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Students work to restore Cache Creek

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BROOKS, CALIF. – Students from Yocha-De-He Wintun Academy and Esparto High School got their hands dirty planting native trees, shrubs and grasses to restore riparian habitat around the Yocha-De-He Golf Course – and they consider themselves lucky.

As part of the Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship Program of Winters-based nonprofit Center for Land-Based Learning, these students thought their hands-on environmental science field trip would be cancelled due to budget cuts. That is when the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians stepped in.

“Learning is so important and we recognize that many of the best lessons are taught away from the classroom,” said Rumsey Tribal Chairman Marshall McKay. “We’re happy we could come together with the Center for Land-Based Learning and find a way to preserve this hands-on experience for these students.”

In December, the State of California suspended all bond-funded environmental grant projects, forcing the Center for Land-Based Learning to cancel many of its SLEWS field trips scheduled for this year. Statewide, more than 4,000 conservation projects have been halted due to the state budget crunch.

In previous years, the SLEWS program received funding from local casino mitigation money paid by the tribe to Yolo County for use by the Advisory Committee on Tribal Matters. Earlier this year, ACTM funds were taken away by county supervisors to pay lawyers and consultants to carry out their ongoing arbitration over the planned Cache Creek Destination Resort project, but SLEWS was not directly affected by this decision.


Prior to budget cuts, 14 area high schools participated in the SLEWS program. The majority of these schools were forced to halt their restoration projects. Generally, each school adopts a project for the school year and visits the project site a number of times throughout the year to work on the restoration and to see the progress of the land. The scope of this particular project at the Yocha-De-He Golf Course only required one field day, but both partners hope to work together more in the future.

“Last year the tribe worked with the Yolo County Resource Conservation District to restore 14 acres of riparian upland along Cache Creek,” said Jim Etters, director of land management for the tribe. “When SLEWS suffered budget cuts, the YRCD recognized that we might be able to work with SLEWS on our restoration projects, which we were very excited to do. SLEWS gave us a chance to involve the children who attend the Yocha-De-He Wintun Academy with the restoration efforts, giving them an opportunity to understand and connect with their land on a deeper level.”

“We are just so grateful that we were able to extend this program by at least one more field day this year,” said Nina Suzuki, SLEWS program director. “Over 3,000 students have participated in the SLEWS program since 2001 and we want to continue that tradition in the years to come. We are very excited to work with the tribe to make that happen.”

“We have been fortunate recipients of grants from the Yocha-De-He Community Fund for a number of years now,” said Mary Kimball, executive director of the Center for Land Based Learning. “They are true community partners and active environmental stewards, which makes them the perfect fit for our organization.”

Since 2004, the Yocha-De-He Community Fund has donated $27,500 to the Center for Land-Based Learning. Funding for this project was provided by the tribe’s Environmental Steward Fund.

The SLEWS program engages high school students in habitat restoration projects that enhance classroom learning, develop leadership skills and result in real habitat restoration.