Experimenting in the great outdoors

Picture a habitable spot in the heart of the mountains that provides living quarters and lab space to investigate nature—a place where K-12 students, universities, public agencies, and other organizations can advance conservation science in Southern California.

A $500,000 gift from Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky will add a laboratory to the La Kretz Field Station in the Santa Monica Mountains. Supervisor Yaroslavsky, a native Angeleno and Bruin alumnus, has been a leader on environmental matters in L.A. County. Now completing his fifth term as the Third District’s representative, Yaroslavsky has spearheaded land protection efforts in his district.

The field station operates as a research facility for the UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science based at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. UCLA faculty, researchers, and students along with visitors from local, national, and international institutions have utilized the field station since its opening in January 2013.

La Kretz Center Director and Professor Brad Shaffer said, “A field laboratory at the station will enable collaborative resource conservation and management that will help transform the way scientists work in the area. This development will help in a very real sense advance how our broad community conducts and supports the research that is a vital component of preservation efforts in the Santa Monica Mountains.”

Lab schematics show 1,000 square feet of laboratory space that will house microscope stations to visualize and sort samples, bench space to process and store biological materials destined for long-term museum curation, freezers for DNA samples, upgraded storage for field equipment, plus an American Disabilities Act compliant bathroom and shower to accommodate handicapped researchers.

“Field research involves collecting plant, animal, stream and soil samples for later analysis, sorting specimens and storing them for DNA or ecotoxicological research, keeping tissue samples in stable freezers or plants in humidity controlled chambers, and preparing museum specimens for deposition at our world-class museums in Los Angeles to document the biodiversity of the area,” explained Shaffer.

Building a laboratory where multiple aspects of scientific projects can be completed makes such work more feasible, safe, and affordable for the conservation community. Convenient lodgings paired with space to conduct research enhance the ability to perform long-term studies, which are often critical to effective, science-based management and conservation.

“This lab will allow us to create a hub for biological research in the Santa Monica Mountains that brings academic scientists, professional biologists, members of the local community, and students of all ages together to learn about and contribute to conservation issues in the area,” said Shaffer.

Construction is anticipated to begin mid-to-late summer.