Go Take a Hike
With Spring starting last week, it's a great time to visit the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. After months of consistent rain, the native trees and flowers
are now vibrant with color.
Although its easy to enjoy the Santa Monica Mountains, a great place to escape the drudgery of urban l i fe, a lot maintenance
occurs behind the shrubs. Seventy government agencies are working hard to keep the Santa Monica Mountains ecologically correct and
viable for generations to come.
The Santa Monica Mountains park rangers have a simple motto. "To preserve for the future while allowing enjoyment," Park Ranger
Barbara Applebaum said. Through educating LA youth, the national park service hopes
to maintain the Santa Monica Mountains' authentic biodiversity.
There are over 800 native plants and 300 non-native plants in the Santa Monica Mountains. Out of 300 non-native plants, 19 are considered a significant threat to the area's
original plant species. The park service coordinates various programs at all different
schooling levels to get kids into nature.
"It's a reasonable activity because it's meeting curriculum," Park Ranger Ray Sauvajot said. "It's not just a field trip."
During the late '80s schools started teaching more towards strict curriculum because of standardized testing, Applebaum
said. These programs incorporate biology, environmental science, language arts and math curriculum requirements that help time starved teachers.
Santa Monica Mountain rangers want to teach students about ecosystems and animals in their own proximity that aren't taught
in school. The Santa Monica Mountains are
considered a Mediterranean biome, a rare ecosystem that encompasses only two percent of the Earth's surface. Despite this, many
environmental science lesson plans only teach problems facing tropical rain forests, Applebaum said.
"We've never had a benefit concert for the Mediterranean biome," she said. Besides helping out teachers, introducing students to wildlife and the great outdoors is beneficial for the national parks. In the past, outdoor recreation in the national parks was dominated by white society, Ron Sundergill, director of the national parks
conservation association, said. "Now we're doing a phenomenal job of bringing minority youth into the parks," Sundergill said. "If
parks are going to survive it has to be relevant for everyone."
The national park service wants more future voters caring about environmental issues.
"These are the masses... We're loosing the battle," Sauvajot said. "They're not going to give a hoot about ANWR and Yellowstone."
The youth programs organized by the national park service make including low income schools a priority, Applebaum said.
For a lot of inner city youth it's their first time gardening and observing wildlife, Park Ranger Antonio Solorio, said.
"It opens up their little brains and little hearts," he said.
Many schools find out about the program through word of mouth, Jamie Hawkins, a special education teacher from Joaquin Miller Career and Transition Center, said.
"The kids love it because most don't get to come to the mountains at all," Hawkins said. "It's about seeing their world and being aware."
These environmental programs have two more practical functions for park maintenance. First, the park rangers use students to help
kill off non-native plants. "Ecohelpers" is a program where students plant native shrubs that will compete and eventually kill off non-native species. Youth programs also act as a feeder program into park service. "A lot of youth think this is just done on a volunteer basis," Solorio said.
If students get hooked in elementary and middle school by park rangers, then they can apply to become assistant field researchers
in high school. Over the summer, six students in the Southern California area can receive a week long paid internship to assist park rangers in the field.
This is a lot better and more rewarding than flipping burgers or stocking shelves, Solorio said. Ultimately, these students are
helping the park's various sections become more interconnected. "Humans are serving as barriers between the inter-connectivity of
ecosystems," Sauvajot said. "That's a theme across national parks."
The Santa Monica Mountains is fragmented mosaic of parks because various roads, highways, houses and properties that sever the open space, Sauvajot said. It 's especially important to maintain the connectivity between these spaces because of global warming. As temperatures change,
plants must move with rising temperatures to higher elevations, Sauvajot said.
For certain bird and lizard species, their genes have actually changed because of their isolation, Sauvajot said. Some species inevitably won't survive, but the park must prepare every local plant for it's best
"Plants will survive by increasing their resilience by eliminating exotics and increasing interconnectivity," Sauvajot said.
The Santa Monica Mountains, Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains might become one park
under the "Rim of the Valley" bill that's under review now, Sauvajot said.
With the equivalent of 550 Walmarts being built every year in park grounds, global warming and encroaching nonnative plant
species, preserving the Santa Monica Mountains is an on going effort.