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CSULB Partners With Catalina Island Conservancy

Published: June 20, 2016

Catalina Island
PHOTO COURTESY OF CATALINA ISLAND CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

A new partnership between CSULB and the Catalina Island Conservancy (CIC) will take a long step toward preparing students for careers in resource management while making them better stewards of the environment.

Founded in 1972 as a non-profit organization, the Catalina Island Conservancy is one of the oldest private land trusts in Southern California. It protects 88 percent of Catalina Island, including more than 62 miles of unspoiled beaches and secluded coves—the longest publicly accessible stretch of undeveloped coastline left in Southern California. Catalina Island is home to more than 60 plant, animal and insect species found nowhere else in the world. It conducts educational outreach through two nature centers, its Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden and guided experiences in the island’s rugged interior.

“The conservancy manages a suite of resources from trail systems to camp grounds, from marine areas to wetlands, and they have been interested in figuring out ways to make partnerships with academic institutions where they can use the variety of expertises available to help answer some of the pressing conservation and management needs they have on the island,” explained biological sciences’ Christine Whitcraft, a frequent collaborator with the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy and member of the university since 2008.

“The conservancy has been a long-standing entity on the island. CSULB collaboration is a way to access the island’s real needs but also to access resources,” she said. “Local knowledge of where animals and plants might be or places to park vehicles are potential resources. There is extensive mapping available. We hope that, through service learning and internships, the students will get an idea of what on-the-ground science and policy management are like.”

The planned partnership will offer plenty of opportunities for community service learning, said Whitcraft, who is a fellow in the campus Center for Community Engagement.

“We as a campus have a responsibility to the community to be good partners. The way to do that is to address actual community needs,” she said. “The service learning component is likely one of the first directions the conservancy CSULB partnership will go. What we can do is offer this real-world experience to our students as a way of becoming engaged with the community.

“President Jane Close Conoley has emphasized she likes the service learning aspect of the partnership because it is a high-impact practice,” she added. “The more we can get our students into the field getting those experiences, the more we get back.”

The potential field experience offers CSULB students a grassroots-level view of modern land management.

“The Catalina Island Conservancy will show our students how to issue back-country permits which may seem simple on one level,” she said “You charge a fee and let a certain number of people in. The questions then become, what should that fee be? How many permits does the conservancy issue? What is the impact of each person going into the back country on the resources? What is the carrying capacity of the island? That means the island needs recreation specialists and plant specialists and biologists. We need insect people and economists. This interdisciplinary approach is indicative of what students learn at CSULB.”

Whitcraft teaches a suite of classes tailor-made for the Catalina Island Conservancy partnership.

“The conservancy needs assessments of what is on the island, and it is a big island, making this a real challenge,” she said. “They need surveys that look at topics such as herpetology, entomology and fisheries. CSULB offers the niche courses most other campuses do not offer anymore such as herpetology. You can’t take invertebrate zoology in a lot of schools. Here you can take all these classes. By combining skills from these classes with real-world conservation problems, this partnership will help prepare students for careers in resource management from all angles. The range of staff at CIC speaks to this interdisciplinary need. A chief financial officer works for the conservancy. An advertising and marketing person works for the conservancy. Biologists and people with GIS skills work for them.”

One of Whitcraft’s goals for the new partnership is to get students “beyond Avalon.” She points out the closeness of the Channel Islands to the Californian mainland yet CSULB students lack the access to study there.

“This is a great opportunity for students to get out and engage. Thanks to the conservancy, they will know we have a unique resource. If they could do that for every CSULB student, we would be better stewards of our environment,” she said “You can’t care about what you’ve never seen. We want to give our students the tools to be scientifically literate so they can read and interpret for themselves.”

Whitcraft sees a bright future for the CSULB-CIC partnership.

“The low-hanging fruit at the start is to strengthen ongoing partnerships,” she said. “Then I want to see more robust resource-sharing of faculty expertise. We hope that biological sciences’ majors get to spend at least one night out there. They get to know an ecosystem and spend a lot of time with instructors. There will be close faculty-student interactions while they try out some of the skills they learned.”