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Posts Tagged: California Naturalist

Celebrating the 100th California Naturalist class

How did we get here and where shall we venture together?

This spring, the 100th California Naturalist class is being offered in Sonoma County – the very same county where we first piloted the curriculum. The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources California Naturalist Program is designed to introduce Californians to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage the public in study and stewardship of California's natural communities. The program mission is to foster a diverse community of naturalists and promote stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service. California Naturalist certification courses combine classroom and field experience in science, problem-solving, communication training and community service. Students are taught by an instructor and team of experts who are affiliated with the University of California, local nature-based centers, community colleges,  land trusts, or natural resource focused agencies such as California State Parks and cooperating “friends groups.”

A California Naturalist explores the creek.

What inspired the first California Naturalist class? Georgia, Florida, Texas and 22 other states have Master Naturalist-like programs, so why not California? After all, California is a global biodiversity hotspot filled with nature enthusiasts. It took a volunteer, Julia Fetherston, to get excited about the potential for a California program before our director Adina Merenlender was convinced to attend the 2005 National Master Naturalist Annual Conference in Estes Park, Colo. She was impressed with the impact these programs were having and decided to see what we could do in the Golden State. A good deal of effort followed to advance the cause within UC, secure grant funding, write the California Naturalist Handbook, develop ways to work with organizations across the state, and build a team to run California Naturalist. In 2012, we officially launched the program with five intrepid institutional partners (Santa Rosa Junior College/Pepperwood Foundation, Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station, and Santa Barbara Botanical Garden). Four years later California Naturalist received Program of the Year from the national network, the Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs.

The 100th California Naturalist class is being offered at Stewards of the Coast and Redwood this spring. Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods is a non-profit, environmental and interpretive organization that works in partnership with California State Parks in the Russian River Sector of the Sonoma Mendocino Coast District to support volunteer, education and stewardship programs. Participants in this year's spring class have worked hard on a wide range of capstone projects, including multiple wildlife monitoring citizen science projects, improving fish habitat in the watershed, and creating educational materials on ticks, wetland birds, water quality and more. Co-instructors Meghan Walla-Murphy and David Berman have been teaching California Naturalist courses since 2013, first with Occidental Arts and Ecology Center and now with Stewards. Meghan is the author of Fishing on the Russian River and a well-respected wildlife tracker whose workshops are not to be missed. David is an extraordinary environmental educator, watershed expert, and Project Wild facilitator with the Sonoma County Water Agency.

 

2017 Stewards of the Coast & Redwoods class at their Bodega Dunes campout.

Now that we have 100 classes under our belt, oh, the places we can go! California Naturalist is a community of practice started deliberately with the goal of gaining natural history knowledge. We are working on releasing a citizen science challenge to provide an opportunity for California Naturalists to discover more about California's ecosystems - Discovery!

Surveys show that California Naturalists feel more empowered to address environmental challenges after their training and knowing they can lean on their fellow naturalists. We would like to know more about how California Naturalists are participating in civic engagement. With a new volunteer management system on the horizon, we plan to learn more about the many ways Naturalists are becoming involved in issues that affect their communities. - Action!

In particular, what activities are Naturalists doing that will help communities and natural ecosystems be more resilient to climate change – improving habitat connectivity, restoring riparian areas, or pre/post fire management?  We are looking for support to start an advanced training aimed at helping today's climate stewards learn more about climate science and adaptation to support their efforts on climate-wise - Stewardship!

Congratulations to the graduates of the 100th California Naturalist class and all those who went before you.

