Northern California knows how to party

“It’s not your typical BLM field office,” was a common phrase upon first arriving to Arcata Field Office on the Northern California coast and I soon found out why. Natural resource issues here are vastly different than that of an average BLM field office and it took very little time before I could see priorities were more restorative focused for ecological preservation and conservation while much less focused on battling the usual issues with timber, grazing or mining. This is one of many reasons why this field office may be one of the most unique BLM offices I have encountered.

For those unfamiliar; Northern California is fortunate to host a variety of eco types, from the mystifying and distinctive beach dunes, to the BLM managed Redwood old growth Headwaters Preserve, from rolling, grazing hills of the Lost Coast and to the southeast, Red Mountain, the only high desert ecotype with a view of the ocean I’ve encountered. There is more than enough environmental variation for everybody and I continue to be surprised every new field outing.

The first leg of my field work was to measure the relative frequencies (as presence or absence) of native, non-native and endangered dune plants in some of the most unique and rare coastal dunes in the world. This field monitoring technique of relative frequency is very effective due to the short stature and low densities of dune flora. The methodology for data collection uses permanent 100 foot line transects, with 20 randomly selected points on the transect line. Each randomly selected point of the transect has a 2’x2’ line running perpendicular to the transect in which frequencies and canopy cover classes are measured within that boundary. While this technique can be very time consuming and I often only completed one line transect per day, I had no complaints about smelling the salty breeze air and enjoying the ambient sounds from the ocean all day.

The goals of this on-going study are to determine the effectiveness of restoration efforts and measure native dune plant recruitment. Restoring dune habitat with the goal of preserving biodiversity is also critical for a beautiful Brassica, the endangered Humboldt Bay Wallflower (Erysimum menziesii ssp. eurekense) and endangered Beach Layia (Layia carnosa). The Wallflower is endemic exclusively to the Humboldt Bay area of Northern California and while populations remain relatively stable with human intervention by way of European Beachgrass and Iceplant removal, natural threats from climate change, dune blowouts, plant rust and seed herbivory are all significant factors that threaten the Wallflowers existence. As one might assume, measuring an effective “change” can be challenging when dealing with a naturally disturbed and constantly transforming ecosystem.

European Beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria) and Iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) were introduced in the early 20th century for controlling sand movement, which has done exactly that and in turn, has prevented native species from establishing without the natural sand disturbance. In addition, European Beachgrass and Iceplant create a vegetative matting effect which can reach up to 100% canopy cover and easily outcompetes native dune plants.

Another slice of the restoration equation is socioeconomic factors; being that residents who live adjacent to some dune restoration areas with removed European Beachgrass are worried that property will be lost due to much more unrestricted sand encroachment. Addressing this issue with the public, land owners, recreationalists, shipping industry and the many special interest groups is another part of this internship that has given me a realistic dose of how important it really is to include all parties in restoration projects.

Thus far, I am absolutely thrilled to be working and living in Arcata and the greater Northern California region. I have already hiked and seen so many amazing places and look forward to everyday of my internship because I am gaining practical experience and working with an array of natural resource specialists who are truly excited to fill my head with knowledge. I realized that “work” feels like play and Im definitely fine with that.