The Conservation Land Management internship has been a fortunate change in career directions for me. Because of this internship, I have veered off of an academic, research-based path that I had been following for the past 5 years. Though my research experiences have allowed me to study many interesting ecological questions, I am now immersed in work that I find especially fulfilling because I’m not just studying the problems. I’m solving them.
My supervisor and I often talk about the careful balance that the BLM must maintain between allowing and limiting public access to BLM land. The BLM limits access in order to conserve habitats and resources. Sometimes, though, public use and conservation goals are in parallel. This is apparent in an interesting relationship between the ATV users and the endangered beach layia, Layia carnosa Nutt., in the Samoa sand dunes. The native plant species of the sand dunes, including layia, rely on a disturbed habitat to thrive. The word “disturbed” conjures negative connotations of weedy, degraded habitats choked by invasives. The dunes habitat, however, has historically been constantly disturbed because of the fierce wind and ruckus waves that beat the northern California coast. Invasive beach grass, Ammophila arenaria L., and ice plant, Carpobortus edulis L., have stabilized the dunes, rooting the shifting sands in place and outcompeting natives like layia.
In parts of the dunes, the BLM allows people to ride ATVs across them, treading sand in their wake. The BLM created some permanent paths that the ATVers now maintain and are barren. However, the ATVers also create rogue paths all on their own, clearing the frozen dunes from invasives and introducing disturbance back into the habitat. Monitoring that I have completed this week indicates that beach layia and other rare natives can now grow in these cleared paths. These paths aren’t permanent, so the natives can establish themselves without immediately being torn up by the ATVs.
I feel a little like these ATVers: leaving the strict academic path I was once on to travel a more rogue path that is benefiting both me and the native plants I am conserving.