Catalina Island Conservancy News A monthly recap of the latest happenings with the Catalina Island Conservancy, the Channel Islands, and island conservation from across the globe

February 2017

...AND THEN IT started raining

This past December, the first in series of powerful Pacific storms rolled through Southern California. The storms were driven by a weather pattern colloquially known as a "Pineapple Express" - a strong and persistent flow of moisture from the Central Pacific to the West Coast. These weather patterns, technically termed atmospheric rivers, are renowned for their ability to produce massive amounts of precipitation. The rainfall was welcomed by both residents and business owners on Catalina Island, who have been living with Stage III drought restrictions since September.

Since the first of the year, Catalina Island has received an island-wide average of over 8 inches of rain; nearly 50% above the historical average for the months of January and February according to U.S. Climate Data. While local water managers were encouraged enough to roll back restrictions from Stage III to Stage II, it is still too early to declare the drought on the island over, according to Laura Roll, GIS program manager for the Catalina Island Conservancy, who holds a masters degree in hydrologic sciences from UC Davis.

"It is too soon to estimate how quickly the Island aquifers will recover from several years of extreme drought," says Roll. "Groundwater recharge in semi-arid environments, such as Catalina, can vary widely from year to year are dependent on multiple factors including climate, vegetation, and pumping - not just rainfall amounts."

After several years of sitting dry, Haypress Reservoir is once again full of water.

One of the benefits of a natural or undeveloped landscape is that it allows precipitation to penetrate the soil. Even so, the ground can only absorb so much water before it becomes saturated, resulting in standing water, or in many cases, runoff. Such was the case during a series of storms that hit the island earlier this month. Several days of pelting rain and gale winds resulted in downed power lines, toppled fences and several road washouts.

Wind and rain resulted in numerous instances of flooding and damage across the island.

In addition to safeguarding the island's plant, wildlife and open spaces, the Catalina Island Conservancy is also responsible for maintaining over 200 miles of road and other infrastructure on Catalina Island.

"Our crews has been extremely busy since the storms have hit," says Kelly Stone, facilities director for the Catalina Island Conservancy. "They've been working around the clock repairing washout roads, clearing rock slides, mud slides, cleaning out culverts, re-grading the roads, rebuilding dam breaches, and removing fallen trees and debris."

The news isn't all bad however. The bountiful rain has turned the island's hills a lush green, and the first sightings of native wildflower blossoms have been reported.

This year's wildflower season has the potential to be one of the best in years. Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) are already beginning to bloom on the Island.
A series of powerful Pacific storms inundated Catalina Island with as much as 16 inches of rain in some areas, resulting in localized flooding, road and soil erosion, and the uprooting of trees. Catalina Island Conservancy staff, along with our American Conservation Corps partners, have been working hard to respond to the challenges as they arise.
each of these 10,000 gallon cisterns are completely filled with captured rainwater, which the conservancy's facilities department uses to do their work.

A SUMMER to remember

Each year, the Catalina Island Conservancy bring on a small number of budding conservation professionals from across the country to serve as docents, hiking guides and ambassadors.

The Summer Naturalist program operates from June through August. Under the tutelage of staff from the Conservancy's Educations Department, Summer Naturalists first go through three weeks of intensive instruction, including training to be certified as interpretive guides. The summer naturalists are then deployed to various locations throughout the island. You'll find them manning booths on Front Street in downtown Avalon, at the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden, and even at Two Harbors on occasion.

To assist in their outreach efforts, the summer naturalists have a number of assets at their disposal - the largest of which is the mobile nature station. This nature center on wheels is stocked with books, maps, and various artifacts, which the naturalists use to educate the estimated 3,000 visitors they interact with throughout the summer. When they are not staffing booths or the mobile nature station, the naturalists lead daily hikes to various destinations, conduct tours of the Botanic Garden, and lead craft and educational activities for both visiting and local youths.

The Conservancy's summer naturalist program takes bright fresh faces and turns them into experienced island naturalists.

In addition to the invaluable work done for the Conservancy and the meaningful interactions with our island's visitors, the summer naturalist program provides those students fortunate enough to be selected with an incredible opportunity to further their education and expand their career opportunities through hands-on experience working for one of the nation's most renowned land trusts.

Despite the popularity and success of the summer naturalist program, funding remains tight. This year the Summer Naturalist program was forced to cut back from four naturalists to two.

"The success of Catalina Island Conservancy's Summer Naturalist program is reliant upon the generosity of our donors," says Kristin Howland. "Our hope is to be taking on more students, not less."

Anyone interested in donating to the Conservancy's summer naturalist program is asked to contact Elizabeth Whitted-Dawson, Development Manager, at (562) 437-8555 x1238, or via email at

The Catalina Island Conservancy is now accepting applications for the 2017 Summer Naturalist program.


In 1999, the Island Fox population on Catalina was nearly wiped out when an outbreak of canine distemper ravaged its way through the population. In less than a year, the number of foxes went from over 1,300 to less than 100. Were it not for the isthmus, which created a natural choke point, the Catalina Island fox may well have gone extinct.

This past December, wildlife researchers in Northern California reported an outbreak of canine distemper in Palo Alto. According to staff at the Urban Wildlife Research Project, the entire population of local gray foxes - four separate "skulks" or groups - were lost over the course of few weeks.

It was a stark and shocking reminder of how susceptible native species are to foreign pathogens.