Naturalists from the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority's Bridge to Park Careers program.
Posted on Monday, April 17, 2017 at 8:55 AM

Feeling welcome in nature is essential to caring and wanting to learn more

“Feeling welcome in nature is essential to caring and wanting to learn more.” José González (Latino Outdoors), Plenary speaker at the UC California Naturalist conference 

Listening to Tom Ramos and his family who are Yuhaviatam, people of the pines, welcome all the naturalists to their land and share the sacred big horn sheep song was a wonderful way to honor the fact that native people are still here (Mütu č iip qac) and have a rich traditional ecological knowledge to share. This and all of the shared experiences that followed at the 2016 California Naturalist Conference reveal the enthusiasm this growing community has for nature and their dedication to paying attention to natural wonders. Author and artist John Muir Laws affirms that nature can be fascinating wherever you are. With a pine cone in hand we all noticed, wondered, and discussed what the cone reminded us of - "a cobra ready to strike" or "beaver tails going into a hole."

San Manuel Bird Singers from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians welcome naturalists to their land at the opening ceremony.

Meeting in the San Bernardino Mountains surrounded by conifers and endemic plants and just a stone's throw from the Southern California urban core, California Naturalists and world-class experts gathered to learn from one another. Naturalists are leading efforts to strengthen local community stewardship efforts and engaging the public in citizen science. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, among others, is extending the power of citizen science for cataloging local biodiversity and the LA Neighborhood Land Trust is working to provide green space to those who are living without access to nature. The power that art has to connect with nature was illustrated by Elkpen's poignant signage reminding Angelenos that grizzlies once roamed where they now live and black pheobes can still be found locally. All of these actions on the ground help build resilient communities and landscapes in the face of the global change scenarios that were presented.  

Naturalists at the closing ceremony.

“UC California Naturalist is creating a vibrant, thriving, inclusive environmental movement for the 21st century.” Jon Christensen (UCLA), Plenary speaker at the UC California Naturalist conference

Thanks to conference sponsors, trainers, speakers, instructors, and our organizing committee, California Naturalists from all walks of life had a chance to meet one another, become familiar with new directions in environmental science, conservation, and communication, and share their enthusiasm for nature. We hosted over 275 participants and provided 60 scholarships to attending California Naturalists. Several attendees and organizations received well-deserved awards ranging from the individual with the most volunteer hours in 2015 (Melinda Frost-Hurzel from Sierra Streams Institute, 760) to the most iNaturalist observations by a California Naturalist partner project (Pasadena City College, 13,383), and the partner with the most trained California Naturalists (UCSC Arboretum, 145) with an important shout out to everyone for becoming a California Naturalist and working to strengthen our network.

The information sharing was powerful but perhaps the most important outcome was the opportunity for kindred spirits to share the weekend, forge new and lasting relationships, and learn how we can best set future collaborations in motion. The value of providing access to the California Naturalist program and working to make everyone feel welcome really paid off in the interactions we had star gazing, sharing at the poster session, and on the field trips.

The California Naturalist community of practice shares a passion for learning together and providing service to nature and environmental science. The 2016 conference showed that working together, we can include participation from Californians of all ages and backgrounds to foster discovery, action, and stewardship on behalf of nature.

Naturalists explore Whitewater Preserve.
Posted on Tuesday, October 4, 2016 at 9:30 AM

First national celebration for citizen science in April

Citizen science is really picking up steam with the White House honoring 12 “Champions of Change” for their dedication to increasing public engagement in science and science literacy and the recent launching of a new Citizen Science Association. This year the momentum continues and everyone will be able to celebrate the first national Citizen Science Day on April 16, 2016, when the Citizen Science Association and SciStarter will promote and inspire organizations around the country to host events in celebration of public participation in scientific research. A major celebration will be held in conjunction with the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. This will kick off a series of citizen science open houses and activities to be locally sponsored by science centers, museums, libraries, universities and schools, and federal agencies nationwide.

