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Posts Tagged: California Naturalist

UC Cooperative Extension ramps up its climate change response

Reposted from UCANR News

While scientific reports continue to mount confirming that global climate change is increasing temperatures, causing more frequent weather extremes and raising the sea level in California, UC Cooperative Extension is working to ensure the worst predictions are avoided and California residents and businesses will be able to adapt to the change.

Each year, a diverse group of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources academics and program implementation professionals meet to share and collect the latest climate change experiences, ideas, science and solutions. The team works with farmers across the state to improve production practices and minimize environmental impact, conduct agricultural and natural resources conservation research, and coordinate programs like California Naturalist and UC Master Gardener, which recruit and educate volunteers to reach out to communities statewide to extend research-based information.

A possible climate change outcome in California may be returning farmland to less-intensive uses, such as grazing.
 

Reaching real people

In 2019, extension practitioners explored new approaches to delivery of information and services. For example, the first speaker addressed the way climate change impacts may be viewed through the lens of African-American or First Nation experiences, influenced by poverty, historical trauma and even spirituality.

Theopia Jackson, clinical psychologist at Saybrook University in Oakland, encouraged the team to consider whether assisting Americans navigating the changing climate or suffering the consequences of extreme weather events have “the bandwidth to take in one more helping hand.” Jackson has a long history of providing therapy services, specializing in serving populations coping with chronic illness and complex trauma.

Jackson suggested helpers ask themselves, “Are we inadvertently causing more stress than good? Do I have a sense for what they are already dealing with before bringing something new into the community?”

Jackson said the conversation about climate change in many communities might be more productive focused less on whether climate change exists or not, and instead on how to “join with them around the human experience.”

“If I'm trying to ‘talk them into it,' I need to step back,” Jackson said. “The conversation could be about scarcity or lifestyle. We need to find a way to join and hope they will get it before we've done irreversible damage.”

The careful selection of terminology and approach in climate change conversations was also raised by Dan Sonke, director of sustainable agriculture for Campbell's Soup. The company's primary and best-known product is soup, but it owns other familiar brands, including Pepperidge Farms, Snyder Pretzels, Kettle Chips and Emerald Nuts.

In California, Sonke works closely with farmers producing fresh produce to be used in Campbell's products, particularly processing tomatoes. During his career, he also worked in Campbell's marketing, based on its “corporate purpose.”

“We make real food for real people,” says the Campbell's corporate purpose. “People love that our food fits their real lives, fuels their bodies, and feeds their souls. And they appreciate knowing what goes into our food, and why — so they can feel good about the choices they make, for themselves and their loved ones.”

Sonke was hired to increase the use of sustainable farming practices by the company's producers and help farmers apply for grant funding from the state to implement climate-smart irrigation practices. The company was able to track a 20 percent reduction in water use and document a significant reduction in the emission of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. The program is successful, but isn't driving their farmer communications or soup sales, Sonke said.

“Farmers don't think in terms of climate change, but they respond to what they know,” Sonke said. “Consumers don't respond to climate change adaptation in terms of what products they buy. They respect sustainability, but have no understanding of ‘sustainable agriculture' and ‘carbon sequestration.'”

More extreme weather events - such as heavy rain, flooding, cold snaps and heat waves - are expected due to climate change.
 

Growing UCCE climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience programs

UC ANR is working on new ways to reach out to farmers and the public with information on climate change. Six community education specialists have been hired and four more are being recruited to work in counties around the state to help farmers access programs that will help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions on farms and dairies, build resilience to climate change and increase profit.

The Climate-Smart Farming Program is a collaborative effort with the California Department of Food and Agriculture focused on implementing on-farm solutions to improve soil health, nutrient management, irrigation management, on-farm composting and manure management.

