmental Scientist for the California Department of Water Resources in the Yolo Bypass. Mackenzie will update us on her research seeking to characterize the process of salmon reestablishment in newly rehabilitated habitats furthering our understanding of salmon reconciliation ecology in Putah Creek and identifying ways to encourage biodiversity in urban ecosystems broadly.
“Fins and Feathers: Conserving Salmon and Birds through Habitat Restoration, Enhancement, and Management”
Cliff Feldheim, CalTrout
Monday, November 14
CalTrout launched the Fish Food on Floodplain Farm Fields project in 2017, working with farmers and water suppliers to pioneer new practices to help recover fish populations in the greater Sacramento Valley by reconnecting floodplain-derived wetland food webs to the Sacramento River. Cliff will present on results from the Fish Food on Farmlands Program, discuss the planned expansion to regions of the Delta, Suisun Marsh, and San Joaquin Valley, and planning efforts to incorporate bird conservation into salmon habitat projects from the rivers and estuaries of the north coast to southern California.
Having finished five field seasons, flooding about 30,000 acres of rice fields and 5,000 acres of managed wetlands in 2021-22, the project has shown that this science-based approach to managing California’s resources has the potential to boost the depleted food resources in Central Valley rivers and help recover endangered fish populations. In addition to benefiting fish, work by CalTrout, Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and Point Blue has shown these fish food production actions can provide habitat for a variety of bird species, compliment traditionally winter flooded rice, and may provide spring and summer water for California’s declining breeding duck populations.