June 29, 2011
June 28, 2011
June 23, 2011
After lunch we all drove over to Emerald Bay, a nearby cove and a popular tourist destination, to examine two examples of trails that were not planned well. Both lead from the road down to the beach in pretty much a straight line. The problem with this is that is causes channelization and erosion of the trail, since water will always gather in it and travel vertically down to the beach. The first trail we went down was so bad that it was closed off to the public. It was pretty much vertical, and at least 2-3 feet entrenched between ground on either side due to the erosion over the years. The other trail wasn’t much better, and it was the only way to get up and down from the beach. It was eroded to the point that there wasn’t even any dirt left on the trail; we had to climb up and down rocks in a ravine to traverse the path. Seeing those trails in Emerald Bay really drove home for me the importance of low-impact trail design. It’s definitely good that we took our time planning and flagging our trail, because I would be embarrassed if it ever ended up like the ones at Emerald Bay.
June 22, 2011
By Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez
We spent today flagging the trail all the way to the summit! We started at the Picnic Oak where we ended yesterday and placed markers all the way up. We were lucky to have Sarah Ratay, the Conservancy’s Senior Plant Biologist, joining us. Because we want our trail to be as minimally invasive as possible, we needed Sarah’s expertise to ensure we weren’t harming any rare plants. She walked the trail with us and made some suggestions to help circumvent some rare plants. Chris and Charlie hiked ahead to help us find more control points while the rest of us spread out through the area trying to find feasible routes. We reached a couple of roadblocks.
First, the fence-line on the left hand side of the trail prevented us from crossing the hillside to gain a more reasonable slope and cross-slope. The fence was placed in this area back when the Conservancy was eradicating the goats and pigs from the island. It is part of a system of fences that break the island into smaller containment or management zones, that help land managers deal with each parcel and each problem at a time. The fences are still in place to help manage deer and bison, although the latter are capable of simply walking through the barrier!
The second obstacle we reached was the drainage area on the right hand side. What creates a beautiful feature lower on the trail, is a great rock cavern higher up the hill. The third obstacle was extremely high slope with little cross-slope. The area was pretty much vertical. As we hiked up a stretch, we turned back around to measure the slope and it was laughable how ridiculously steep it was. We solved all of these problems by hugging the fence-line to the left and making a slow and steady ascent across the hillside reaching the right hand side. We continued up the hillside in the other direction and found a great path through some trees with some natural rock steps leading up. Once we reached the summit we were greeted with the Catalina Crososoma, a Channel Islands endemic plant, and some Indian paintbrush, or Castilleja, an iconic American species. It was a great find at the end of the trail! At the top you reach the road to the interior and the bison gate. The gate is in place to keep animals in the interior, but some rogue male bison still break through and wander the hillsides of the west end.
I feel very confident in the trail route we created and I think it will be a great addition to the Wrigley campus. Having the trail connect to the road that leads interior is a very valuable; it will allow hikers to access the Wrigley campus from the main road, making the amenities offered even more accessible. Troops of Boy Scouts and other camps often hike down the main road, so maybe trips to Wrigley’s touch tanks, kayaking, and snorkeling can be added to their adventures! I also hope that this trail can serve as an informative interpretive hike that encourages people to learn more about Catalina while they enjoy the outdoors.
For more photos see Day 11 Scouting and Flagging the Trail
June 21, 2011
by Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez
Today we continued scouting and flagging the Deer Valley trail using the principles of sustainable trail building outlined by Chris. We also had Ellen Kelley, Wrigley’s Naturalist, join us in scouting. We flagged the trail up until our first control point which was a grove of Toyon (a California native tree). The Toyon grow in a ring like shape and provide a canopy of shade, making a prime location to stop and relax along the hike. We continued to scout around the area in search of our next control point. For our control points we wanted a mixture of overlooks into Big Fisherman’s Cove, geologic features, and interesting plant life. We finally stumbled upon our next control point, which is one of the coolest spots on the trail. As you approach the drainage, there is rock wall teeming with plant life. The best part is during the rainy season the rock will funnel the water down forming a waterfall! It is a breathtaking spot and has 3 of the 6 Catalina island endemic species: the Catalina Live Forever, St. Catherine’s Lace, and the Catalina Bedstraw.