The CDFA programs involved are:

The new community education specialists are already deployed in Mendocino, Glenn, Yolo, Santa Cruz, Ventura and San Diego counties. The four positions under recruitment will serve Imperial, San Joaquin, Fresno and Kern counties. To get information about these programs, contact:

Climate stewards

To reach a broad swath of California residents with research-based information on climate change mitigation and adaptation, UC ANR's California Naturalist program is leveraging its well-established partnerships with formal and informal science education institutions across the state to create a legion of climate stewards. At the team meeting, CalNat coordinator Greg Ira announced that the California Naturalist program has hired an academic coordinator to develop curriculum that will allow existing partners to deliver the material as part of the California Naturalist program. The graduates of this California Naturalist course focused on climate change will be encouraged to engage in volunteer service that helps build community resilience to climate change. These include participation in local adaptation planning efforts, community and citizen science projects, or addressing issues of social justice. The coordinator begins Feb. 19.

Areas where peaches and cherries have flourished in the past may no longer provide adequate winter chilling due to climate change.
 

The future

Renata Brillinger of the California Climate Action Network shared optimistic thoughts about the opportunities for climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience. In terms of politics, she said California leadership has accepted climate change as a settled matter and are supportive of programs to address the issue. At the federal level, it is not easy to talk about climate change, but “that will change,” she assured.

Brillinger said biodiversification of California is an exciting area for climate change adaptation. Research is needed to understand how to shift crop locations for future production, and determine where, for example, water-intensive crops or orchards with chill requirements should be grown. More information is needed, she said, on how healthy soil will relate to climate resilience in agriculture.

 “We have to reinvest in extension and Resource Conservation Districts,” Brillinger said.

Other possible climate change outcomes in California may be returning farmland to less-intensive uses, such as grazing. Fallowing land was one way that the agriculture industry coped with the drought of 2011-16, and implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – a direct result of the drought – is estimated to take 1 million acres of farmland out of production. This approach won't be a solution for all farmers and ranchers, said David Lile, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor.

“Ranchers and farmers interested in long-term sustainability, keeping the farm in place, will need help to integrate competing forces,” Lile said. “Economics will not be the only driving force.”

 

Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 at 8:56 AM
  • Author: jeannette warnert

UC Cooperative Extension ramps up its climate change response

While scientific reports continue to mount confirming that global climate change is increasing temperatures, causing more frequent weather extremes and raising the sea level in California, UC Cooperative Extension is working to ensure the worst predictions are avoided and California residents and businesses will be able to adapt to the change.

Each year, a diverse group of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources academics and program implementation professionals meet to share and collect the latest climate change experiences, ideas, science and solutions. The team works with farmers across the state to improve production practices and minimize environmental impact, conduct agricultural and natural resources conservation research, and coordinate programs like California Naturalist and UC Master Gardener, which recruit and educate volunteers to reach out to communities statewide to extend research-based information.

A possible climate change outcome in California may be returning farmland to less-intensive uses, such as grazing.
 

Reaching real people

In 2019, extension practitioners explored new approaches to delivery of information and services. For example, the first speaker addressed the way climate change impacts may be viewed through the lens of African-American or First Nation experiences, influenced by poverty, historical trauma and even spirituality.

Theopia Jackson, clinical psychologist at Saybrook University in Oakland, encouraged the team to consider whether assisting Americans navigating the changing climate or suffering the consequences of extreme weather events have “the bandwidth to take in one more helping hand.” Jackson has a long history of providing therapy services, specializing in serving populations coping with chronic illness and complex trauma.

Jackson suggested helpers ask themselves, “Are we inadvertently causing more stress than good? Do I have a sense for what they are already dealing with before bringing something new into the community?”

Jackson said the conversation about climate change in many communities might be more productive focused less on whether climate change exists or not, and instead on how to “join with them around the human experience.”

“If I'm trying to ‘talk them into it,' I need to step back,” Jackson said. “The conversation could be about scarcity or lifestyle. We need to find a way to join and hope they will get it before we've done irreversible damage.”

The careful selection of terminology and approach in climate change conversations was also raised by Dan Sonke, director of sustainable agriculture for Campbell's Soup. The company's primary and best-known product is soup, but it owns other familiar brands, including Pepperidge Farms, Snyder Pretzels, Kettle Chips and Emerald Nuts.

In California, Sonke works closely with farmers producing fresh produce to be used in Campbell's products, particularly processing tomatoes. During his career, he also worked in Campbell's marketing, based on its “corporate purpose.”

