Sunday, June 1, 2008

BioBlitz Bedlam: We laughed, We cried, We Got Bitten By Wood Ants

It's already over! Our twenty-four hour species inventory of the Santa Monica Mountains, called a BioBlitz, came and went like the juggernaut of urban youth, plant counting, bug sweeping, and general milling about that it was. For now, the count is 1,364, although that number will continue to go up in the coming months as taxonomists identify currently unidentified specimens. That is more than twice the number of species that were found at Rock Creek Park last year, but who is competitive? The more important numbers I think, are 2200 and 6000. Those are the estimates of the number of school kids and people overall that visited the Santa Monica Mountains during the BioBlitz.

I personally worked 14 hours on Friday and thirteen hours on Saturday, but other people stayed ALL NIGHT LONG. What did we do? Well, I led five classes of third graders, high school students, and special needs boy scouts on inventory hikes, organized my staff of nine, helped design, set-up and staff three plant-related booths, gave a public talk on weeds, spent an efficient fifteen minutes orienting Jason to our new joint scientific endeavor, moved 232 native plants to Paramount Ranch from our nursery at Rancho Sierra Vista, sold said plants to the public, waited in line for an hour for a sandwich on Friday, and ate lunch with Lucy, Josie, Tyler, Chloe, Mitch and Sandy on Saturday.

What did other people do? Scientist led inventories. Rangers led inventory hikes for the public and school kids. Rangers took out trash, stocked water jugs, gave away water bottles and handkerchiefs, helped find lost children, moved goods, gave talks, entered data, and performed countless other tasks. Countless volunteers assisted with all of the above tasks. For more details, you can look here.

Here are four BioBlitz Highlights from Me:

1. Bring on the Ants. While leading a third grade inventory, poor Randy Philips had two of his group members bitten by unknown ants. A full blown panic ensued with kids screaming and general pandemonium. Randy took charge and got the kids into the idea of capturing some of the ants in their sweep nets and taking them to the scientist tent to be identified! What a stroke of genius! It turns out that it was the attack of the wood ants.

2. Is that a truffle? During Jason's inventory for fungi with a father and son inventory team, his team made an amazing discovery. Jason had just got the inventory started when...The son had found "something" while raking through leaf litter with his truffle fork. Jason came over to inspect, hopeful that it might be a truffle. Instead, both the father and Jason concluded that it was, in fact, human feces. A nice touch from the urban park-BioBlitz tally, one human crap.

3. A park is like your house, buying it is only the first step. I finally got to give my spiel about how a park is like a house and requires constant maintenance. This is my pitch to get people to volunteer to remove weeds and plant native plants in our parks. It is also my attempt to help people understand that buying parkland is only the first step in conservation. Our open spaces require constant vigilance ("diligence or degradation" as Cal-IPC says) if we want to preserve our native biodiversity. This was the first time that I got to give this speech in public. The audience was small (maybe 15 people), but I still got all choked up talking about our native plants and the threat that invasive species pose. It was a good moment.

4. Sweeping for bugs from a radio flyer wagon. I had the pleasure of leading Boyscout Troop 88, a group of special needs Boyscouts and their parents, on an inventory hike. We touched the fuzzy leaves of goldenbush and talked about hairy plants. We used our sweep nets to find ladybugs and leaf hoppers, sweeping from red wagons and wheelchairs. We found stink beetles and ants. We smelled sagebrush. We had a great time. The kids were great and the parents were amazing. I got teary-eyed when they took the Junior Ranger pledge at the end, vowing to protect the natural world. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or maybe it was the enthusiasm in their little voices. As Troop 88 says in their motto, "Do Your Best"

And we did.

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