What is “citizen science” exactly? Citizen science involves engaging non-professionals in scientific research. While applied across many disciplines of science, including biochemistry, astronomy, and psychology, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' California Naturalist Program (CalNat) specifically empowers participants and partners to use citizen science to inform natural resource management. To understand and protect natural resources, scientists and decision makers often need information over long time periods and across many locations. Citizen science is one crowd-sourced

Naturalists in the Sierra Streams Institute California Naturalist course conduct water quality surveys.
approach to gathering that information. More feet on the ground can translate into more data collection to fill any gaps in knowledge. Because we live in an increasingly connected and technology-driven world, the potential of citizen science to solve real-world problems is considerable. Low-tech ways to engage in citizen science exist, but with the advent of hand-held devices, apps, high resolution camera phones, and Internet connections that know no geographic boundaries, the public is a particularly well outfitted resource for ecological data collection.

The CalNat Program has incorporated citizen science in the training curriculum from the program's inception. One of the program's primary goals is to increase public participation in natural resource conservation and citizen science projects throughout the state. Each partnering organization offering a CalNat certification course must adopt a class citizen science project so that each course participant gains experience in data collection and entry. Course participants are introduced to the interactive, on-line iNaturalist tool, where users can record observations from nature, develop online species lists and journals, meet other naturalists, and contribute to research-grade observations at the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. While some partner organizations already have an active

Back in the lab, Sierra Streams Institute Naturalists learn how to analyze their water samples for macro invertebrates and contaminants.
go-to citizen science project, other partners may decide to choose a project from the CalNat Program's public, vetted online database of California citizen science and PPSR projects, the largest of its kind in this state. The searchable citizen science database is a useful tool for anyone who is eager to explore the myriad of citizen science opportunities, to get or stay involved in a particular field, and to keep developing new skills and interests.

Together, with the Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs (ANROSP), we anticipate celebrating the first national Citizen Science Day on April 16 with our 16 scheduled spring California Naturalist courses and the 26 other Naturalist programs around the nation.

Posted on Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 7:05 AM

Even without rain, the California Naturalist Program blooms in Southern California

Naturalists at Tejon Ranch Conservancy hike through oak woodland overlooking agricultural fields, two iconic California landscapes.

In the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, people sometimes forget that Southern California actually has a wealth of natural open spaces. From the Mojave desert to four National Forests, Southern California supports vast wilderness spaces, many just a stone's throw from major cities. And if one looks closely, even those urban centers are filled with recreational parks and trails in an attempt to sate our appetite to connect with nature.

Naturalists observe native species and explore the L.A. River during field trips with the USC Sea Grant/SEA Lab CalNat course.
This hungry audience is driving rapid growth of UC Agriculture and Natural ResourcesCalifornia Naturalist Program. Established programs such as those offered by Pasadena City College, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and the Tejon Ranch Conservancy are being joined by new and developing partners. Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority manages land in both the Santa Monica Mountains and downtown Los Angeles. MRCA incorporated the CalNat curriculum into a longer Bridge to Park Careers workforce training program, resulting in the hiring of a cadre of new rangers well-versed in California natural history.

The University of Southern California Sea Grant program and the LA Conservation Corps SEA Lab teamed up to expose young adults from underserved communities to the coastal ecosystems of Southern California and potential jobs in the environmental field. The Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum brings together California's rich cultural and natural histories in the heart of south Los Angeles County. Additional CalNat programs will soon be popping up in Cambria, Carlsbad, Riverside, Ojai, and Big Bear, and we're working to develop partnerships in San Diego and Orange Counties and along the L.A. River.

The CalNat curriculum highlights the incredible diversity of our state; the California Floristic Province is considered one of the 25 global biodiversity hotspots. This designation means that the region is home to a huge number of endemic species (those found nowhere else), but also that it shows an alarmingly high degree of habitat loss. Our mild Mediterranean climate and varying topography contribute to a diversity of species, but these are also attractive features to humans.

The 10 counties that define Southern California cover only a third of the state geographically, but they hold nearly two-thirds of the population, more than 22 million people. What an amazing pool of potential naturalists! And in neat symmetry with our diversity in geology and biology, perhaps no place in California exemplifies demographic diversity like Los Angeles. As our program expands, especially in the southern part of the state, CalNat is placing great emphasis on bringing our approach of “stewardship through discovery and action” to participants from a broad range of backgrounds.