“We make real food for real people,” says the Campbell's corporate purpose. “People love that our food fits their real lives, fuels their bodies, and feeds their souls. And they appreciate knowing what goes into our food, and why — so they can feel good about the choices they make, for themselves and their loved ones.”

Sonke was hired to increase the use of sustainable farming practices by the company's producers and help farmers apply for grant funding from the state to implement climate-smart irrigation practices. The company was able to track a 20 percent reduction in water use and document a significant reduction in the emission of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. The program is successful, but isn't driving their farmer communications or soup sales, Sonke said.

“Farmers don't think in terms of climate change, but they respond to what they know,” Sonke said. “Consumers don't respond to climate change adaptation in terms of what products they buy. They respect sustainability, but have no understanding of ‘sustainable agriculture' and ‘carbon sequestration.'”

More extreme weather events - such as heavy rain, flooding, cold snaps and heat waves - are expected due to climate change.
 

Growing UCCE climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience programs

UC ANR is working on new ways to reach out to farmers and the public with information on climate change. Six community education specialists have been hired and four more are being recruited to work in counties around the state to help farmers access programs that will help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions on farms and dairies, build resilience to climate change and increase profit.

The Climate-Smart Farming Program is a collaborative effort with the California Department of Food and Agriculture focused on implementing on-farm solutions to improve soil health, nutrient management, irrigation management, on-farm composting and manure management.

The CDFA programs involved are:

The new community education specialists are already deployed in Mendocino, Glenn, Yolo, Santa Cruz, Ventura and San Diego counties. The four positions under recruitment will serve Imperial, San Joaquin, Fresno and Kern counties. To get information about these programs, contact:

Climate stewards

To reach a broad swath of California residents with research-based information on climate change mitigation and adaptation, UC ANR's California Naturalist program is leveraging its well-established partnerships with formal and informal science education institutions across the state to create a legion of climate stewards. At the team meeting, CalNat coordinator Greg Ira announced that the California Naturalist program has hired an academic coordinator to develop curriculum that will allow existing partners to deliver the material as part of the California Naturalist program. The graduates of this California Naturalist course focused on climate change will be encouraged to engage in volunteer service that helps build community resilience to climate change. These include participation in local adaptation planning efforts, community and citizen science projects, or addressing issues of social justice. The coordinator begins Feb. 19.

Areas where peaches and cherries have flourished in the past may no longer provide adequate winter chilling due to climate change.
 

The future

Renata Brillinger of the California Climate Action Network shared optimistic thoughts about the opportunities for climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience. In terms of politics, she said California leadership has accepted climate change as a settled matter and are supportive of programs to address the issue. At the federal level, it is not easy to talk about climate change, but “that will change,” she assured.

Brillinger said biodiversification of California is an exciting area for climate change adaptation. Research is needed to understand how to shift crop locations for future production, and determine where, for example, water-intensive crops or orchards with chill requirements should be grown. More information is needed, she said, on how healthy soil will relate to climate resilience in agriculture.

 “We have to reinvest in extension and Resource Conservation Districts,” Brillinger said.

Other possible climate change outcomes in California may be returning farmland to less-intensive uses, such as grazing. Fallowing land was one way that the agriculture industry coped with the drought of 2011-16, and implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – a direct result of the drought – is estimated to take 1 million acres of farmland out of production. This approach won't be a solution for all farmers and ranchers, said David Lile, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor.

“Ranchers and farmers interested in long-term sustainability, keeping the farm in place, will need help to integrate competing forces,” Lile said. “Economics will not be the only driving force.”

Posted on Friday, February 1, 2019 at 11:03 AM
  • Author: Jeannette Warnert

Celebrating the 100th California Naturalist class

Reposted from the UCANR Green Blog

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 Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 12:09 PM

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

Reprinted from the UCANR Green Blog

“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 11:41 AM
  • Author: Brook Gamble

Adina Merenlender: Building a new mode of extension for biodiversity conservation

Reposted from California Agriculture

When UC ANR conservation biologist Adina Merenlender launched the California Naturalist program in 2012, she was looking to do more than just educate people. She wanted to build a community — inspired to be stewards of the natural world and to push for the resources and policies needed to defend the state's threatened biodiversity.