Unfortunately, to have the trail enable hikers to get a closer look at this magnificent feature meant creating high impact in some areas. We spent a lot of time trying to circumnavigate high grades and still reach the same point, but we were not successful. We decided to keep the route we had chosen but we would have to take extra steps in order to maintain a low impact trail such as full-bench construction and rock steps. Full-bench means the the full width of the tread (the actual travel surface of the trail) is cut into the hillside, which requires more excavation into the soil and leaves a larger backslope, with an outsloped grade of 5% to sheet water off the tread surface. Full-bench construction along steep hillsides would help prevent erosion in the long run and make the trailbed more durable and require less maintenance. Steps along areas of very steep grade greater than 20% would help reinforce the ground, prevent the trail from eroding, and provide a comfortable passage upward along the trail. In order to incorporate these elements into the trail we will need expert rock workers and trail builders to construct the tread. Chris Baker suggested we recruit an ACE crew to do the rock work and cut the tread. We are now working to have an ACE crew come out and hopefully help us complete the trail by the end of the summer!
For the remainder of the day, we continued flagging to our next control points, a viewshed of Bird Rock and Ship Rock, a bison wallow, a large oak canopy, and a grove of scrub oaks we named the Picnic Oak. As we found control points Charlie and I used an ArcPad to map the points as shape files, using a GPS. We are hoping to including mapping the flora of the area and our trail into our project. Afterwards we traveled bit by bit along the trail, connecting the points and using the clinometer to ensure a slope of 15-20% and that the cross slope that the tread followed was one half of the hill slope (the Rule of Halves). We finished the day with about half of the trail marked which is a great milestone! I can’t wait to finish up the trail tomorrow.
For more information on Sustainable Trail Construction and Maintenance visit:
For more photos visit: Day 10 Scouting the trail
June 20, 2011
Today we had the opportunity to work with Chris Baker, president of ACE (American Conservation Experience) and an expert on sustainable and low-impact trail design. He gave a short and very engaging and informative presentation to the interns as well as Conservancy staff, Travis from Howland’s Landing educational camps, and Ashley, the Nature and Conservation Director of Boy Scouts Emerald Bay on the principles of sustainable trail design. The 3 golden rules of trail design he covered were 1) Do No Harm 2)Complement the Landscape 3)Erosion Abuses the Landscape all of which he liked to sum up as “Think like water!” Chris discussed if you think about the purpose of the trail and the type of hikers that will visit, the design should match their needs so that they will use the trail instead of wandering around the general area. Since water can be such a damaging factor to a trail a large portion of the talk was dedicated to guidelines regarding slope, such as the Half Rule “the trail grade should be no more than half the sideslope grade” [Trail Solutions, IMBA 2004] and full bench construction, all the exposed soil on the trail is hardpack. He then trained us on the use of clinometers, a sighting device which provides information on degree or percent of a slope. We practiced estimating slope, then went to the Deer Valley Watershed right next to the WIES campus and set about designing the trail. The process ended up being considerably difficult, democratic and ultimately very rewarding. We would establish control points, areas of interest that we would like our trail to visit, then use the clinometer to determine the slope, look about, re-determine the slope, and debate about the best route for the trail. If we concluded that the trail would be successful, both for people hiking and with regard to impact on the ecosystem, we would put down a trail marking flag. Some areas were pretty obvious as to the direction we would go and others would be very difficult requiring us to fan out and follow game trails, some of which required crawling through. It was a tough day of work; just the beginning of the process of designing our trail but it was a great day and Chris Baker is very knowledgeable and passionate about his work and we were lucky that he was able to come out to Catalina to help us design this trail.
June 18, 2011
June 17, 2011
In this short week, we have been exposed to many different aspects of conservation activity that gave us a glimpse of the upcoming tasks our internship will entail: building trials, removing invasive plant special, giving interpretative hikes, recognizing political contention between the conservancy and locals of Catalina, and identifying plants. As overwhelming as it may sound, it actually blew my mind to find there was so much to do in my field, and I was excited! And today was no different; we got to add plant pressing to our list of new skills. We had the pleasure of meeting with John R. Clark, Senior Plant Biologist and Curator of the Herbarium at the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. Although we had been to the Garden earlier this week, we never entered the herbarium. This time we got to peek at the enormous collection of plant pressing and learn about the process. To be honest, I didn’t know what a herbarium was, I kept calling it a herbatory. I learned that a herbarium is a building or institution that stores a collection of the preserved plant specimens, similar to a library. Herbaria (plural form) keep precise records and are very resourceful. People can study plant taxonomy, identify unknown plants, make comparisons, and research how the plants evolve. More importantly a herbarium records the plants in an area and keeps a timeline of change in vegetation.
For our internship, we will prepare our own plant pressing collection for the trail since no one has collected plant species at that site yet. For each plant species, we will gather five samples, unless they are rare. The collected samples are distributed among us, the Wrigley herbarium, and the other herbaria. Once we have our samples, we will press them, classify them, and make labels for them. The pressing process is another topic that we will delve into when we start collecting our specimen. However, today, we helped attached labels and envelopes on to the pressed paper. The small envelopes, called “frag packs” were used to collect stray pieces of the plants that fell apart. It was important to collect these tiny structures because they could be crucial to aiding other people who are looking at the samples. I also learned there were other methods of preserving plant specimens, such as in plastic or glass jars. These were called spirit or wet collections. Delicate structures, such as a flower or algae, were kept in glass jars with liquid preservative such as ethyl alcohol.
As we prepared to take another hike through the garden, John showed us something cool. He discovered that some flowers had holes near the bottom of the petal. Apparently, the humming birds were poking the bottom of the flower to steal the nectar, making them nectar thieves. It seemed that the size of the hummingbird’s bill was incompatible with the flower petals. We made a trip around the garden and up to the memorial. As we looked down at the garden from the top, John told us that there were plans to change the layout of the garden, to make it more aesthetically pleasing as well as more sustainable. One idea was to redo the pathway through the garden. Instead of having a straight path down to the entrance, John was thinking of having the path meander throughout the garden. This would prevent erosion. Later, we adventured into a hidden trail. We jumped over the fence and walked through a trench. The vegetation through this trail was clearly different; it was made up of riparian woodland plant community, very green and lush with lots of trees hanging on top of us. I really adored this little path. After our hike, Sarah Ratay, the senior plant ecologist, joined us, and we had lunch under the pavilion and watched some educational Conservancy videos. Sarah’s favorite was the bison one, titled “Going Home”. It was really moving; it detailed the process of shipping bison back to South Dakota in order to control their population on Catalina. It didn’t have a lot of words, just a lot of Native American-inspired music that made it very emotional. Afterwards, we helped out with the presses. It was extremely fun and therapeutic gluing labels and envelopes.
For more pictures check this album: Day 6 Visiting John Clark and sarah at the Herbarium
June 16, 2011
Thursday, June 16, 2011.
Today we met Sarah Ratay, the Catalina Island Conservancy’s Senior Plant Ecologist. Along with Charlie we all walked down Descanso Canyon, near Avalon. During the walk we practiced plant surveying and tried to identify as many plants as we could see, with a lot of help from Sarah and Charlie. On the right side of the road was a hillside, and on the left was a small canyon. There was an astounding difference in the types of plant communities present between the two areas: the hill side was sparsely populated with mostly invasive plants while the canyon was lush and covered with a much greater diversity of plants.
