Table of Contents
A CALL TO ACTION: Creating A Flight Plan For California
Dan Evans and Geoff Geupel
Dan Evans, California Partners in Flight co-Chair
Proper Functioning Condition...A Very Useful Tool
Mini Nagendran, California Partners in Flight co-Chair
Riparian Habitat Joint Venture Update
Marti Kie, California RHJV coordinator
National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Opens California Office
Greg Elliot
Revegetation Project At McClellan Ranch Park
Patricia Peterson
Least Bell's Vireo Survival And Recovery
Jim Greaves, Wildlife Photographer/Consultant
Avian Monitoring and Restoration Efforts at Audubon's BobElaine Sanctuary
June C. Persson, Sacramento Audubon Society
Meetings And Announcements
Production Credits

Flight Log is a cooperative publication of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society-California, and the California Department of Fish & Game to support and promote the Partners in Flight Initiative in California.

This is the fifth edition of Flight Log, and the second published on the World Wide Web. Feel free to download a copy so you can browse the articles at your leisure. Please distrubute copies to anyone who might be interested in the topics covered here, or refer them to our site.

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Creating A Flight Plan For California - Dan Evans and Geoff Geupel
This is a Call to Action - if we are to succeed in our efforts to protect and enhance migratory birds, we must create a plan that focuses our energy and is supported by many. Our plan must integrate both local and statewide activities and priorities with the best information and scientific data available. If we can develop clear goals we can effectively channel our resources to achieve more than the sum of our individual actions. 

We have come a long way since 1990, when the Partners In Flight (PIF) program was originally launched to bring state, federal, and private groups together to stop the decline of migratory birds. PIF created a broad coalition of conservationists, researchers, teachers, land managers, and the general public. To date, more than 90 organizations have joined forces. Our partnership has even spread to include Canada and Latin America. 

In an effort to coordinate and support activities across the country, a national perspective emerged. "The Flight Plan" was drawn for a structured set of objectives and actions (see side-bar). Recognizing that most actions actually occur at a local and statewide level, the Flight Plan was created to direct activities and facilitate the exchange of information between habitats or areas with similar problems. More importantly, creation of a national plan helps assure that staff and financial resources from government agencies will be allocated to the highest priority areas. Considering the scope and variety of issues that negatively impact migratory birds, a well coordinated large scale effort is required to achieve a significant and lasting impact. 

The California PIF program was initiated in 1993 to define and address the key bird conservation issues in our state. Being blessed with a great diversity of habitats, from coastal dunes to montane meadows and forests, California supports an incredible diversity of birds. Unfortunately, with our large and expanding population, we also face an alarming array of environmental problems. 

The statewide PIF group's first actions were to define the critical habitat types that were most threatened in our state. Riparian habitat, the deciduous willow, alder, and cottonwood forests that line our rivers and streams, was clearly a top priority (see Flight Log #2, Fall 1995). This habitat supports one of the highest diversities of songbirds, as well as an extremely high level of productivity. Yet over 90% of riparian areas have been lost to development, agriculture, and stream channelization. Oak woodlands were identified as a second priority. Rapid suburban expansion is a major threat and intensive grazing often prevents regeneration of young trees, resulting in less productive older stands. Following riparian and oak woodland habitats, other habitats and areas of high priority include grasslands, coastal scrub, mixed conifer forests and the entire Sierra Nevada ecosystem. 

Recognizing the importance of riparian habitat, and the challenges of a large and diverse state, a coalition of 14 organizations was formed to protect, restore, and manage riparian areas throughout California. Entitled the Riparian Habitat Joint Venture (RHJV), the effort was modeled after the highly successful Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture, which was established to increase wetland acreage and waterfowl populations. The RHJV now consists of 16 organizations, with more pending. 