“Success to me,” Merenlender said on an afternoon walk through the oak woodlands of the Hopland Research and Extension Center (REC), “is when the public connects directly with what UC has to offer and will go to bat for UC gardens, reserves and presses, and call for more faculty to study and teach natural history.”

https://ucanr.edu/calag/img7002p57b.jpg

Adina Merenlender, founder and director of the UC ANR California Naturalist program, is a UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in conservation biology based at the Hopland Research and Extension Center and an adjunct professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley.

Today, the program is blossoming. More than 1,500 participants have completed a California Naturalist course. The program now has a full-time academic coordinator, Greg Ira, and has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation and the California Wildlife Conservation Board, and in 2015 was honored as the program of the year by the national Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs. The second statewide California Naturalist conference is scheduled for September 9–11 at the Pali Mountain Center in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Through partnerships with more than 30 science and environmental education organizations around the state, the California Naturalist program provides 40-hour certification courses focused on natural history as well as stewardship and communication. The training encourages California Naturalists to volunteer around the state with natural resource agencies and nonprofit organizations, and participants are encouraged to engage in research, environmental monitoring, restoration work and education and outreach.

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The California Naturalist program encourages participants to engage in research, environmental monitoring and restoration work. Here, California Naturalists explore trace fossils with geologist Ed Clifton at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Monterey County.

“The desire to learn about natural history is insatiable,” Merenlender said. “We're giving motivated people a way to help out.”

The mix of science and action that characterizes the California Naturalist program mirrors the 20-year UC ANR career of Merenlender, a Cooperative Extension (UCCE) specialist based at Hopland REC and an adjunct professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley.

The threat that development poses to intact natural landscapes has driven Merenlender's work since her early years with UC ANR. In the late 1990s, Merenlender and her collaborators used satellite land-cover data to track and project the rapid expansion of vineyards in Sonoma County (Merenlender 2000). In calling out this agricultural growth as a threat to habitat and biodiversity, the work put Merenlender at odds with the powerful wine industry.

Merenlender stood by the work and her role as conservation biologist trying to change the world — and still does.

“I try to make my work constructive and to offer solutions,” she said. “But you do have to daylight the issues.”

Mediterranean stream restoration

Merenlender then led us down to a seasonal creek at Hopland REC that illustrates a related strand of her research — the restoration of streams in Mediterranean climate systems.

As part of a long-term study, one section of a creek degraded by early clearing and dredging was fenced in the 1980s to exclude deer and other large herbivores, while an adjacent section was left open.

Standing on the sun-bleached cobbles of the unfenced reach, Merenlender points out the dense vegetation that now covers the fenced area — much as it likely did before the area was settled.

https://ucanr.edu/calag/img7002p58a.jpg

Research by Merenlender and her collaborators has helped to transform the practice of stream restoration in Mediterranean climates.

In studying streams like this one, Merenlender and graduate student Jeff Opperman made two findings that have shaped the way stream restoration is conducted in much of California.

First, they determined that woody debris — the key to the pools and varied stream channels that characterize good habitat for native salmonids — is of a different nature in Mediterranean-climate oak woodland systems than in wetter coastal forests. In oak woodland areas like Hopland REC, the woody debris in creeks is generally alive — low branches of oaks, bays, and thickets of willows — while in coastal conifer forests, it is primarily dead wood — fallen trunks and branches.

Their second finding, illustrated by the fence enclosure, was that deer can inhibit the recovery of such ecosystems by eating woody plants before they have a chance to mature to the point where they can provide shade and the important woody debris.

Together, these results shifted the approach to stream restoration in Mediterranean ecosystems: Instead of introducing large woody debris, as is done in coastal evergreen forests, the focus is on creating conditions that allow stream vegetation to regenerate, providing important shade, and helping to restore stream morphology for improved salmon habitat.

https://ucanr.edu/calag/img7002p58b.jpg

Long-term study sites on Parson's Creek at Hopland REC show the effect of deer herbivory on the recovery of natural cover in a degraded riparian zone. A site not protected from deer, left, has virtually no woody vegetation. By contrast, a site fenced in the 1980s, right, is now densely vegetated, providing shade and helping to form pools, both of which benefit fish.