Today was my first step towards seeing plants like a botanist. An average person walks by through a landscape, recognizes that it is all green and therefore natural, may or may not be pleased with the sights and aromas, and walks on. A botanist or ecologist, on the other hand, knows and sees different shades of green, different leaf or flower arrangements, or the difference between a native plant and an invasive one. The trained eye can differentiate two seemingly similar neighboring plants the same way an average person differentiates between a dog and a cat. Today was the beginning of this awareness training for me, and now when I walk by areas that I was previously familiar with I see a whole new thing altogether. It is no longer just a tree next to a bush, but instead a rare endemic Catalina mahogany next to an invasive fennel.
As we walked down, we collected samples from several different native plants so we could practice identifying unknown plants using the Jepson Manual. The Jepson Manual is like the botanist’s taxonomic bible in California; it contains information on every plant found in California as well as a collection of keys, called a dichotomous key, for identifying vascular plants found in the field.
We returned to the Conservancy office in Middle Ranch to “key” the samples using the Jepson. For each plant you use the dichotomous key to identify it using key characteristics, for example monocot or dicot, shrub or tree, woolly or smooth leaves, etc., to narrow down the possibilities. The process turned out to be quite difficult and a little tedious. It took us about two and a half hours to identify the five plants! We keyed a toyon, crossosoma, and lemonade berry among a couple others. In the end we only managed to identify them with a lot of help from Sarah, because the vocabulary used is extremely specific and determining plant characteristics requires an experienced eye. However it was good practice for us and now we can at least attempt to identify plants we find.
After we keyed all of our samples we headed down the road to the Conservancy’s Native Plant Nursery. We met Pete Dixon, who is in charge of the nursery, and he gave us a quick tour around the place. They had a lot of cool gadgets and gizmos: a soil mixer/dispenser, a seed bank filled with seeds of native plants, multiple greenhouses, a heavy duty freezer room for seed storage, a machine to help seeds germinate, and all types of tools. I have loved plant nurseries ever since I used to volunteer at the Marin Headlands native plant nursery in the Bay Area while I was in high school. There is just something so peaceful, so zen about a plant nursery that can rarely be experienced anywhere else. I could literally plant and transplant plants all day, and I think the other interns feel that to some extent too.
After the tour was over, we had our first introduction to fennel removal, an activity that would end up consuming many hours of my summer and a lot of my interest. Because we cannot use herbicides in our trail area (because the drainage leads directly to the Marine Protected Area below), we learned how to manually remove this terribly invasive species. The Conservancy has an amazing armory (tool-shed) full of machetes, chain saws, axes, shovels, weed-wrenches, pulaskis, and other weed-killing accessories. For fennel the main tools used are shovels and pulaskis, kind of a fireman’s axe with an adze on the other side. Fennel or foeniculum vulgare is an invasive Mediterranean plant that now dominates much of the channel islands and a huge stretch of coastal California and Mexico. The plant is highly resistant to mowing and fires, neither of which will sufficiently kill a fennel plant by itself. The only way to remove them is to either use tools that can get the main root node out of the ground, or chemicals.
All of us learned how to remove fennel pretty well, but I had an unexplainable passion for it. We had some help from Muriel, the nine-year-old daughter of a Conservancy employee, who showed us proper fennel removal techniques and brought us candy. She was talented beyond her years in fennel removal and invasive species knowledge. We got so engrossed in removing fennel we accidentally worked past the end of the work day. Since then I have made it my personal mission to kill any fennel I see. I like to think of myself as the fennel Terminator. I have already seen a large number of them on our trail, and can’t wait to get started on them.
June 15, 2011
We had a big day in store for us this morning. We took part in one of Charlie de la Rosa’s “Stop the Spread” expeditions and joined ranks with his expert crew of invasive plant exterminators. Charlie, Tony Summers, and the other ACE members have been working together in a joint effort to remove invasive species from the island. Today’s agenda was to get rid of Genista linifolia, more commonly known as flax broom. Genista is one of the most invasive shrubs on the Island. They have green fuzzy stems, woody branches, and thin, long, and hairy leaves. Genista can grow to heights of more than 2 meters and can be very dense, forming monocultures. They usually grow in Mediterranean climates and are natives to North Africa, southwestern Europe, and the Canary Islands. This invasive plant was introduced to the island in the 1920s, at the Saint Catherine’s Hotel in Avalon where it was used for landscaping. It later escaped the city limits and spread into the interior of Catalina and out competed native plant species. It is now our job to find them and pull them out.