To date, the Riparian Joint Venture has been our largest PIF success. A Technical Committee of the RHJV meets regularly to coordinate activities and share information. Representatives are actively involved with riparian related projects statewide. Numerous presentations have been given throughout the state on the value of riparian habitat, including presentations to the California Biodiversity Council, which supports the RHJV. An information brochure, slide show, and poster are also in preparation. Four flagship projects have been selected from many on-going efforts to promote inter-agency cooperation and to highlight large-scale riparian protections efforts (see Flight Log #3, Spring 1996). In response to the high priority given to acquiring new riparian areas, the Wildlife Conservation Board is developing a system to evaluate and rank restoration and acquisition projects. The Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) is developing a project to rank riparian areas based on vegetation characteristics and other quantifiable variables directly related to avian diversity and productivity. PRBO is also working with The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to document the benefits of flooding and adjacent agricultural lands. National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy have launched the Important Bird Area program to identify and register significant areas for birds, including riparian. By cataloguing key sites throughout the state, it will be easier to assure their enhancement and protection. 

While PIF has made significant progress and changes are occurring, much remains to be done. Hence, this Call to Action. Following the four steps laid out by the national "Flight Plan" concept, in California we have completed step 1 - identified habitats, ecoregions, and species most in need of conservation (see Flight Log 2). The next step involves establishing bird populations and habitat objectives: How many individuals and how many acres of habitat must be protected, restored, and better managed to support reasonable and stable populations? To provide a sound answer to this complicated question we need to consider the following for each priority species: historical range and abundance (if known), current range, status and health of existing populations, habitat requirements and preferences, minimum patch size of preferred habitat and distance between patches, and habitat and landscape features that influence (both positively and negatively) a species' occurrence and viability. In the future we must devise new activities to meet the above population and habitat objectives then implement specific, on the ground activities. 

Once these conservation goals are established, the real challenge will begin. Successful protection of bird populations requires conserving and enhancing extensive areas - a Call to Action that requires wide scale participation by private landowners in addition to state and federal lands. We are accumulating the best scientific information available (see "Filing Our Flight Plan" in this issue) to set clear habitat goals, but ultimately our success depends on the widest possible involvement of all land owners - public and private. Our success with riparian birds protection creates the model to conserve and restore other populations and priority habitats essential for birds. Please do what you can to get involved in this process. 

The Flight Plan's Objectives
A National PIF Initiative

Conservation when it should be done - when common birds are still common. Before species become endangered.

Conservation based on sound science and good information.

Conservation that stresses both healthy ecosystems and management of natural resources.

Local and timely conservation within the context of large-scale objectives and long term plans.

Conservation of habitats in breeding, migration, and wintering areas.

An informed constituency of people concerned about bird conservation.

Creation of partnerships that foster voluntary cooperation among public and private landowners .

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Filing Our Flight Plan

Scope Of Work - Conservation goals for California's riparian obligate species (see list at end) are required to establish priorities, with a strong technical foundation, to direct the protection, enhancement and restoration of riparian habitat for birds throughout California. We propose to define the bird population and habitat requirements for 14 of California's riparian obligate species. This information will be used to set measurable habitat restoration and protection goals for riparian bird communities through the Riparian Habitat Joint Venture's Implementation Plan. These habitat priorities are required to formulate measurable goals for the Riparian Habitat Joint Venture's Implementation Plan.

Proposed Process: To establish goals for riparian communities we propose the following process: At the next CA-PIF meeting (scheduled for July 18th and 19th) we invite anyone with any interest in a priority species to attend or let their ideas be known. At the meeting we will identify a person for each species who will be assigned the task of gathering and compiling the 6 pieces of information outlined below. These people will convene at the October PIF meeting in Sacramento to: 1) Identify priority sites within each bioregion that contain the best habitat for the maximum number of species. These areas would be the highest priority for conservation and serve as source population centers. 2) Identify overlapping distributions and habitat requirements of target species to help prioritize habitat protection and restoration goals. 3) Identify information gaps required to document the distribution and habitat preferences of the target species, compare notes, overlay maps, and develop comprehensive community-wide plans as to how many acres and birds in each bioregion are to be targeted for conservation.


Information needed for each species to develop conservation goals:

1. Maps or information on historical distribution and abundance (if any).

2. Maps of current distribution and information on current status, density and health throughout California, wherever information is available. Maps should show distribution by the bioregions established by the California Biodiversity Council. These bioregions correspond to the Riparian Habitat Joint Venture's Regional Working Committees.

