An analysis of the economic value of STRAW’s work was conducted by M. Cubed, an economic consulting service, based on the restoration of 17 acres over two years in Marin, Sonoma, Napa, and Solano counties in California. The analysis identified a cost-benefit ratio of $14.22 to $1. That is, for every $1 invested in the STRAW Program, $14.22 is returned back to communities through stormwater treatment and wildlife habitat alone. This does not include benefits to education and community-building.
The STRAW Program uses innovative strategies, sound scientific information, and wide-ranging partnerships to sustain a community-based education network focused on protecting and restoring critical ecosystem functions in San Francisco Bay creeks and wetlands, which greatly improve the health of the Bay. STRAW brings rigorous scientific content into the classroom and provides hands-on restoration activities for students that provide critical thinking and problem solving skills. One of the greatest strengths of STRAW is that the project is about “real work.” Students and teachers, along with STRAW partners are restoring watersheds. This singular focus brings a sense of importance to the project and the work being accomplished. STRAW participants develop commitment to their work and to each other.
Through its collaborative partnerships, STRAW links ranchers, rangers, restoration scientists, biologists, and other professionals to teachers and students resulting in about 50 habitat restoration projects implemented annually by over 3,500 K-12 students and about 150 teachers. STRAW staff maintain and monitor all restoration sites for 3 to 10 years to ensure success. In addition, STRAW provides regular professional development training for teachers and restoration science education for students, with every class receiving at least one to four lessons a year.
Empowering Students — STRAW emphasizes a project-based learning approach, allowing students to explore their own questions, think critically, and develop positive social skills and values. Students apply and deepen their knowledge of academic subjects such as math, science, history, and language arts as they explore creek ecology and hydrology, bird and aquatic insect studies, water quality monitoring, mapping, native plants, and nature writing. They learn that they have the power to contribute to their communities through habitat restoration. Environmental science education is delivered in coordination with other school science curriculum, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and Common Core curriculum through multiple sessions throughout the year. The program also introduces students to science careers by connecting them with scientists, restorationists, and other conservation partners during field trips.
Supporting Teachers — STRAW provides teacher training, mentoring, and in-class support for teachers at no cost, so that they can integrate watershed studies across their curricula throughout the school year. For the past 18 years, an annual teacher training called Watershed Week engages teachers in deeper learning on a theme related to climate-adapted restoration. It is a three-day experience in August designed to expose 65-100 participants to cutting-edge watershed science and watershed issues, with time to learn from each other. In addition, two other evening training events are offered throughout the year, building on an annual theme. Partners serve as faculty, collaborating in the design and facilitation of the training opportunities.
Restoring the Environment — Each year, over 3,000 K-12 students do 45-50 professional-quality restoration projects designed to withstand future impacts of climate change (climate-smart restoration). Restoration activities can include planting a diverse suite of native species chosen to survive in future climates and to provide food and cover for wildlife. Students also remove invasive non-native plant species and building biotechnical structures—mainly willow walls—that help the creek banks recover from erosion. All of these techniques help improve water quality and create new habitat for wildlife. Working with restoration professionals, students have re-created important habitat on urban and ranch sites, seeing the return of songbirds and other native species. STRAW restoration projects are designed to directly benefit at-risk species, improve in-stream conditions, aid in compliance with state regulatory water quality requirements, and improve the land’s ecological and agricultural productivity.
Reconnecting Communities — Watershed studies and restoration emphasize the interconnections between natural and human communities. Collaboration with partners is the backbone of STRAW. These relationships support a professional and authentic experience for our students and partners. Our partners include government agencies, agricultural organizations, businesses, and other nonprofit organizations.
Implementing Climate Change Research Recommendations — Working with Point Blue scientists, STRAW restoration projects have been influenced by a climate-smart restoration design process which involves gathering information about current conditions, making predictions about the future, and making decisions that maximize the likelihood that a restoration will be successful in multiple climate future scenarios. For example, STRAW students and teachers implement restoration projects that are more resilient in the face of an uncertain climate by planting a greater variety of native plants that fruit and flower at different times so that migratory species might be sustained. In this way, students and teachers can attain a climate-smart mindset that acknowledges the imminent pressures of climate change, and looks for ways to address these pressures in a restoration project.
Creating Innovative Partnerships — STRAW connects to agencies, businesses and nonprofit organizations to form partnerships so that resources can be pooled and participating partners’ goals set for water quality, habitat connectivity, carbon sequestration, community involvement, and project resiliency can be met through collaborative work. Many long-term partners such as the Marin Resource Conservation District, Prunuske Chatham Inc., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Marin Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program support a variety of watershed studies and restoration activities.
Connecting People with Sustainable Agriculture — Two important factors that STRAW addresses are the disconnection between the urban/suburban and agricultural communities, and increasing regulatory pressures for the reduction of non-point source (NPS) pollution in the watersheds in which the STRAW Project works. Strong relationships with farming families allow STRAW to help to ensure the viability of local independent agriculture.