While the more experienced members changed into jumpsuits and prepared herbicide equipment, Charlie briefed us in his office, showing us aerial maps and GIS polygons of areas where the genista is located. They recognized early on that this was an ongoing project, not something they could accomplish overnight or even a year; it will take many years of careful maintenance. Take fennel for instance, it’ll take about 3 years to see a significant difference and the initial year is usually the hardest. First, Charlie and Tony strategically decide which areas to attack, because you can’t tackle it all at once. Then they remove all of the invasive plant species they can see from the targeted area and mark it on the map. In the second year, they revisit the area and get rid of the saplings. Simultaneously, they start plant removal on other sections of the interior. By the third revisit, they remove whatever is left and usually it is not much. Continual monitoring and tracking are essential to complete erradication.
Today we were revisiting an area near Avalon that had been previously treated. As we arrived at the site, we broke up into groups of 3 or 4 people and spread out to different ridges. I went with Tony Summers and Miller. We were handed two tools, a weed wrench and a grubber (a device that pulls plants out from the base), as well as a map. Miller handled the weed wrench, I had the grubber, and Tony had a handsaw and herbicide equipment. Since we were not trained to use herbicide, we were not allowed to handle it. We started at the top of the ridge and had to make our way down, all the while looking for genista. It was steep, there was no trail, and some parts were rocky and filled with cactus. We had to follow game trails or make our own way through the dense vegetation blocking us. We followed Tony until we couldn’t catch up with him. I have no idea how he could hike down the ridge so effortlessly and gracefully as I stumbled around and tried my best to keep my balance. Miller struggled as well.
Once we sighted the first patch of genista, Tony split us up in three tracks: one person to the right, one down the middle, and the other person down to the right. This method is a landscape surveying technique called triangulation, and helps make sure to get an area covered from all sides. This was so new to me. As much as I was confused and a bit scared to wander off the ridge on my own, I was super excited. Once we spotted patches of genista, we began to clear. I didn’t realize how deeply rooted these shrubs were and I fully overestimated my strength. I pictured plant removal as easy as pulling grass from a field, but boy was I wrong. It was so much harder, especially since we were on a steep slope. While I was trying to pry these persistent plants out, I also had to try to keep my balance. Sometimes genista grew in a weird way which forced me to pull them out in an awkward position so I didn’t break the root at the surface of the soil. I wanted to dig deep to the root, especially since I wasn’t applying herbicide.
Tony saw my futile struggle and gave me a quick tip on the proper technique of pulling genista. He told me to not use my back, but rather to get into a position where I locked my back. Then grip the plant as close to bottom of the root and use the force from my legs to pull the plant. Continue to pull back and forth, like a jerking motion, until the genista popped out. This alleviated some of the stress on my back, but I still had a hard time. So I used the weed wrench, which in my opinion was the most effective tool. As long as it latched onto the root of the plant and I could lean into the lever, the entire genista plant would pop out. As we went along, we had to keep count of how many genistia we removed to help give an estimate of the population. As we reached the bottom of the basin, we took a short refreshing lunch break under the shade.
After lunch it was back to removing genista. Everything was going great until Miller and I met with a huge obstacle: Poison oak and a lot of it! The entire basin was filled with poison oak and let me just say, I wished I had worn a jump suit. We were supposed to go back up the ridge another way. But because of the poison oak, Miller and I ended up scaling the ridge back up. I thought I wouldn’t make it. It was super hot and climbing back up was about 1000 times harder than coming down. It was really steep and I definitely got the workout of my life. But we made it to top, somehow! This will definitely be a day I will remember.