Wild things abound at Hirschman Pond | TheUnion.com

Wild things abound at Hirschman Pond

Executive Director Joanne Hild and Restoration Ecologist Ori Chafe of Sierra Streams Institute talk about the diversity of plant and animal life found in the Hirschman Pond area as part of studies for a plan to make the forest on the Nevada City property healthier.
submitted by Laura Petersen |

Last spring, Nevada Union High School Senior Nora Pizzella, 17, spent an evening looking for amphibians at Hirschman Pond.

Caught just above the surface of the water in the beam of her flashlight were numerous pairs of eyes — Pacific chorus frogs!

Pizzella, a volunteer for Sierra Streams Institute, observed amphibians as part of night surveys at the pond.

With dreams of pursuing an environmental science path, Pizzella walked away with a real life experience under her belt.

“It’s pretty wild to see all the wildlife that use this area.”Ori ChafeSierra Stream Institute’s Restoration Ecologist

“I think it’s a really valuable experience,” she said.

After two years, Sierra Streams Institute and 100 community volunteers and citizen scientists have compiled a list of plants and animal species found within Nevada City’s popular Hirschman Pond and Trail recreation area.

Hirschman’s Pond was created as a result of hydraulic gold mining during the Gold Rush and today supports many migrating and resident waterfowl species.

It’s a relatively young forest — 100 years since mining activities ceased here — and a mixed bag of native and invasive non-native plants.

The studies were conducted as part of a long-term land management plan to create a healthier forest within the city’s 85 acre Hirschman Pond property, while improving recreational opportunities and preventing catastrophic wildfire.

If funded, Sierra Streams Institute will implement the plan by removing highly flammable woody understory and invasive species such as Scotch Broom and Himalayan blackberry and hand thinning dense, overgrown forests to make more space between trees.

By reducing the risk of fire and subsequent erosion and sedimentation into Woods Ravine and ultimately Deer Creek, the plan will create a healthier forest for native plants, animals and people.

“There’s a very large diversity of plants here,” said Sierra Stream Institute’s Restoration Ecologist Ori Chafe.

It’s the first time a comprehensive biological study has been made of the area.

A list of 75 species of native plants and more than 75 species of native animals (mammals, amphibians and birds) have been identified. An additional 32 non-native plants and five non-native animals have been observed.

After mining dramatically changed the landscape, the forest started growing again from the barren ground.

Everything began all at once, becoming dense and crowded compared to the staggered age diversity of trees found in an old growth forest.

When trees are crowded and stressed and competing for light, the risk of disease outbreaks increases.

Since 1978, Richard Thomas has lived near the pond. He supports the studies and is in favor of wildfire reduction efforts.

In recent years, he has witnessed the decline of wood ducks using the pond and is concerned about the impacts introduced species like red eared sliders (a pet store variety of turtle) is having on native species like the Western Pond Turtle. “Getting a baseline biological survey will be useful as we move forward in managing Hirschman Pond,” said Thomas.

Neighbors and community members came forward during the study period to share information about the beloved open space and the inhabitants found there.

“We really heard from them almost from the beginning. They were nervous. Trust was built, I think they feel really good now that we’re partners,” said Executive Director Joanne Hild.

Sierra Streams consulted with members of the Nisenan tribe of the Nevada City Rancheria to gain insight on what the landscape may have looked like prior to the Gold Rush.

For 1,000 to 2,000 years, Native American people occupied this region, known as the Hill Nisenan, or “Southern Maidu.”

In 1848, gold brought immigrants into the local area and by 1852, the population of Nevada County was estimated at more than 21,000 people.

As part of the survey, Sierra Streams held a community contest to guess the depth of the pond.

In an inflatable kayak, staff and volunteers ventured onto the pond using a sonar sensor.

“It’s a dark bottom. You can’t actually see the bottom,” said Chafe.

Guesses varied from 10 to 200 feet.

Two people guessed correctly at 37 feet. A water quality study is still needed.

During early morning bird surveys, volunteers worked with local experts from Audubon Society to identify 65 native and non-native species of birds.

“They really learned how science works to preserve habitat,” Hild said.

Wildlife cameras called camera traps were set up at various locations on the property snapping photos of coyote, bobcat, skunk and deer.

Wood rats, deer mice and even an irritated skunk were caught in small mammal traps.

A couple times, otters were spotted.

Woods Ravine is a small tributary of Deer Creek.

“It’s pretty wild to see all the wildlife that use this area,” said Chafe.

Sometimes wildlife was photographed on the trail 15 minutes before humans crossed the same path.

Despite being a landscape completely altered by gold mining and the close proximity to busy Highway 49, populated neighborhoods and downtown Nevada City, Hirschman Pond, a year-round water source, remains an important corridor for plants and animals.

“It’s a gem. I would say it’s a pretty important spot. We don’t have a lot of places set aside,” said Hild.

While the first years of surveying of Hirschman Pond is finished for now, Sierra Streams Institute is always looking for people who would like to volunteer to be a community scientist.

Funding availability to implement the forest health plan will be announced later this year.

Learn more at http://www.sierrastreamsinstitute.org/

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@gmail.com or 913-3067.

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