Preparations Underway for Next Season at San Jacinto Wildlife Area

On Thursday, 5/26/11, we traveled to San Jacinto Wildlife Area to check out the progress for preparations for the upcoming waterfowl season, as well as the even faster approaching dove season. Tom Trakes, the Wildlife Habitat Supervisor at San Jacinto met with us and gave us a through tour of the refuge. In addition, because we are inquisitive types, we ran a few questions by Tom, who was happy to answer our queries.

The first thing we saw, and probably one of the biggest improvements / changes for the coming season is the new “rainy day” Walkers parking lot. Tom and the crew at San Jacinto have created a new, raised lot right next to the old Walkers lot. The new lot was raised and should prevent the lot from being flooded out if we have similar rains as we had last season. The San Jacinto staff had just finished graveling the lot and it should be big enough to hold about 40 vehicles.

New Lot

Old Lot

As we drove around the refuge we saw many of the ponds still had a lot of water in them. Tom explained that they are having trouble getting some of the pond drained as there was so much water this year and so much flooding. Tom explained that they were not allowed to dump water into Mystic Lake so the process is slow. Also, some of the ponds holding water were being flooded on purpose. At this point they are being “flood irrigated” to grow food for the waterfowl. Some of the ponds were on their second or third flood. There were also ponds that were almost drained and we could see a think green carpet of Swamp Timothy growing. The Swamp Timothy looked like a thick carpet on the bottom of the ponds.

Tom told us that one good thing that will come out of the flooding at San Jacinto last season is that FEMA will be providing them funds to raise some of the roads on the refuge to prevent them from flooding out next season…hopefully. Tom said that they hopefully will get the funds in time to do the work to raise the roads before next season. If not then it will be an off-season project for after next season. Time will tell on this. That would be a great improvement and, (fingers crossed), will prevent the necessity of having to walk-in from the check station when it rains a lot.

Speaking of the Ponds (specifically Ponds 1, 2, 3 & 4) we asked Tom why these dikes were so high. Tom told us that these were the original ponds on the refuge and they were originally filled with reclaimed water. Although they do still use a lot of reclaimed water the reclaimed water they used “back in the day” wasn’t as clean as today’s reclaimed water. Back then they were not allowed to let this reclaimed water from the Ponds get outside of the dikes into the valley. Therefore the dikes were built extra high to prevent this. Today the cleanliness of the reclaimed water they use means this isn’t a problem.

Also, and again speaking of the Ponds, we asked about the “L” shaped islands within the ponds. Tom said that they would like to renovate these ponds and lower them to make it easier to control the water.

Speaking of water. Mystic Lake appears to be about ¾ full and it looks like it should still be around for next season, which should help the hunting a lot.

Tom also told us the goose fields have a good crop of wheat, wild oats and barley and will be mowed in a chris-cross pattern before the dove season. Dove hunting will be hopefully allowed on the waterfowl side of the refuge on opening day, September 1st. After dove season the rest of the fields will be mowed, (the part not mowed in the chris-cross pattern), and then, lightly flooded to germinate the seeds which should make some nice green goose fields for the waterfowl season. Tom also told us the fields West of Davis road, in the upland area, have a nice crop of Safflower and Wheat growing, which should also be good for dove season. I have to say, during our time as San Jacinto this day we saw more dove using the refuge then I’ve ever seen in the past.

The A-1 sign needs an arrow to designate which way to turn for hunters heading to it for the first time. Tom said he wants to put arrows on a large portion of the blind signs to assist hunters in the early morning dark. Tom said this would probably be a Boy Scout project.

Tom wants to build up the island that blind B-3 sits on. It was a little too low this year and was flooded.

Tom told us that Bermuda Grass grows in the bottom of the ponds and makes a good hard bottom for hunters to walk on when flooded. The old method was to disk the ponds, which made for a soft, muddy bottom. They now have a good mower to use and will mow the saw grass instead of disking, which will make nice pond bottoms to wade on.

Tom said that they now have a good portable welder and Dirk will be welding up blind seats for many of the blinds this year.

Tom told us he is trying to contact the California Department of Forestry Fire Authority to see if they will do controlled burns of the tules and bull rush in Ponds 1 – 4. This is the best way to reduce the overgrowth in the high-diked Ponds.

Tom said he’d like to refurbish the E ponds. They would like to make the ponds shallower and have walk out island blinds. If the “E” ponds were shallower it would save water and create shallower ponds instead of the current 5-foot deep ponds. This may be a project that is a season or two off in the future though.

E-1 and E-2 currently have no blinds. Hunters utilizing these blind sites usually just sit down in the Bull Rush just off the road. Tom wants to see what hunters would like to see out there such as making island blinds with walk-ways out to them for these blinds or wade out island blinds.

They are hoping that the road that passes D-2 on the way out to the “E” parking lot will be raised with decomposed granite and possibly a walk-way will be built out to D-2 from the north side of the pond. They are hoping to raise the road to the “A” parking lot with the decomposed granite also. This would allow a rainy day access to these lots.

Tom said that Dirk and the San Jacinto staff recently created a gravity feed ditch next to the road that would feed down to the “G” pond. This assists in water control on the refuge.

Tom told us he wants to build walkways out to F-1, F-3 and F-5.

Hopefully most of the above can be accomplished. This is just more proof that Tom and the staff at San Jacinto are real treasures and all go the extra mile for the Southern California hunters. They do all this with only the five full time staff we all know, Tom (of course), Scott, Dirk, Aurelio and Tim and no seasonal staff. In comparison other similar size refuges have twice as many employees as San Jacinto does. Tom has been at San Jacinto for 18 years. He’s 53 and plans on working for us at San Jacinto into his late 60’s. When the day arrives to replace him they will be hard shoes to fill.

Now, one more thing. While at the refuge we notice that there were absolutely no Coots on the refuge. Being that there were thousands of the little black birds on the refuge during the season the question of the day was, where are all of the Coots? Where have they gone and when will they return? Tom told us they only fly at night so you will never see them leave or arrive. Hard to believe they can migrate any distance as they seem to have a hard time just getting off of the water from one pond to the next.

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