The NRS is strongly committed to public outreach and inclusion, citizen engagement, and broader public education. Although most sites are not open to general use, a broad array of public education programs and activities occur at NRS reserves.
Science of the Seasons
Volunteers learn to identify plant parts at a California Phenology Project training at Sedgwick Reserve. Image credit: Brian Haggerty
The California Phenology Project has trained dozens of docents, teachers, and other volunteers to observe and record the passage life stages of selected plants over many years. By observing the date of events such as leaf out, fruit production, and leaf drop in plant life cycles, members of the public help track the effects of climate change on state ecosystems. More than 100 sites at eight reserves (Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Coal Oil Point Reserve, Hastings Natural History Reservation, Kenneth S. Norris Rancho Marino Reserve, Sedgwick Reserve, Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory, Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve, Valentine Camp) and seven national parks are being monitored in the program.
Floating nest platforms at Kendall-Frost Marsh Reserve improve the breeding success of the endangered light-footed clapper rail. Image credit: Roy Little
Bringing Back Native Species
A large number of NRS reserves are involved in restoring native biodiversity to California's altered landscapes. The community docent program at Coal Oil Point Reserve educates beachgoers about endangered western snowy plovers nesting in the dunes, and helps ensure the rookery remains undisturbed by hikers, dogs, and others using the publicly accessible beach. Volunteers at McLaughlin Natural Reserve remove invasive weeds and test new ways to encourage native plant regrowth. The state's rarest amphibian, the southern mountain yellow-legged frog, is being reintroduced to the wild at the James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve from captive-bred animals. San Joaquin Marsh Reserve provides seeds and plants with local genotypes for revegetation projects. At Sedgwick Reserve, docents run a native plant nursery to restore reserve landscapes. Floating artificial nest platforms at Kendall-Frost Marsh Reserve protect eggs and young of the endangered light-footed clapper rail from predators and high tides.
Citizen scientists can use the iNaturalist app to upload image records of plants and animals sighted at NRS reserves. Volunteers at Sagehen Creek Field Station, for example, have already documented 426 taxa in 1,979 total observations. Information on the presence and absence of reserve biota helps researchers evaluate ecosystem health and monitor the impacts of climate change and other stressors on California's biodiversity.
A new forest management approach at Sagehen Creek Field Station uses controlled burns and other methods to improve conditions for wildlife and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Image credit: Kathleen Wong
More than 150 years of fire suppression and management to maximize timber production in the Sierra Nevada has resulted in limited diversity in tree species, sizes and ages; fuels accumulation; susceptibility to drought and disease; and lower quality habitat for wildlife. Sagehen Creek Field Station is the test site for a new U.S. Forest Service approach called Strategically Placed Land Area Treatments (SPLATs) that thins the forest to produce habitat diversity while minimizing burn intensity. Stakeholders ranging from loggers, environmentalists, agency staff, academics, NGOs, and interested citizens learned about and commented on the process, a collaboration that produced unprecedented acceptance by participants.
Reserve managers at Sagehen Creek Field Station are helping to reduce collisions between cars and wildlife along a busy road adjacent to the reserve. Surrounded by national forest lands, the road also bisects the migration route of a local deer herd. The Highway 89 Stewardship Team worked with CalTrans to identify the best location for an animal underpass, and is now working on a second crossing.
California is one of five places in the world that experience the pattern of warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters known as a Mediterranean climate. These areas, which include Central Chile, Western Australia, the Cape Region of South Africa, and the Mediterranean Basin, have much in common. Their large human populations exert extreme development pressure on highly diverse ecosystems. Each experiences frequent drought and fire. And species native to one region frequently become invasive in another. The NRS connects people working in Mediterranean climate ecosystems via two organizations. The Mediterranean-Type Ecosystem Thematic Group (MTEG) is an international network of experts within the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) who share findings and conduct public programs on the sustainable management of Mediterranean-climate ecosystems. The International Cooperative for the Management of Mediterranean-Climate Ecosystems (INCOMME) encourages land managers to exchange knowledge and learn best practices for handling common challenges.
Both Stebbins Cold Canyon and Scripps Coastal reserves are open to the public year round for recreation. Several other reserves, including Younger Lagoon and Coal Oil Point, include some lands traditionally used by the public that are still accessible to surfers and hikers. Schoolchildren and the public can attend tours of Jepson Prairie Reserve throughout spring, when rainfall triggers blooms of tiny endemic flowers and a frenzy of egg laying among rare fairy shrimp and California tiger salamanders.
Access to most NRS sites is controlled to protect resources, but many reserves welcome the public to open houses, visits by community groups, and more. Reserves such as Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center, White Mountain Research Station, and the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory host free public lectures by faculty, researchers, and other experts on topics ranging from conservation biology to human medicine, climate change to rock art. McLaughlin Natural Reserve, Valentine Camp, and Sedgwick Reserve hold public hikes featuring experts on natural history. Sedgwick also hosts star parties at its Byrne Observatory for youth enrichment programs and local astronomy clubs. Many reserves also host classes open to community members. These include courses on painting and plant identification; the Aldo Leopold Foundation's Land Ethic Leaders Training at Sagehen Creek Field Station, which fosters collaborative discussions about environmental issues; as well as meetings for those involved in science, the environment, and the intersection of nature and the arts.
Community members converged on Hastings Natural History Reservation during an open house for lectures on field science and hikes around the reserve. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu