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La Kretz Center opens new field station

By Erin Donnelly
Originally posted in the Daily Bruin

Nestled deep in the Santa Monica Mountains, and surrounded by more trees and shrubs than buildings, about 100 people gathered Tuesday to celebrate the opening of the UCLA La Kretz Center’s new field station.

The station, which is located on land owned by the National Park Service, is the first physical center for the La Kretz Center, a research organization within UCLA that focuses on environmental and conservation study.

It will serve as a place for researchers to live when conducting research in the Santa Monica Mountains for extended periods of time, said Brad Shaffer, director of the La Kretz Center.

Researchers from several different organizations often study overnight in the area, said David Szymanski, the superintendent for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

But he said the researchers generally have had to rent out campsites or communal buildings that are not always available,

“(The new field station) is a place where you can hang your hat after a long day,” Shaffer said during the center’s opening celebrations.

The field station belongs to the National Park Service but is being used by the La Kretz Center, which was founded three years ago with a $5 million endowment from UCLA alumnus Morton La Kretz.

Money from the endowment was used to refurbish a private home that was already on the site into the center.

“What a thrill it is to inaugurate this field station on this beautiful day,” La Kretz said to the crowd before cutting a ribbon opening the building. “This is a nice place for a real change to take place.”

The building, which many speakers noted jokingly was once bright pink, includes three to four bedrooms and can house up to 18 people, Shaffer said.

The La Kretz Center also plans to host conferences or retreats, including one with the California Conservation Genomics initiative later this year, he said.

But researchers, not necessarily those connected to UCLA, and students will be the primary users of the field station, Shaffer said.

Gary Bucciarelli, a UCLA doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology, said he plans on using the station to study the varying level of toxins in the different newts that are scattered through the area.

Instead of making the daily hour drive from the UCLA campus, from his home in Malibu or sleeping on the couches of friends who live nearby, Bucciarelli plans on sleeping at the field station.

“(The field station) will help my research in a lot of ways,” he said while holding an orange newt in his hand. “It’s a place where you can stay several days in a row to continue your study.”

Other organizations, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, expressed an interest in using the station to collect and study water samples to measure the level and effect of water pollution in the area, said Robert Anders, a research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Shaffer said he hopes to add a small laboratory on the site this year, where researchers can house and study specimens that they are studying.