A hike to the Hollywood sign lends a far-off view of downtown beyond Griffith Park.
But interpreting nature in Southern California holds unique challenges. In this arid land, agriculture and urban residents fight fiercely over scarce water (much of it imported from elsewhere), an even more contentious resource in our current drought conditions. And fire, though common throughout the state, is a particularly prickly topic in a region with so many homes.

Urban ecology is an emerging science built around the complexity of survival pressures and species interactions in human-impacted environments. In Southern California, dense human populations live cheek-by-jowl with coyotes, raccoons, rattlesnakes, bears, and mountain lions, and our habits and infrastructure influence their movements. Human development often fragments natural habitats, creating isolated islands that may not support viable populations of native species and may favor invasions by non-natives. As these environments lose functionality, we lose important “ecosystem services,” such as flood buffering by coastal wetlands.

So it's all the more important that Southern Californians take a greater interest in understanding and shaping our place in the natural world. If we can forge meaningful connections with the natural resources in the places we live, we can learn to protect those resources. This is already starting to happen, with initiatives like L.A.'s Sustainable City pLAn, the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, and countless Internet blogs about local hiking trails, not to mention plenty of conservation organizations that have operated in Southern California for years and often partner with CalNat to offer courses.

In 2014, nearly 200 California Naturalists from partner organizations throughout the state came together in Asilomar for a conference to appreciate our natural resources and to celebrate each other's efforts in habitat restoration, citizen science, and interpretation. But our CalNat community has grown immensely, and we expect an even greater number to join us for field trips, lectures, trainings, and fun when we convene again in 2016, this time in Southern California. In the meantime, CalNat courses will continue to spring up all over the Southland, so those 22 million people won't have to fight traffic to find a class, and some nature, close to home.

Posted on Wednesday, September 2, 2015 at 9:14 AM
  • Author: Shayna Foreman

King Fire provides learning opportunities

Rubicon River, El Dorado National Forest

Over a dozen UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) California Naturalists, fire ecology experts, wildlife biologists, resource managers, educators, and artists met at UC Berkeley's Blodgett Forest Research Station and the adjacent El Dorado National Forest April 23 and 24, and not one of them complained about the much-needed deluge of rain and intermittent hail that soaked the group. The weekend's ambitious goal? To dive deeply into a UC California Naturalist Program and California Fire Science Consortium advanced training workshop on the subject of wildfire effects on Sierran mixed conifer forests.

With the 2014 El Dorado National Forest's King Fire as a case study, a mix of lectures, field studies, art, field journaling techniques, and Native American story telling were used to examine land management practices that influence fire behavior and explore how the landscape recovers from fire. UC ANR Cooperative Extension Central Sierra's forestry advisor Susie Kocher and community education specialist Kim Ingram organized and facilitated the workshop.

King Fire soil burn severity map

Blodgett Forest, situated on the Georgetown Divide in El Dorado County, was donated to the University of California in 1933 to provide a research site and practical demonstrations of forestry for students, forest industry, and the public. The adjacent El Dorado National Forest is home to the notorious September-October 2014 King Fire that burned 97,000 acres of forest, including 63,000 acres of public land. Aided by low relative humidity and wind, the fire spread quickly up the steep Rubicon River and surrounding subwatersheds. According to the incident report, approximately 46 percent of the burn area burned at a high and moderate soil burn severity, consuming all organic duff on the soil surface along with leaves and needles on standing live vegetation.

