Local group honors Sacramento biologist with Beeler Award

Sacramento-based biologist Jessa Kay Cruz works with the Xerces Society to help protect pollinators throughout the state. She also played a key role in the foundation of the Lockeford Plant Materials Center (CAPMC).

Each year, the Lower Mokelumne River Watershed Stewardship Steering Committee awards the Frank R. Beeler Stewardship Award to someone who works hard to protect the local watershed.

While the award is typically announced during the annual East Bay Municipal Utility District’s Pardee Barbecue in October, this year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

Instead, this week, the steering committee, along with EBMUD, the Lower Mokelumne River Partnership, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, named Jessa Kay Cruz to receive the 2021 award.

Cruz is the senior pollinator conservation specialist for The Xerces Society in California, an international nonprofit organization that protects the natural world through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. It is a science-based organization, conducting research and using the most up-to-date information to guide their conservation work.

Cruz is also a partner biologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

While she lives and works in Sacramento, Cruz said her work with the Xerces Society takes her all over California.

Cruz has been with the Xerces Society for more than 13 years, and said she loves everything about working there, as well as its science-based approach to conservation.

“When I started working with Xerces, I focused mostly on protecting and creating biodiversity and conserving pollinators on working lands, such as farms and ranches,” she said. “Since then, I have expanded my work to include even more diverse landscapes such as natural areas, forests, urban farms and city parks. I love the way my work connects me to the entire ecosystem in which I’m working — from the pollinators to the plants to the people.”

Cruz holds a Master of Science degree in environmental entomology and integrated pest management from California State University, Chico, and a bachelor’s degree in sustainable farming from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.

Since joining Xerces in 2008, Cruz has worked in agricultural and natural lands to create habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects, and to promote practices that support them.

She provides education and technical support to a range of individuals and agencies, including farmers and ranchers, agricultural professionals and land managers.

A collaboration between Cruz and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Lockeford Plant Materials Center (CAPMC) on the Lower Mokelumne River provides information on pollinator establishment and management.

Kathy Grant, the City of Lodi’s watershed program coordinator, said Cruz is a frequent speaker at outreach events and training sessions that occur in the area, including the CAPMC Field Days and Open Days, CAPMC training events, and Lodi Winegrape Commission grower meetings.

Cruz has also created outreach materials for Lodi grape growers, including an article on beneficial insects in the recent publication “What Every Winegrower Should Know: Viruses.”

Grant said miles of new hedgerows have been planted in the past two years thanks to Cruz’s outreach and skills connecting local growers with the resources they need to select native plants, obtain financial assistance through grants, and access technical information for hedgerow management.

“Jessa embodies the Beeler Award spirit by enthusiastically supporting stewardship practices based on sound science, assisting others with conservation efforts to enhance the Mokelumne River watershed to encourage them to make the best use of the natural resources, and engaging with the community through education,” Grant said.

The Frank R. Beeler Watershed Stewardship Award is presented annually to acknowledge and recognize an individual or organization within the Lower Mokelumne River watershed who has shown outstanding leadership, responsibility, or activism in the promotion of sound and innovative natural resource stewardship practices that help sustain the environment and enhance productivity and profitability in the Mokelumne River watershed.

“Despite a busy schedule full of diverse responsibilities, Jessa always makes time to provide help that really makes an impact, and even saves growers money in the long run by reducing the need for irrigation and pesticides,” Grant said.

The Lower Mokelumne River Watershed stretches from the base of Camanche Reservoir to the confluence with the Cosumnes River.

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