“It was like a black wind swept through the area and infected all of them ...They’re all gone now.” - Bill Leikum, Urban Wildlife Research Project

While it can’t be transmitted to humans, the distemper virus is related to measles and also fiercely contagious. In winter, fox pups leave the immediate territory to roam and look for turf to call their own, interacting with other animals in the process.

“They’ll go nose-to-nose to greet each other, rub muzzles,” says Bill Leikum, from the the Urban Wildlife Research Project. “It’s called a ‘fox kiss.’”

While the threat of a distemper outbreak on Catalina Island has been greatly reduced thanks to an ongoing vaccination program by Catalina Island Conservancy, other dangers still exist. Director of Wildlife, Julie King, is troubled by recent serology results in which nearly half of the 56 blood samples taken from unvaccinated foxes in November tested positive for canine adenovirus antibody titers - a virulent pathogen that can cause encephalitis in foxes.

Each fall, biologists from the Catalina Island Conservancy trap, vaccinate and provide health checks to several hundred foxes across the island.

While foxes in Palo Alto will eventually repopulate themselves through expansion of neighboring populations, Catalina's foxes are dramatically more vulnerable to disease due to their geographic isolation.

"This is why our fox monitoring program is so important," says Catalina Island Conservancy's Director of Conservation and Wildlife Management, Julie King. "It helps provide early disease detection, so we can identify and respond to threats like these more quickly."

"If we were to lose our foxes here on Catalina, they would be gone forever."

Residents and visitors on Catalina Island are asked to immediately report any foxes that are deceased or appear to be acting abnormally (such as lethargy, disorientation, failure to avoid humans, etc.) to the Catalina Island Conservancy at (310) 510-1299 x230.

Across America, scores of backpackers, climbers, hunters and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts are coming together to fight for the last of our country's open land...

how the west was lost

Conservationists and outdoor recreation enthusiasts are concerned...

Shortly after the first of the year, Congress adopted new rules that allow public land currently under the stewardship of the Federal Government to transition to state, or even private control. The rule change also allows these actions to take place even if doing so loses money for the government and provides no demonstrable compensation to American citizens.

Together, America's National Parks, National Forests, Federal Wildlife Refuges and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands generate over $650 billion from recreation and provide approximately six million jobs. The fear is that not only will some of this money and jobs be lost, but that these areas will begin limiting or restricting public access. The land could be permanently and irrevocably altered if it is allowed to be portioned off for energy or property development.

Iconic wildlands such as Colorado's White River National Forest, Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park, Utah's Zion National Park and scores of other locations now find themselves threatened by possible sale or lease.

The majority of federal open space, defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as "any piece of open land that is undeveloped and open to the public," is located in the Western United States.

In Utah, renowned outdoor sporting goods manufacturer Patagonia and a number of other companies who participate in Outdoor Retailer - a massive convention that has taken place twice a year for the last 20 years in Salt Lake City - recently met with Governor Gary Herbert regarding his announced intention to withdraw protection for Bears Ears National Monument. The area, which is popular with hunters, mountain bikers, rock climbers, and off road vehicle users, also contains numerous Native American archeological sites. Unsatisfied with the Governor's unwillingness to reconsider his position, the show organizer announced that effective next year, they would be moving the show out of Utah - an estimated loss of $45 million annually to the state.

As the risk to public land grows, more and more people are relying upon land trusts to maintain open space for future generations.

Conservation land trusts, also called land conservancies, have been in existence since 1891. However, awareness and support for the practice did not become widespread until the 1980’s. Today there are an estimated 1,600 land trusts across the United States. Their combined resources constitute more than 56 million acres of permanently protected land.

"The land trust conservation community is watching to see how changes in Washington policies and directives related to proposed shifts in natural resource management priorities may affect the business, operations, opportunities, environmental and public health benefits that land trusts provide," says Ane Deister, Executive Director of the California Council of Land Trusts (CCLT).

California leads the nation with the largest number of land trusts in the country, with 136 land trusts and conservancies.

2017 marks the 45th anniversary of the Catalina Island Conservancy – one of the oldest conservation land trusts in Southern California. Last year, the Conservancy welcomed over 15,000 hikers, 31,000 campers and 70,000 youths onto its land.

"The Catalina Island Conservancy is committed to not only providing public access to our 42,000 acres open space, but to using that land to foster science-based education and nature-based recreation," says CEO Tony Budrovich. "The untouched beauty of Catalina Island makes it 'the best backyard in Southern California.' Our mission is to make sure that the Catalina Island Conservancy remains a vibrant place for people to experience, enjoy and refresh."


One of the most cited reasons for membership renewal is the satisfaction of supporting a worthy organization dedicated to restoring and protecting Catalina Island's wildlands. Your membership helps save animal species on the verge of extinction and maintenance of unique habitats for all to enjoy. As a member, you'll receive free entry into Catalina Island Conservancy attractions like the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden, as well as a complimentary bike permit, that provides you access to over 200 miles of paved and unpaved road. You will also receive discounts on other Conservancy attractions and services such as our popular Jeep® Eco Tours and Wildlands Express shuttle, as well as a host of local restaurants and business.

Cover Photo: Craig Smith

Photo Credits: Anna Corinne Childs, Roshy, Steve Tabor, Kelly Stone, Amy Catalano, Ben Dion, Jack Baldelli, Liz Bailey, Matt McClain, Bryce Bradford, Josh Ewing/Bears Ears Coalition, Santa Catalina Island Company, Catalina Island Conservancy, Craig Smith

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