California Naturalist
California Naturalist
California Naturalist
University of California
California Naturalist

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

Comments:

1.
Several years ago I became certified as an Interpretive Guide and heard about the Naturalist Program. I've been carrying a flame of desire to get training & get involved. As a former teacher, current Master Gardener I hope for more local opportunities. I reside on the border of 3 southern California counties (Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino) & look forward to some training/volunteering opportunities that don't involve hours of commute on our overcrowded freeways.  
Please bring more partnerships. Try reaching out to Mount San Antonio College in their biology dept., try Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens through their college affliation, The Santa Ana Watershed Project (Chino) and Fullerton College (The Fullerton Arboretum). These are just a few ideas hope to see more local training opportunities come available.  
Thank you.

Posted by E. Haffner on September 3, 2015 at 1:45 AM

2.
Thanks for your enthusiasm and support, E.! I hope some of our new programs starting up will make it easier for you to join a class. If you would like to see additional organizations host a CalNat class, we encourage you to contact their education or volunteer staff and champion our program! We get the best results when organizations recognize the need in their community and come to us already invested in the program. Our website has great information on the benefits to partner organizations: http://calnat.ucanr.edu/Become_a_sponsor_instructor/">http://calnat.ucanr.edu/Become_a_sponsor_instructor/. If you haven't already, please sign up for our e-newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay abreast of our upcoming programs--links to all these on our website at http://calnat.ucanr.edu/. We are so excited to develop more classes in southern California because we need more naturalists like you!

Posted by Shayna Foreman on September 3, 2015 at 12:01 PM

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