• Lake Effects
    The Presidio Trust is restoring a rare natural lake in the urban area of San Francisco.

    Photograph courtesy Presidio of San Francisco

    Reaching Out
    The Presidio Trust views their work on Mountain Lake as a way to teach people about the environment. 
     
    “This is all about education,” says Terri Thomas, the Presidio Trust’s director of conservation, stewardship and research.
    Special Species
    The Presidio Trust was not completely certain that Mountain Lake had been home to western pond turtles until wildlife ecologist Jon Young made an amazing discovery in the summer of 2012. 
     
    “I just looked down, and in the mud, belly-up was a beautiful turtle shell,” Young says.
     
    The mummified western pond turtle proved the species’ existence in Mountain Lake.
    By Stuart Thornton

    Monday, April 7, 2014

    As members of the Presidio Trust stand on a fingernail of beach on the southern shore of Mountain Lake, an excited San Francisco resident stops by to comment on the organization’s lake restoration efforts. 
     
    “This looks a lot better,” he yells, looking out over the only natural lake in the Presidio of San Francisco, a former U.S. Army base that became a part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1994. Since 2001, the Presidio Trust, a federal agency created to preserve and transform the Presidio, has been working to make this little urban oasis healthy and functional again. 
     
    Mountain Lake is adjacent to the West Coast’s high-traffic Highway 1, a busy golf course, and the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. These lively urban areas have contributed to degradation of the lake’s water clarity. In addition, the ecosystem’s biological diversity has been affected by non-native plants and animals that have pushed out indigenous species.
     
    Terri Thomas, the Presidio Trust’s director of conservation, stewardship and research, points to the lake and a section of shoreline that used to be ringed by non-native eucalyptus trees. 
     
    “After we took the eucalyptus out, the lake got clearer,” she says.
     
    The removal of the eucalyptus trees was part of the first phase of restoration work at Mountain Lake. The initial phase also included weeds being removed and 14,000 native plants being planted. Restoration volunteers include Presidio Park Stewards, local students, corporate groups, and Friends of Mountain Lake Park. 
     
    Thomas then points to traffic zooming by on Highway 1, perched right above the body of water. 
     
    “We have spent the last 15 years trying to remediate the bottom of the lake from lead and contaminants from the highway,” she says.
     
    In addition to polluting the water, the highway runoff contributed to changing Mountain Lake’s depth from 9 meters (30 feet) to just 3 meters (10 feet). 
     
    The lake has also shrunk from the size when the Anza expedition camped beside the body of water in 1776. The Anza expedition was an exploration of California led by Mexican-Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza. 
     
    “We think [the lake's size] has been reduced about a third,” Thomas says.
     
    Between September 2012 and December 2013, the Mountain Lake was dredged. The effort removed 13,380 cubic meters (17,500 cubic yards) of contaminated sediment, which was relocated to a nearby landfill.
     
    Reintroduction Research
     
    While standing on the shore, Jonathan Young, a wildlife ecologist interning for the Presidio Trust, spots a carp moving along the shallows. 
     
    “That would be so easy to get,” he says, clearly wishing he had a net to nab the non-native. 
     
    Getting rid of Mountain Lake’s carp is one of the biggest challenges to the Presidio Trust’s restoration efforts. 
     
    “Our biggest problem is that there are non-native fish that damage the bottom and the vegetation,” Thomas says.
     
    Young notes that being a natural space within an urban area means that over the years, San Franciscans have deposited non-native turtles, frogs, and fish into Mountain Lake. 
     
    “This is a repository for people’s pets,” he says.
     
    The Presidio Trust initially used electrofishing in an attempt to eradicate the carp. The method uses electricity to stun fish that are then pulled out of the water with nets. Currently, Young uses gill nets to remove the carp from Mountain Lake. 
     
    After the carp are removed from the lake, they are transported to Al Wolf at the Sonoma Reptile Rescue Center in nearby Sebastopol. 
     
    “He adopts them out to private, secluded vineyard ponds, where they won’t cause the same issues up there as they do down here,” Young says.
     
    Once these non-native species are removed, the Presidio Trust can begin reintroducing native species back to the lake. Young says the organization has been looking at museum records and other documents to see what native species used to call Mountain Lake home. 
     
    “We were able to get an idea of plants and animals that used to be in the area,” he says.
     
