The Island Naturalist True Stories From Catalina's Wildlands

Issue #45:

The 2015 Catalina Island Conservancy Symposium

"The COnservation and education symposium provides a quick overview of projects that delve into the cHallenges And suCcesses of conservation in our unique island environment" - ann M. muscat, ceo, catalina ISLAND conservancy

FLORA, FAUNA AND CULTURE

Symposium Showcases Catalina as a Destination for Exploration

Catalina Island Conservancy CEO, Ann Muscat Ph.D

In her opening remarks at the Catalina Island Conservancy’s Conservation and Education Symposium, Ann M. Muscat, Ph.D, President and CEO of the Conservancy, stated that Catalina Island is a premier research destination. That quality was acutely demonstrated by the diverse and meaningful presentations delivered throughout the day.

Appropriately titled Flora, Fauna, and Culture, the Conservancy’s 8th annual Symposium showcased the significance of Catalina’s robust natural and cultural resources to enhancing our understanding of the natural world. This interdisciplinary conference featured many of the Conservancy’s own staff, as well as a variety of partners including biologists, archaeologists, and geologists.

CONSERVANCY STAFF MAKE STRIDES

Conservancy Promotes Conservation Through Research, Education and Operations

Founded in 1972, the Catalina Island Conservancy’s mission is to be a responsible steward of its lands through a balance of conservation, education, and recreation. At the 2015 Symposium, Conservancy staff demonstrated how operations within each of its mission points contributes to a greater understanding of Catalina Island and promotes a healthy, sustainable island ecosystem.

Plant Conservation Manager, Peter Dixon's presentations are one of the most anticipated portions of the Conservany Symposium each year.

Peter Dixon, plant conservation manager, provided a review of a coastal sage scrub restoration project in Middle Ranch. Coastal sage scrub is a quintessential California landscape, yet only 10% of its original extend still exists. A construction project provided the opportunity for Peter to determine the amount of effort needed to recover a site post disturbance. 31 monitoring plots we’re established across the site and various techniques were used to gage this vegetation community’s resilience. Challenges to the restoration included drought, herbivory, and, what Peter referred to as the Little Shop of Horrors meets Gremlins of invasive plants, crystalline iceplant. In the end, Peter determined that recovery is most successful when you supplement the salvaged top soil with additional seeding.

Scripps's murrelets are listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN List of Threatened Species. Photo: Jerry Ting

Tyler Dvorak, a wildlife biologist with the Conservancy, has spent much of 2015 studying nocturnal seabirds on Catalina Island. Using acoustic monitoring, Tyler documented the first breeding record on the Channel Islands of Leach’s storm-petrels. Ship Rock, approximately one mile offshore of Isthmus Cove, contains six storm-petrel nests. Another seabird Tyler has increased our understanding of is the Scripps’s murrelet. Both storm-petrels and murrelets are highly vulnerable to predators, including feral cats, rats, and foxes. They nest almost exclusively on offshore islands or rocks where these predators are less abundant. To increase his ability to study murrelets, Tyler designed man-made nest boxes that emulate the cracks and crevices used by these birds. Within 24 hours, murrelets were investigating these structures. These interactions may help us to further understand these elusive birds.

The Conservancy’s education efforts were highlighted by the Director of Education, Kristin Howland. Kristin reported on the NatureWorks program, a K-12 learning continuum that pairs outdoor, experiential learning with STEM, Common Core, and classroom curriculum. During the 2014/2015 school year, the Conservancy piloted NatureWorks with a unit focused on water and drought. This year, they will roll out phase 1, which aims to include every Avalon School student in environmental and conservation education that increases their knowledge, develops skills, clarifies values, and develops the capacity to contribute to their community.

Tony Budrovich is the Conservancy’s Chief Operations Officer. One of Tony’s roles is to ensure the Conservancy’s operations are sustainable. One project initiated in 2015 that addressed a key sustainability issue on Catalina was water harvesting. Through the strategic placement of collection totes, the Conservancy is able to collect 2,000 gallons from just one inch of rain off their facilities in Middle Ranch. The Conservancy’s fleet of heavy equipment was modernized to increase fuel efficiency, a fuel tank was installed in Middle Ranch to reduce trips to and from Avalon, capacity to support fire prevention has increased, and the new visitor center, The Trailhead, will be LEED certified.

