OAKDALE — A group of schoolkids learned Tuesday about the importance of milk cartons not to hold the beverage, but to protect the oak saplings they were planting.
The third- and fourth-graders from Magnolia School in Oakdale helped with the restoration of Dos Rios Ranch, where the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers join about 10 miles southwest of Modesto.
I just like nature, said Emalee Britt, one of the planters. Its going to help all the animals.
The students worked on less than one of the ranchs 1,603 acres, but they had a sense that they were part of something big. Dos Rios and nearby wildlife refuges are part of an effort to revive some of the riparian forest that covered much of the Central Valley before water diversion, farming and other human changes.
River Partners, a Chico-based group with a Modesto branch office, launched the restoration after acquiring the ranch last year from the Lyons family for $21.8 million from public and private sources.
Jeff Holt, a restoration biologist with River Partners, told the students how the rivers used to flood often, providing habitat for thousands of geese and ducks, salmon and steelhead jumping out of the water, and probably grizzly bears.
The kids added the oaks to an area that was planted earlier this year with several other trees and shrubs, such as willows, blackberries, oaks, cottonwoods, elderberries and mulefat.
Heavy equipment had broken up the soil, providing soft ground where the students could lay their saplings. They applied mulch made from wood chips and put the milk cartons in place to shield the young trees from wildlife that might eat them. They made sure not to disturb the drip irrigation lines that will water the trees until natural flooding is restored.
The oaks are relatively slow growers, but many of the earlier plantings already have reached 6 feet. They could be 30 feet high in three years, River Partners President John Carlon said in April.
The planners say the project will ease the flood threat on the lower San Joaquin, all the way to Stockton, while providing rearing habitat for young salmon and other wildlife benefits.
The animals come here and the birds come here and build their nests, third-grader Brizeyda Melendrez said during a break from her planting work.
Fourth-grader Ryan Matos alluded to photosynthesis, the process by which trees take in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen.
It will probably help the air around Modesto, he said, because the trees produce the air for us and help us breathe.
More information about River Partners and Dos Rios Ranch is at www.riverpartners.org or (209) 521-1700.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.