California Quail and California Poppy
California Quail and California Poppy - official state bird and flower.

The Hot Spot

The Getty Center, Disneyland, Golden Gate Bridge, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – all are incredible California attractions. The real hotspot however is the state itself. California is one of the 25 biological hotspots in the world. All 163,707 square miles of California feature a rich variety of species and a multitude of diverse climates and landscapes. Learning how to protect this interesting and important hotspot will be the work of the newly established UCLA Institute of the Environment La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science.

Officially introduced at the beginning of this year, the La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science was created through an amazing gift from UCLA alumnus and philanthropist Morton La Kretz. The La Kretz Center’s mission is to preserve California’s biodiversity and ecosystems through research, education and public programs, in partnership with the National Park Service, California State Parks and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

This Center will be at the cutting edge of research needed to decide how best to protect and restore these resources. It will play an important role in moving forward conservation science and its application in California and the rest of the world.

Conservation science can be defined a number of ways. Simply stated it is the careful utilization, restoration and preservation of natural resources, as well as the wise management of these reserves.

Christy Brigham, Chief of Planning, Science and Resource Management for the National Park Service in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area stated that “conservation science can generally be described as using science and scientific tools to understand how to conserve species, populations, ecosystems and the environment as a whole.” Brigham elaborates on this meaning: “When I say science it means not just the biological sciences, but economics, psychology, anthropology, archeology, any available disciple that can be utilized to understand how to conserve life on earth.”

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California is a Mediterranean-type climate and one of only five areas in the world in this category—a designation that earns this location a place on the planet’s hotspot list. California is also one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, home to more unique plants and animals then any other state in the U.S. The variety of California’s flora and fauna is incredible: 30,000 species of insect, 63 freshwater fish, 46 amphibians, 96 reptiles, 563 birds, 190 mammals and about 8,000 plants.This vibrant array of ecosystems imparts many benefits. Brigham elaborates, “There are so many [benefits] it is hard to know where to start. Undeveloped land positively impacts air and water quality; interaction with nature is beneficial for people physiologically and psychologically; unknown potential for medicinal breakthroughs from bioprospecting; research opportunities, and economic benefits, in terms of increasing home value, job creation and tourism.”

The value of California’s biodiversity is only equaled by the intensity and pervasiveness of threats to it. Many biologists believe we are degrading the natural environment at an ever-accelerating rate. In addition to urbanization that decreases natural habitats, other pressures come from fragmentation and isolation of habitats, water and air pollution, wildfires, invasive species and of course climate change. Everything in the environment, the plants, animals and human, are part of the same intricate web of life—one affects the other. Intentional action is necessary to care for California.

Ray Sauvajot, Chief of Natural Resource Programs with the National Park Service, Pacific West Region said, “Although conservation challenges in California are formidable, the opportunities to learn, understand, and apply science toward solutions are unprecedented.”

The La Kretz Center unites UCLA with three agencies dedicated to conservation in California: The National Park Service, California State Parks, and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. This important collaboration the Center will play an incredible role in the protection of our biodiversity and in creating a lasting culture of conservation. Sauvajot stated, “By combining forces, public agencies, nonprofit organizations, and the university, the La Kretz Center will take advantage of the skills and assets of each, catalyzing their mutual effectiveness. While UCLA can provide top-notch research, land management agencies can provide real-world problems and develop on-the-ground solutions. Non-profit organizations can help in other specialized ways, such as helping to raise funds, contributing to public awareness, and assisting in conservation efforts at the grass-roots level. Our conservation challenges can only be solved with thorough understanding, stakeholder engagement, and collaborative participation. The La Kretz Center is built on this model.”

UCLA is the ideal entity for this tremendous task. Brigham noted that “as a center of excellent academic skill and cutting-edge scientific expertise in a variety of disciplines, the University and Institute of the Environment are ideally charged to tackle complex conservation issues.”

On campus at UCLA, there will be many benefits from the Center. Faculty, researchers and students who work at the La Kretz Center will receive real world experience in conservation and stewardship of natural ecosystems. Through a range of outreach activities, the Center will work with its partners to provide substantial education on conservation to the general public.

Sauvajot commented, “The work and lessons learned at the La Kretz Center will have important global implications. Not only will the science that comes out of the Center help protect globally significant natural resources and biodiversity, the solutions that are found by applying the science will help others facing similar environmental challenges. The threats we face in California are similar to those faced in other parts of the world. The discoveries and insights at the La Kretz Center can help illuminate solutions on a global scale.”

He continued, “The La Kretz Center also promises to serve as a hub for environmental education and outreach. By serving the diverse population of southern California, the Center will also help increase awareness and contribute to citizen involvement in environmental stewardship and protection.”

The La Kretz Center has incredible potential to impact the field of conservation science and the hotspot Californian’s call home.