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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

UCLA and NPS Partner to Open Science Field Station in the SMMNRA

• Conservation and Environmental Research Will Be Focus of New Facility Funded by Philanthropist

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

UCLA and the National Park Service have opened a field station just above Malibu at Rocky Oaks Park in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The new facility will provide headquarters and a center of operations for the UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation,  Science Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.
For longtime SMMNRA advocates, the UCLA program is yet another validation of the area’s biological and environmental significance.
“[The station is] dedicated to improving conservation science in the greater Los Angeles area,” a press release on the new facility states. “It was renovated through the generosity of philanthropist Morton La Kretz to serve as an off-campus location for meetings, small classes, workshops, overnight guests and research support. The station forms the headquarters for the La Kretz Center’s activities with its three primary partners, the National Park Service, California State Parks, and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.”
The field station is located in a former ranch house that is located on National Park Service property adjacent to Rocky Oaks Park on Mulholland Highway. The Malibu Surfside News had an opportunity to tour the facility with executive director Felicia Federico.
“We wanted a physical location, a base of operations in the Santa Monica Mountains,” Federico said. “This station will facilitate field work. The intent is to bridge the gap between ecology and land use.”
Renovations at the facility are almost compete. The former ranch house can be used for conferences, classes, workshops and as a home base for research.
“We have people coming in a few days for a week of rodent research,” Federico said. “We have a genomics workshop that will be led by our director, Brad Shaffer.”
The workshop will offer “an informal training environment for a small group of motivated graduate students to explore how conservation problems can best be addressed with genomic-level data,” a website for the event states.
Federico says the station will open new opportunities for the Park Service to communicate with academics on issues like resource management and climate change.
“Balancing recreational uses with conservation is one of the key objectives,” she said.
“[The field station] will encourage more people to do conservation research in the Los Angeles area,” said UCLA conservation biologist Brad Shaffer, who is the director of the La Kretz Center and a professor with joint appointments in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
“Having a home base in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains makes it much more attractive to do research,” Shaffer said in a press release. “For the first time, we have a building where students, researchers and our agency partners can work, brainstorm, and stay in the mountains.”
The field station offers easy access to the western portion of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Federico says that future plans may include a small laboratory at the station, to aid with fieldwork.
“We are just getting started,” she said.
Federico added that the field station, which is home to live oaks, manzanita and other chaparrel plants and a newly planted native plant garden, offers a prime opportunity for focused research.
More information on the La Kretz Center is available online at http://www.environment.ucla.edu/lakretz

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