    The Presidio Trust hopes to begin with placing Pacific chorus frogs, western pond turtles, freshwater mussels, Pacific newts, and three-spined stickleback (a small fish) back into Mountain Lake and the surrounding land. Eventually, they hope to welcome the endangered California red-legged frog. They are hoping to start reintroducing the three-spined stickleback in late 2014. 
     
    The organization still needs to do more work to get Mountain Lake ready for the fish. 
     
    “First, we need to remove all the predatory invasive fish, while at the same time, get the submerged plants [back in the lake], which will provide needed habitat for the sticklebacks,” Young says. 
     
    The group has already begun putting aquatic plant species back into Mountain Lake. They place the seeds and roots of the plants in mud balls that are then thrown into the lake. Cages are then erected around the mud balls and vegetation so carp cannot de-root them while foraging for invertebrates that live in and around the new plants.
     
    The restoration is a complicated process that relies on goals having to be met before the native plants and animals can be reintroduced. 
     
    “It’s a really dynamic project,” Young says. “There are a lot of layers to it.”
     
    Since Mountain Lake is a natural feature surrounded by a city, its successful restoration depends on local residents who use the park. 
     
    “Ultimately, urban restoration projects like this,” Thomas says, “depend on the community.”
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    adjacent Adjective

    next to.

    aquatic Adjective

    having to do with water.

    army base Noun

    facility owned and operated by an army, housing troops and equipment.

    carp Noun

    freshwater fish native to Europe and Asia.

    city Noun

    large settlement with a high population density.

    conservation Noun

    management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

    Encyclopedic Entry: conservation
    contaminant Noun

    harmful or toxic substance.

    contaminate Verb

    to poison or make hazardous.

    degradation Noun

    breaking down.

    diversity Noun

    difference.

    dredge Verb

    to remove sand, silt, or other material from the bottom of a body of water.

    dynamic Adjective

    always changing or in motion.

    ecologist Noun

    scientist who studies the relationships between organisms and their environments.

    ecosystem Noun

    community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem
    electricity Noun

    set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge.

    eradicate Verb

    to destroy or remove.

    erect Verb

    to build or raise.

    expedition Noun

    journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.

    exploration Noun

    study and investigation of unknown places.

    federal Adjective

    having to do with a country's government.

    forage Verb

    to search for food or other needs.

    functional Adjective

    usable.

    gill net Noun

    effective type of fishing net that is suspended vertically in water by weights and floats. Fish are caught as they try to swim through.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    indigenous Adjective

    native to or characteristic of a specific place.

    initial Adjective

    first.

    invasive species Noun

    type of plant or animal that is not indigenous to a particular area and causes economic or environmental harm.

    Encyclopedic Entry: invasive species
    invertebrate Noun

    animal without a spine.

    lake Noun

    body of water surrounded by land.

    landfill Noun

    site where garbage is layered with dirt and other absorbing material to prevent contamination of the surrounding land or water.

    lead Noun

    chemical element with the symbol Pb.

    neighborhood Noun

    an area within a larger city or town where people live and interact with one another.

    Encyclopedic Entry: neighborhood
    non-native species Noun

    a type of plant or animal that is not indigenous to a particular area. Non-native species can sometimes cause economic or environmental harm as an invasive species.

    oasis Noun

    area made fertile by a source of fresh water in an otherwise arid region.

    Encyclopedic Entry: oasis
    perch Verb

    to sit or rest on a tree branch or other elevated position.

    predatory Adjective

    killing other animals for food.

    preserve Verb

    to maintain and keep safe from damage.

    presidio Noun

    military fort or garrison.

    remediate Verb

    to correct (remedy) damage to the environment.

    repository Noun

    place where things are stored or deposited.

    restoration Noun

    repair of damage to an ecosystem so that it can function as a normal self-regulating system.

    root Noun

    part of a plant that secures it in the soil, obtains water and nutrients, and often stores food made by leaves.

    runoff Noun

    overflow of fluid from a farm or industrial factory.

    Encyclopedic Entry: runoff
    secluded Adjective

    sheltered, protected, and isolated.

    sediment Noun

    solid material transported and deposited by water, ice, and wind.

    Encyclopedic Entry: sediment
    submerge Verb

    to put underwater.

    traffic Noun

    movement of many things, often vehicles, in a specific area.

    transport Verb

    to move material from one place to another.

    urban area Noun

    developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

    Encyclopedic Entry: urban area
    vegetation Noun

    all the plant life of a specific place.

    vineyard Noun

    agricultural area with grapevines grown for wine.

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