3. Optimal habitat characteristics and preferences of healthy breeding populations.

4. Average territory size and minimum patch size required for a breeding population.

5. Best management practices.

6. Factors influencing a species occurrence and viability.

7. Scientific references.

It is understood that information will often be incomplete or nonexistent. The initial goal is to develop general reference information for comparison to other species based on the best available information.

List of Riparian Obligate Species - Conservation Priorities Conservation goals should be developed for the following 14 riparian obligate species, most of which are listed as species of special concern or are on the state endangered list. Additional species of importance should be added as they are identified.

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Riparian Habitat Joint Venture Update

Marti Kie, California RHJV coordinator
In our March meeting, the Riparian Habitat Joint Venture (RHJV) Technical Committee decided to tighten our belts and take on the challenge of a quantifiable riparian restoration goal. Our goal is to double the existing riparian habitat which is providing effective habitat for resident and migratory landbirds, and to enhance 25% of the habitat which is now considered degraded. 

We plan on achieving this goal by the year 2008. We plan on implementing a layered strategy in order to achieve the larger, statewide goal. The strategy begins with the development of conservation plans for the riparian obligate species that the RHJV has determined are our highest priority. The conservation plans will be written by a cadre of species and habitat experts, detailing the best information we have to date on each of our priority species. The plans will include information on where populations are extinct, where they have recently been lost, and where they might easily be re-established. Habitat parameters necessary for successful breeding will be delineated and management strategies will be established. 

These plans and their accompanying maps will then be reviewed by our regional working committee members, other scientists and any other interested persons. The revised information will then be used by our regional working committees to develop priority sites for restoration, acquisition and enhancement. The RHJV will work with established partnerships, and public and private landowners to develop, fund and implement a network of functional riparian corridors throughout the state. 

"Our goal is to double the existing riparian habitat which is providing effective habitat for resident and migratory land birds, and to enhance 25% of the habitat which is now considered degraded."
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Proper Functioning Condition...A Very Useful Tool

Mini Nagendran, California Partners in Flight co-Chair
A 4 hour workshop teaching a method for evaluating "Proper Functioning Condition" of riparian habitat (PFC) was held on April 22 at UC-Davis. "Riparian-wetland areas are functioning properly when adequate vegetation, landform, or large woody debris is present to dissipate stream energy associated with high water flows, thereby reducing erosion and improving water quality; filter sediment, capture bedload, and aid floodplain development; improve flood- water retention and ground-water recharge; develop root masses that stabilize stream banks against cutting action; develop diverse ponding and channel characteristics to provide the habitat and the water depth, duration, and temperature necessary for fish production, waterfowl breeding, and other uses; support greater biodiversity."

Professionals from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (the agency primarily responsible for developing the method), provided an interactive lecture session to a room packed with professionals from governmental agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations (the latter 2 were under-represented). The group of professionals that conducted the workshop is involved with the daunting task of restoring "proper functionality" of streams, creeks, rivers, and numerous other wetland types on BLM lands. Under the BLM's Riparian-Wetland Initiative for the 1990's, the mandate is " restore and maintain riparian-wetland areas so that 75% or more are in proper functioning condition (PFC) by 1997. The overall objective is to achieve an advanced ecological status, except where resource objectives, including PFC, would require an earlier successional stage, thus providing the widest variety of vegetation and habitat for wildlife, fish and watershed protection."

Following the UC-Davis session, there was a 2 day workshop on May 6 and 7. May 6 was a day of interactive lectures to familiarize the attendees with the concepts and terms involved in PFC assessment. This was a fairly thorough review of the manual TR 1737-9 1993: Riparian Area Management; Process for Assessing Proper Functioning Condition (quoted in this article). On May 7 the class carried out actual field assessments along Bear Creek and Cache Creek in Yolo County. There were about thirty professionals who attended this 2-day course, and for the site evaluation part the class divided into 6 smaller interdisciplinary teams. We walked the stream reaches while evaluating them, which is critical to assessing PFC. The evaluation form is 2 pages. Page 1 is comprised of 17 main questions that are divided into the following categories: (1) Hydrologic (5 questions), (2) Vegetative (7 questions), and (3) Soils-Erosion Deposition (5 questions). On page 2 one notes remarks and summary determination.

