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Under The Sun: Mark Newhouser, Sonoma Ecology Center

Posted on September 30, 2016 by Sonoma Valley Sun

unnamed-5SUN: You’ve been with the Ecology Center, now as Restoration Project Manager, for a long time. How long is it?

NEWHOUSER: I knew you were going to ask me that. I always forget how long. I started as a volunteer at the Garden Park, when I was working as a carpenter. Every weekend for a couple of years. I started formal employment at the end of ’99.

Have you been doing the same job?

In a way. I’ve always been involved with restoration. But part of that work involved the Arundo donax eradication project. It’s a really invasive non-native plant in the creeks. So I thought, if I’m killing plants, why not grow some as well. I started a native plant nursery, at my home.

Do you still have it at your home?

It got too big. I moved it to the Garden Park, where we now have a greenhouse, a large shade structure, and a native plant gardener. But I still come home with my pockets stuffed full of seeds and cuttings. It’s my passion. We’re able to supply almost all the plants for our restoration projects. They’re not just native, they’re local. They’ve adapted to the particular growing conditions of our watershed. We’re preserving the existing gene pool. And these locals they have a better chance for survival in drought, climate change.

How did you learn about plants?

I was studying plant science at UC Davis before I moved to Sonoma.

What exactly is “restoration”?

We are looking to restore the biological diversity of a site – plants, fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds. By increasing the number and the variety of species, we’re giving a better chance for them to survive climate change. We’ve been doing the same work over the years, but for different reasons. First it was for fish habitat enhancement; then the focus was sediment reduction; and now it is storm water management.

And what do you do?

I write grants, I implement them, I develop collaborations and partnerships and I oversee projects. I love to get out in the field and do the physical work.

Did you always want to work in ecology? How were you prepared to do it?

I have a passion for this work. I did go back to school, to Sonoma State, while I was working fulltime at the SEC. I graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies in 2005. It was scary to be back in college after such a long break. In school I learned the “why”, but on the job I learn the “how.”

What are your current projects?

The Flood Plain Basin demonstration project on Nathanson Creek north of Macarthur is one. It’s for storm water management, and to create refugia for fish during high flows. I’m also managing a Low-Impact Design (LID) project at the Garden Park. By the end of the year you’ll be able to visit it and take a self-guided tour to learn things you can do on your own property.

Anything you’re especially proud of?

Yes, a couple of things I’ve designed. One is for infiltrating storm water under sidewalks. And I designed a “Detention Basin and Energy Dissipator”.

Translation, please.

It’s a basin that catches and holds storm water long enough to slow runoff, catch sediments and filter off pollutants. I worked with county engineers to develop it, size it. We’re using them. And I’m already moving on to the next design!

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