Skip directly to content

Deborah Elliott-Fisk

Deborah Elliott-Fisk
Conservation Biologist
The Cache Creek Nature Preserve is a wonderful outdoor laboratory because of its diversity of habitats.

Deborah Elliott-Fisk is a professor at the University of California, Davis in the Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology department.  Trained as a biogeographer, she specializes in plants, soils, landscape, landforms, and marine ecology.  Aside from teaching at the university, Professor Elliott-Fisk works in the field of conservation biology and restoration ecology.  One of her projects for the past ten years has been the Cache Creek Nature Preserve.

What does restoration mean to you? 

To me, restoration means bringing back what we think were the natural processes that occurred—biogeochemical, water flow, reproduction of organisms— along with the components and structures of the ecosystem, the members of the ecosystem. One of the really interesting restoration projects out here is the abundance of native grasses that occur underneath the oak woodlands where 3 years ago, 4 years ago, was just exotic grasses.  Active tilling and seeding of native grass in the oak woodlands has brought those native grasses back and now we have meter-high native grasses.

Is there any aspect of restoration that you would think is important for people to understand?

One important thing to realize when doing restoration is that it takes time.  It’s an ecological process that operates on a longer time scale than is on normal human thinking when we go about doing planning or making our calendar out for the future year.  It just takes time; you have to be patient.  It’s a very active, ongoing activity.

How has this place been restored?

Cache Creek Nature Preserve has been actively restored by taking a big gravel pit and turning it into a really interesting wetland.  So to me, taking an eyesore, a big gravel pit, and turning [it] into this magnificent wetland is the biggest achievement out here while still maintaining intact habitat.  I’m always impressed how good a shape the riparian woodland’s still in with all the gravel mining that went on here.  It looks good!

How healthy would you say this creek is?

Cache Creek is very healthy! We know that not from looking at the fish fauna but from looking at the insects that are there.  The US Department of Agriculture has developed a stream assessment protocol where you can go in and look for the presence and abundance of different groups of insects. That tells you something about water quality.  We’ve done those studies just as class exercises out here.  The water quality here is high. 

What makes the Cache Creek Nature Preserve something special for Yolo County? 

Cache Creek Nature Preserve is special for Yolo County as an environmental education center where people can come and see nature.  You come out here, and you feel like you’re out in the wild, even though you’re several miles from our county seat of Woodland.  It’s a really special place, it has a special sense of wildness. 

Could you identify three animals that really use this preserve and why they come here?

When I think of animals out here at Cache Creek Nature Preserve that are important parts of the ecosystem, I’m going to say that one of the most important is the beaver. The beaver that we have here is probably introduced from the east coast although that’s not certain.   It loves the stream!  It’s along Cache Creek, and what it likes about the preserve is the constructed wetlands that are linked to the creek on the west end.  It’s having its heyday out here with a number of different family groups of beavers building dens, raising young, and traversing large areas of the landscape to gnaw down little trees and bigger trees. The beavers are doing really well here.  And I think they’re a welcome, natural part of the riparian ecosystem. Also, the river otter.  That’s one of my very favorite animals out here.  It doesn’t have as large of a population.  We see more solitary individuals versus family groups present here in the riparian zone.  It will forage up higher here on the terrace.  It likes to eat berries, small fish, crawdads.  A very playful, fun animal.  A third interesting species that we think is here is the Sacramento Valley Red Fox. For many decades, California Department of Fish and Game believed that all the red fox in California were from the east coast, where the eastern red fox were introduced, and not native to any of California.  And then, wildlife biologists started to do work on an established population in the northern Sierra Nevada that they believed was a native fox, Sierra Nevada Red Fox.  People began to see some of these foxes down here on the valley floor and at the Yolo Basin wildlife area and began to wonder, are these native or not?  So they started doing genetic work on them to identify the population of Sacramento Valley Red Fox that’s different from the population of the Sierra Nevada red fox that has been seen in the Yolo Basin.  It’s been seen in Davis along Putah Creek on campus.  My students did some work looking for it out here and got hair samples to send in but we don’t know the results yet.  I think it’s probably here and it’s probably the native fox, not the exotic one.  It’s really exciting that there’s a population of native red fox that persisted in California.

What are some favorite moments? 

One of the projects I’ve been involved in out here for years is working with CIBA, the California Indian Basketweaving Association, and local native American groups trying to bring back basketry plants.  Working with a variety of people, including Don Hankins who’s Plains Miwok by descent, I got to learn a lot more out here about Native American resources—what they traditionally have used in this part of the valley and practices they want to pass on to their children and future generations.  Probably the most valuable thing I’ve learned working out here is more about the value of indigenous plants to our California Indians.  Really neat stuff!

Written by: 
Angela Nguyen

To download the audio, right click on the audio link above and scroll to "Save link as . . ." and choose the directory where you want to store the mp3. In Windows, you may have to use Control + S to select the link.