The team that developed this course has done well to create a consistent and common vocabulary. By reading the manual and taking the 2-day course alone one will not become an expert, but the course clearly provides a high level of appreciation for the degree of interdisciplinary experience necessary to understand the physical components in the functioning status of riparian-wetland areas. To assess PFC requires expertise in not only wildlife, but geology and soil, vegetation, and hydrology.

How does PFC play into California Partners in Flight and California Riparian Habitat Joint Venture? Issues effecting riparian habitat are obviously not limited to BLM lands! Now that the CRHJV has set out to "double California's riparian habitat, and restore and enhance 25% of degraded riparian habitat by 2008," PFC could help immensely in accomplishing such a critical task more efficiently. The CRHJV should have several interdisciplinary PFC teams, perhaps on a bioregional basis, that would evaluate the physical attributes and functioning conditions of riparian areas in order to identify those that would most benefit from restoration.

I encourage all those involved in riparian-wetland restoration efforts to attend the PFC course. The number of openings is limited, but perhaps the instructors would consider offering more sessions. The following is a list of 2-day workshops to be held at several locations in California: June 4, 5, Alturas (coordinator Jim Decker, BLM, 916-979-2830); June 9, 10, Stanislaus (coordinator Polly Hays, USFWS, 415-705-2514); July 8, 9, Quincy (coordinator Steve Bishop, USFS, 415-705-1817); S. Sierra, Aug. TBA (coordinator Ken Tate, UC-Davis 916-754-8988). Water sustains life on earth. Yet, this support system is one that is taken for granted, over-extended and abused. The impact of such actions by humans has resulted in continued loss of biodiversity as well as created serious problems for humans. Here are some eloquent thoughts from Jeffrey F. Mount's book, California Rivers and Streams, "...we tend to view rivers as static channels that simply convey water and house fish. When floods come and rivers go about the business of transporting runoff and sediment and sculpting the landscape, we seem genuinely surprised at the results...were we simply to have paid more attention to rivers as dynamic geomorphic systems that are easier to work with, rather than against, we might have spared ourselves much of the calamity. It is folly, but it is indicative of the way we view this state's rivers..." The oldest of California's rivers are a little less than 1 billion years old and until the last 2 hundred years these rivers essentially flowed unencumbered. Since the early 1800's these rivers have been subjected to impacts from mining, logging, grazing, agriculture, dams, levees and ditches, and urbanization--in the last 2 hundred years humankind's actions within the state of California alone have resembled a geologic force! To attempt to stem the loss of biodiversity it is going to take an INTERDISCIPLINARY approach.

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National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Opens California Office

Greg Elliott
The National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, a congressionally chartered private non-profit conservation organization known in the bird world primarily for its role in helping to create and support Partners in Flight, has opened a southwestern regional office in Sacramento, California. The Foundation has had a 10-year love affair with California, resulting in over $40 million worth of conservation investments in the state since grant-making began in 1986. The California office will be the primary liaison for the Foundation's programs and grantees in California, Arizona, Nevada and northern Oregon. The western regional office mission is to increase the strategic focus of the Foundation's grant-making program in the southwest.

Objectives include:

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Revegetation Project At McClellan Ranch Park

Patricia Peterson
Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS) headquarters are located at McClellan Ranch Park which is an urban preserve owned and operated by the City of Cupertino. Stevens Creek runs along the perimeter of McClellan Ranch and is a favorite birding site for many avid birders. Even though the creek is one of the South Bay's most natural creeks, certain aggressive escaped exotic plant species have been identified here and measures are being taken to eradicate these plants.