Rethinking agricultural ponds

Merenlender's work on vineyard expansion and stream restoration then came together in a body of research, conducted with several graduate students and other collaborators, that shifted the politics of grapes, fish and water in wine country.

It began with several studies of the role of water quantity in salmonid recovery in Mediterranean-climate watersheds (Christian-Smith and Merenlender 2010) and the impacts of upstream water use — from vineyards as well as rural residential pumping — on summer stream flows and juvenile salmon survivorship (Grantham et al 2012).

At the same time that her lab reported the collective impact on salmon survivorship of diverting water from streams to irrigate vineyards during the dry season, Merenlender's team provided models that demonstrated agricultural ponds placed correctly don't necessarily impact winter salmon runs as previously thought and should be used where possible to offset summer pumping and thus — in many, though not all, cases — provide a benefit to fish (Deitch et al 2013).

This finding helped to shift the thinking about farm ponds in the environmental community and among state water regulators, with the practical result that the review process, which was essentially stopped around 1993 due to concern for salmon and litigation by environmental groups, was resumed, allowing farmers to move forward with the permitting process for a new pond.

That work also changed Merenlender's reputation in the wine grape industry. Once seen as an antagonist for trying to stave off habitat conversion, she was invited to speak at grower meetings on water management solutions.

“You have to stick with it long enough that your enemies become your friends,” she said.

Half for us, half for them

But Merenlender still has concerns about the wine grape industry — and about the state of biodiversity conservation more broadly. While wine industry players large and small have embraced the idea of sustainability in their operations, many don't consider the conversion of natural landscapes into vineyards to be a problem, she said. Likewise, for all of California's environmental leadership in areas like reducing greenhouse gas emissions and managing air pollution, the state hasn't made a serious effort to stop the chief cause of biodiversity loss: the development of natural lands for residential and agricultural use.

“When we're talking about habitat, in a state with the most endangered species, we need to be thinking about what E.O. Wilson said: ‘Half for us, half for them,'” she said, quoting the renowned Harvard biologist considered the father of the academic study of biodiversity. “If we're serious about biodiversity, we're going to have to set meaningful targets for conserving California's native ecosystems and manage these ecosystems.”

Building support and enthusiasm for that type of conservation is one of Merenlender's hopes for the California Naturalist program. In the coming years, she foresees a day when the California Naturalists will play a role, perhaps through “day-at-the-Capitol” visits to Sacramento. She's also hoping that UC natural resource academics will connect directly with the California Naturalists about their research and information to help stave off a sixth mass extinction — capitalizing on the power of this new community.

“Working with our partnering organizations around the state, we are creating a whole new mode of natural resource extension,” she said.

With leadership from Associate Director Sabrina Drill, California Naturalist is dedicated to broadening the California Naturalist community to include more diversity in age, race and income.

One difficulty in raising money for the California Naturalist program is that institutional donors who fund environmental education tend to support only primary and secondary school programs; there's very little support for adult programs. Merenlender thinks that programs targeting young adults is essential.

“That's when you set your compass,” she said.

https://ucanr.edu/calag/img7002p59.jpg

Above, California Naturalists learn about the plants and animals of the American River Parkway at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center near Sacramento.

Merenlender grew up in Los Angeles, and didn't have much interaction with the natural world in childhood beyond watching Wild Kingdom on Sunday evenings. She was more than halfway through her undergraduate years at UC San Diego when she got involved in her first conservation biology project, a study of African rhinoceroses.

Today, her research is focused on how conservation efforts can best support biodiversity, for instance by planning for habitat connectivity and the effects of the changing climate. She advises a number of land trusts and public land agencies on systematic conservation planning, and co-authored the first comprehensive book on wildlife corridor planning (Hilty et al 2012).

The threat of extinction is on Merenlender's mind even here in the 5,300 acres of quiet, protected hills and valleys that make up Hopland REC.

Tracyina rostrata, a small flowering annual, is now found only at Hopland REC. The center's staff monitor the known populations of the plant regularly, and its numbers appear to be shrinking.

“We used to have four sites,” Merenlender said. “Now it seems to be down to one site. Gulp.”

Posted on Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at 5:34 AM
  • Author: Jim Downing

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