Catalina Island Conservancy Chief Operating Officer, Tony Budrovich, is a passionate advocate for sustainable business practices.

CONSIDERABLE CONTRIBUTIONS

Catalina is a Field for Multiple Studies

The Conservancy’s capacity to study this complex, unique, and, diverse Island is limited. Much of what we learn about Catalina comes from partners, collaborators, and visiting researchers.

A returning presenter from whom we always learn so much was Desireé Martinez, MA. Desireé is a Gabrielino (Tongva) and the co-director of the Pimu Catalina Island Archaeology Project. Each summer, Desireé and her collegues lead a field school for aspiring archaeologists. Their practice is what is referred to as indigenous archaeology, meaning that the Native American community decides where the dig will take place and what to research. During the summer of 2015, fifteen students preformed an excavation at a property recently acquired by the Conservancy. Most recently, the site was the Catherine Hotel built in 1966, but throughout its history it had been boat storage in the 1880s, a camp site from 1889-1898, the Sunset House Apartments during the 1920s, and the Jade Pagoda in the 1950s. The students opened two two-meter by two-meter holes, within which they discovered historic and prehistoric artifacts, including bullets, shell buttons, and ironware. Additional holes will likely be dug to further evaluate the site.

Desireé Martinez (center) instructing students on the differents types of artifacts found on Santa Catalina Island. Photo: Lucius Martin

Another of the Conservancy’s collaborators is C. Matt Guilliams, PhD, a plant systematist from the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Matt is working with the Conservancy to produce "A Flora of Santa Catalina Island" a book which describes plants found on the Island. This resource will help people connect to nature by interpreting what they see, provide a tool for conservation land managers, and increase our knowledge of the regions biodiversity. Of the eight California Channel Islands, Catalina has the largest flora with approximately 728 unique species. Of those, 65% or 473 are considered native and 59 are of conservation concern. Matt’s utilizing two existing floras, extensive herbarium specimens, and innovative techniques to create a complete record of Catalina Island’s plants, to be completed in 2017.

The final presenters of the day were Mark Legg, PhD, the president of Legg Geophysical Inc. and Chris Castillo, a PhD candidate at Stanford University. Reiterating the significant of Catalina Island as a living laboratory, Mark pointed out that Catalina is a subduction zone that’s been studied by geologists around the world. Their research emphasized Catalina’s yo-yo nature, having risen above and subsided beneath the surface of the ocean several times throughout its history. By studying marine terraces, they’ve determined that the island is current subsiding at a rate of approximately 0.2mm per year and that Catalina is tilting toward the mainland.

Underwater terraces such as those shown in the image above, provide clues to landslides and other geological events that have taken place in the past.
Located one mile offshore from Catalina Island, Ship Rock was found to support six storm-petrel nests.

FINAL REFLECTIONS

Closing Remarks Review the Condition of Catalina’s Wildlife

At the conclusion of the event, the Conservancy’s director of conservation and wildlife management, Julie King, provided an update to the status of some of the Island’s megafauna.

There are approximately 130 bison on Catalina Island today. Of the 60 cows (females), contraceptive was administered to 45 in 2015. Since no calves were born in 2014 or 2015, contraception was withheld from 15 individuals (10 in 2014 and 5 more in 2015).

Wildlife Biologist Calvin Duncan's efforts to manage Catalina's resident bison herd has yielded successful results. Photo: Jack Baldelli

A two-night deer spotlight survey was conducted during July to determine the size of the population. The 2015 population was determined to be 1,474 deer or 7.6 deer/km². This is a slight increase from last year’s 1,227.

Unlike their mainland counterparts, the deer population on Catalina Island increased last year despite the ongoing drought conditions.

The Catalina Island fox population appears to have increased as well. Data from the fall trapping effort is still be analyzed, but pup capture increased from 5.5% last year to 25% in 2015.

The Catalina Island fox population is now larger than it was before the diminutive animal was nearly wiped due to an outbreak of canine distemper in the late 90's. Photo: Jack Baldelli.
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