With the support of the City of Cupertino, SCVAS has initiated an environmental education/revegetation program at the Ranch. Over the last three years, student volunteers from the local elementary schools and high schools have been removing escaped exotics, such as German ivy, from the edges of Stevens Creek at the Ranch and replanting with native riparian vegetation. While enhancing the creekside habitat, students learn about the local ecology and the human impact on natural resources. They capture and identify aquatic insects which can be used as indicators to determine the health of the creek. Additionally, they conduct water quality tests, and determine soil types. A native plant garden is also maintained at the site.

On Sundays at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, the students arrive at McClellan Ranch and for the next 3 hours participate in applied field ecology sessions facilitated by SCVAS. These student volunteers are members of ecology clubs, interact clubs, scouting troops and health classes from the local community. It is important to recognize these young people and promote their enthusiasm. The habitat enhancement at McClellan Ranch could not be possible if it were not for these dedicated volunteers who continue to give of their time to better the environment for wildlife who depend on it.

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Least Bell's Vireo Survival And Recovery

Jim Greaves, Wildlife Photographer/Consultant
Eleven years after FWS listing as Endangered, the Least Bell's Vireo Recovery Plan remains under internal review. Meanwhile, protection of habitat is at critical stage. State-wide, populations have grown at a phenomenal rate. Yet, 85% of the Santa Clara River (Ventura County) population breeds in areas without Critical Habitat designation; protection a matter of luck, not planning. Potential pathways for return for Central Valley locations are still threatened-especially in Los Angeles and Ventura counties where riparian habitat continues to be destroyed, and flood control measures continue to be implemented.

Cowbird control has helped LBV increase on the Santa Clara River (SCR) in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. In 1996, a pair raised young at a site near Interstate-5, an area unoccupied during the decade since a 1986 sighting earned that area Critical Habitat status. Preliminary 1997 surveys indicate another 20+ percent increase.

In 1991, LBV nests found with eggs along the Santa Clara River (SCR) had cowbird eggs; nearly every pair was parasitized at least once. In an earlier study in the Los Padres National Forest (LPNF) (Santa Barbara Co), I found some pairs parasitized numerous times per season. In 1989, cowbird control began there; this resulted in fewer nests, fewer nests wasted, and increased productivity. In 1991, cowbird control began on the SCR. Around Fillmore Fish Hatchery, Timber Canyon, and Saticoy, parasitism fell to less than 10%, with none detected since 1993. In 1996, the 20 1992 pairs had grown to more than 42. Nearly every pair raised at least one brood, and none were parasitized.

Hopeful signs of recovery expansion: during 1991-93 seasons, a pair of LBV, each banded as a nestling on the Santa Margarita River (Camp Pendleton, San Diego Co) bred successfully near Saticoy. They were together for 3 years, to age 6 for the male, and age 3 for the female. They were seen apart in 1994. A 1992 nestling SCR female was at Arroyo Simi (Ventura Co). A male (and possible female) from SCR nests was on the Ventura River; the female paired with a male from a San Luis Rey River (San Diego Co) nest, the first nesting there in 80 years. In 1995, a male banded as a nestling on the San Luis Rey River in 1993 bred in the now gone San Diego pair's area. The last male returned in 1996, the same year a female (banded as a nestling in a parasitized 1993 nest in LPNF) raised 2 broods nearby.

My 2 studies of the LPNF population indicate that most young fledging after the first week in June are dispersers. As many as 45% of early fledglings returned at least once, while fewer than 10% of later young were found in natal areas. This behavioral difference may be driven by earlier fledglings establishing territories in natal area before they leave. Younger fledglings may be less likely to know natal area, since many are quickly led from the area as soon as they can fly, often before they are independent of their parents. Once independent of their parents, they may be in habitat far from where they were raised, and may never find their way back, or need to do so.

Cowbird control from 1984-96 helped LBV increase state-wide from less than 450 pairs to more than 1400. Camp Pendleton, which had about 50 pairs in 1983, had nearly 900 pairs in 1996. Ironically, the once most-populous site, LPNF, fell from 55 pairs (1982) to less than 20 pairs (1991), rising to 30 pairs in 1993. When studies ended in 1994, there were fewer than 30 pairs. Cowbird egg and chick removal did not help much in the early 1980's. Later, high productivity at LPNF did not result in a significant increase. One likely explanation for the delay in population expansion at LPNF may be distance from habitat links through which expanding populations may progress. The isolated nature of the LPNF site may make it more of a sink than a source. That it could become an important source is indicated by the female found in Saticoy in 1996.