Workshop participants were treated to a lecture and field studies of basic fire ecology concepts by Scott Stephens, professor of fire science at UC Berkeley. Stephens lectured in class, and later demonstrated on a number of wet, lush forested treatment plots in the field, topics ranging from fire policy, fuels management options and objectives, and carbon sequestration to fire suppression consequences, fire behavior and severity, soil stability, and post-fire forest structure.  Stephens is a researcher with the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP), a long-term collaborative research project investigating how forest fuels thinning impacts fire behavior, fire risk, wildlife, forest health, and water. Fire is a vital to maintaining healthy California forests and ecosystems and Stephens's work demonstrates that both prescribed fire and its mechanical thinning replacements can successfully change forest structure and fuel loads, resulting in potential overall improvement of forest health. He finds that treated forest stands are more resistant and resilient to high-intensity wildfire and that these treatments have minor to negligible negative impacts on birds and small mammals, understory plant diversity, exotic plant invasions, and insect attack. Current and future research is in part focused on the impact and feasibility of treatments across the landscape.

Also joining participants was Sheila Whitmore from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Whitmore is the assistant project leader on SNAMP's owl team, which studies how fuel reduction treatments affect California spotted owl survival, forest occupancy, and reproductive success. The California spotted owl is one of three sub-species of spotted owls and the only spotted owl that has not yet been placed on the endangered species list, although its population is widely thought to be declining. Late in the evening, accompanied by Whimore, three nocturnal field technicians, and armed with tools of the trade like bird call whistles and flashlights, participants quietly slogged deep into the forest along the 22-mile system of El Dorado Irrigation District canals, listening for the territorial four-note hoot of the California spotted owl. While the crew eventually found one female owl on the night hike, the owl team has just started surveying breeding territories this spring and are uncertain how and if the owls will be impacted by the King Fire. Modeling efforts and a radio telemetry study seek answers to questions about demography, habitat, individual range size, and foraging preferences, given different levels of severity in burned forests.

Day two of the workshop, under warm sunshine, began with a discussion of Native American fire ecology and traditional stories shared by Kimberly Shiningstar Petree. Petree is a Tumelay Nissenan Miwok, the cultural preservation officer for her tribe, and the founder of the Cosumnes Culture and Waterways, a non-profit dedicated to promoting, preserving, and stewarding Indigenous Culture and waterways of their land. As told by a descendant of the first stewards of the area's forests and a carrier of an ancient oral tradition, the fire stories that Petree shared with the group were both relevant to today's fire management practices, and moving, setting a positive tone for the rest of the day.

Patricia Trimble, El Dorado National Forest's Georgetown district ranger, and Laurie Wigham, illustrator, painter and art teacher, accompanied participants on field activities. Trimble took participants on a road-based tour of the King Fire, demonstrating the effects of low, moderate and severe fire on the landscape. She shared information on consequences of long-term fire suppression, fire impacts, Forest Service strategies for protecting cultural resources, forest replanting and erosion abatement efforts, National Environmental Policy Act regulations, and public perception of fire. More than seven months after the fire, the Forest Service has just opened the burn back up to the public, and the public was out in force mushroom hunting, fishing, and cutting firewood within the high severity areas of the King Fire.

Wigham thoughtfully braided art and field journaling techniques seamlessly into the stops along the way. She shared inexpensive and novel ways to document the landscape in a group or individual setting at difference scales. She offered low-tech tricks to help participants deepen their ability to absorb dense and technical information, observe nature closely and scientifically, and to connect with feelings about a place and time in nature.

Lectures, field study, art, field journaling techniques, knowledge sharing, and Native American story telling: supported by a solid framework of current science topics and research results, they all had their place in this advanced training workshop. Each individual piece of the fire ecology workshop was enriching and informative, and forced participants to move deeper and more thoughtfully into their understanding of the dense topic than they might on their own. The regeneration of the El Dorado National Forest after the King Fire will undoubtedly provide inspiration, research, and education opportunities far into the future.

The UC California Naturalist Program uses a science curriculum, hands-on learning and service to inspire stewardship of the state's natural resources. The public and UC-certified Naturalists alike may sign up for future California Naturalist Advanced Trainings here.

Posted on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 9:05 AM

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