New Native Species Series

  • Posted on 1 October 2020
  • By Everette Phillips Chair, Communications Committee

Announcing a new series for our Website and Southern Sierran - Understanding Native Species, How to enjoy them, and How to protect them.

The magnificent Burrowing Owl by Paul Reinstein

The magnificent Burrowing Owl; Paul Reinstein all rights reserved

We often talk about Biodiversity in Southern California as we are lucky to have a wide variety of native species to enjoy while hiking, camping and enjoying our local environments.
One of the impacts of climate change has been shifting weather patterns and environmental conditions. This can stress native species and allow non-natives to invade and take control. We call those “invasive species”.
The purpose of this series is to help our members to enjoy native species by understanding a little more about them.  Not all native species are “protected”, but some were deemed important indicators of environmental health and thus have a protected status.  We plan to also discuss that protected status because conservation activists should be aware of this status as it can determine the outcome of a preservation effort, especially if it becomes a legal or political dispute over something called “mitigation”.  Mitigation is the ability of a developer or landowner to commit to creating an “equal habitat” for a protected species in other locations, so they can destroy or harm the ecosystem at a target location, usually the site of new construction or industrial activity like oil and gas production.
We live during a wondrous time to have an interest in wildlife and understanding the outdoors. Most of us now carry a rather powerful computer in our pockets in the form of a cell phone. There are many tools available for cell phones to help us identify species that we come across and even document the siting for science.  We citizens use these tools so science can use the data to have a greater understanding of ecosystems. When research projects use regular people to collect data either through intelligent tools or through trained volunteers, we call it “citizen science”. With the advancements of artificial intelligence (AI), you do not even have to worry about your personal identification skills as the AI can use your photo or even your description to identify the most likely candidate for you to identify.
One tool useful to get you started with bird identification is called  “Merlin” and it was developed at the Bird Lab of Cornell University ( Merlin can be just a useful tool to learn about birds, but you can use Merlin to also report your sightings to a citizen science project called eBird (  Don’t worry if you do not have time to go a wetlands or parks or preserves to see birds because using Merlin in your backyard is very useful.  All bird sightings go into the database and through all of these millions of sightings, we are learning a great deal about where and how birds migrate.
This knowledge does not only lend itself to increased enjoyment of wildlife through a deeper understanding of the wonders of nature; it also helps us to preserve nature because one of the greatest controversies regarding the conservation of land in Southern California is the argument of whether a protected species can be found on the property in a meaningful way and at appropriate times as some species are migratory or appear only during specific periods such as vernal pools after rains in Southern California. Surveys of habitats are conducted by landowners and presented to authorities in a document called an EIR or Environmental Impact Report. The section of the EIR that talks about species is called “Biological Resources”. It talked about surveys, how the survey was done, what was found, and the impacts of the proposed project on what was found.  The most common arguments between Sierra Club members trying to preserve habitats and those wanting to use the land for something other than conservation usually revolve around what species were found or more often “were not found” and where. We will try to cover this process in more detail in future articles using past Sierra Club experience.
Let us know your thoughts about what we should feature in this new section.
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I love this! Too many people have no clue what animals/birds/insects/reptiles are out there - especially living in their own back yard, let alone in the wild. I hope that, besides birds, you will talk about other animals - especially mountain lions, bobcats, and everything else. Thank you for all you do.

Since our yards can host native species, why not discuss the benefits of gardening with native plants? After all, many native birds, insects and reptiles benefit from native blossoms, fruits and seeds. Also any spillover of plants from our yards is far better a native than an invasive species,

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