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Avian Monitoring and Restoration Efforts at Audubon's BobElaine Sanctuary

June C. Persson, Sacramento Audubon Society
BobElaine Audubon Sanctuary is 430 acres of riparian habitat in climax stage where the plants and animal life interact in a balanced fashion with their environment. BobElaine is a rare remnant of this once common habitat in the Great Valley of California. This sanctuary is owned by National Audubon Society and managed by Sacramento Audubon Society.

Since 1992 the sanctuary has suffered 2 devastating events. In September of 1992, a huge fire swept down 7 miles of riparian habitat on BobElaine south of Yuba City, on both sides of the river. In January 1997 the sanctuary was again clobbered, this time by a huge flood. BobElaine is located immediately opposite the Bear River where the Araboda flood waters were directed back into the Feather River. Huge amounts of debris accumulated throughout the sanctuary particularly in the outer periphery.

After the 1997 floods, several dedicated volunteers spent 2-3 weeks with chainsaws just to gain access to the sanctuary. Of primary concern to the management was the hundreds of trees that had been planted over the previous 2 years in restoration efforts, to replace Fremont cottonwoods and willow trees destroyed in the fire. Fortunately all fared well. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had awarded the sanctuary a matching grant for these restoration efforts.

The endangered Yellow-billed Cuckoo was seen regularly on the sanctuary prior to the fire but not since. It is hoped with the restoration efforts this species will eventually be enticed back. It is strongly suspected that a pair of the threatened Swainson's Hawk has been nesting on the sanctuary during the last 2 seasons.

Several research projects are on-going: John Rantlett runs a MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) station each spring and summer. Mist netting carried out in the fall surveys the migration of neotropical migratory birds. Point counts, area and nest searches are also conducted under the supervision of PRBO for their study of bird populations in riparian habitats. There are 2 Bluebird trails being monitored with information being sent to Don Yoder of California Bluebird Recovery Program.

All work done in the sanctuary is done on a volunteer basis. Do join us. Visitors are welcome to this riparian remnant. Contact the managers, Jan and Bill Clark, at 916-783-8305.

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Meetings And Announcements

California Partners In Flight meeting: July 18 and 19 (Friday and Saturday) at Richardson Bay Audubon, Marin County.

Cowbird Research and Management: Toward Improved Understanding in Western Landscapes: 23-25 October 1997 Red Lion Sacramento Inn, Sacramento, California. The objectives of this conference are 1) to share the latest information on cowbird ecology, behavior and management in the West, 2) to glean from research in the East, Midwest and South, those principles of cowbird ecology that are apt to be most pertinent to western landscapes and vegetation patterns, and 3) to define clear research priorities for the next 10 years that will lead to enhanced conservation of native bird populations through management. A published, peer-reviewed proceedings is planned.

Western Working Group Meeting: The next meeting of the Western Working group of Partners In Flight will be in Vancouver, British Columbia, August 6-10.

Thanksgiving Coffee Co. offers Song Bird Coffees, organic, shade grown coffee. Proceeds benefit the American Birding Association. 1-800-462-1999. Box 1918 Fort Bragg CA 95437.

Café Mam: "Say Mom" - organic, shade grown coffee grown by ISMAM, a co-op of Mayan farmers in Chiapas, Mexico. 2% of profits are donated to pesticide reform. 1-888-cafemam (toll free). Royal Blue Organics, P.O. Box 21123, Eugene, OR 97402.

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Production Credits: Flight Log, Issue 5, Edited by Grant Ballard, Mini Nagendran, Daniel Evans, and Geoff Geupel. Design and layout by Grant Ballard.

We thank the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the Winifred and Harry B. Allen Foundation, Chevron Corporation, and Shell Oil Company Foundation.


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