Greetings from Arcata, CA and the Humboldt County sand dunes! I have just wrapped up my first week as a foredune conservation/rangeland monitoring intern under Jennifer Wheeler at the Bureau of Land Management, and what a week it was. In seven days I had my first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge as my plane landed from Canada, my first drive up the famous California coastline, my first chance to botanize in a sand dune ecosystem (Yes, I made botany a verb), and my first time judging an elementary school science fair. It couldn’t have been more fun!
The BLM of Arcata is responsible for the conservation and management of more than 200,000 acres of land in Northern California, including the unique dune system that makes up the coastline of Humboldt County. I jumped right in to this sandbox after a bit of bureaucratic orientation and spent everyday at a new monitoring site, learning the flora and performing transect monitoring. Though European beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria) and Ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis) are a continuous menace to the native species, the level of restoration that the BLM, in concert with their partners, has managed to achieve is a bright beacon of hope in the sometimes dark world of ecosystem conservation. I was thrilled to see the amount of diversity (over thirty species in one transect!), curious to see the effect of the competition between the natives and the invasives, and enamored with the two special status endemic plants, the Humboldt County wallflower (Erysimum menziesii ssp. eurekense) and beach layia (Layia carnosa). These charismatic little guys are a conservation priority and their persistence in this damaged and ever changing system is in large part due to the ongoing restoration efforts of the BLM.
While I could have happily spent the entire week on the beach, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a judge for the local science fair. Over 130 students from fourth grade through high school participated, with the winners advancing to county and state fairs. The curiosity and ingenuity displayed by the students was a colourful and fun reminder of why we all got into science. Who hasn’t wondered which type of fruit will fly the furthest?! A sense of wonder, anticipation of the unexpected, the thrill of a discovery. These are the simple things that we must nurture to form our future scientists and they’re the things that the most fortunate of us retain through our entire career. I for one plan to approach my entire summer with this mentality!