USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

June 30, 2011

Field Work with the Conservancy

Filed under: Uncategorized — mzou @ 8:29 pm
Miller Zou
Today was my second experience going into the field with the Conservancy crew to remove invasive plants, and it was epic. We went to the west end of the island to remove and kill a few genista populations, and the entire area was dominated by rolling hills and bluffs composed of gorgeous red rock. After quickly exterminating the genista at the top of the ridgeline we began our descent through the rocky drainages towards the ocean. The hiking and bouldering was pretty intense and we were climbing up and down rocks the whole day, including a few waterfalls that were dry now but flowed during the rainy season. It was hot and dry the whole day but a few murky pools of water could still be found in the ravine, complete with water bugs and flies and whatnot. 

We were on the hunt for several invasive plant species, including tamarisk, figs, and pampasgrass. However over the course of the entire day we could only find a single pampasgrass so it ended up just being a beautiful hike. Once we reached the bottom of the drainage it was time to turn around and head back up the mountain through a different drainage. The heat of the sun was picking up now and the trek back up was challenging. I quickly forgot about all that though as soon as we saw a wreckage of an old airplane sticking out of the ground about halfway up the hillside. Old rusty plates of sheet metal were scattered about with some random airplane parts. We saw two more pieces of the wreckage on the way up. Over the course of the day I saw at least four different species of grasshoppers and crickets, including one with crazy orange patterns on its back that was at least the size of my thumb. The interior of the island is such an amazing place that few people get to ever see, and I am blessed that I was able to explore it.


Scientific Diving

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — drkasang @ 3:41 pm

While the work we are involved with through this internship is terrestrial, Sabrina and I are scientific certified divers. In order to stay certified I need to perform 12 dives each year otherwise I will no longer be considered a scientific diver. Today Jim Haw, head of the ENST department, and Mariah Gill came out to Catalina to dive. Sabrina and I decided to join them on their dives for the day, one at Bird Rock and one at Isthmus Reef both locations I had not previously dived. As we were assembling our gear to get out in one of the skiffs, Gerry came up and said he needed a volunteer for a working dive. I was quite jealous when Sabrina snagged the opportunity to perform her first working dive.

I felt better once I was in the water and saw a thick cover sea grass. We descended along the anchor line to make sure we were secure and found we needed to embed the anchor further into the sea floor. Mariah set about securing the anchor and a startled sea hare inked nearby, surrounding us in a fluorescent  purple haze. Once it was properly secured, Mariah took lead on the dive pointing out lobsters, a horn shark and all sorts of sea life. She has a knack for taking her time in the water and finding the most interesting things. I noticed a harbor seal that was swimming around the kelp near us, checking us out but never getting too close or staying in one place long enough for me to show Mariah and Jim. It ended up being a very enjoyable dive that got us back to Wrigley with just enough time to grab lunch at the mess hall.

Our second dive at Isthmus Reef proved to be much more challenging. Since Mariah and Jim were planning on taking the afternoon Miss Christi back to the mainland, the planned dive was expected to be much shorter. However, once Jim was in the water, he checked the anchor and found that it wasn’t secure and Mariah was going to need to stay in the boat since she was the only one who had completed her BoatUS course. We performed a 20 minute dive along the reef, weaving through kelp and we even had enough time to find a moray eel. When we returned to the boat Mariah told us that she couldn’t pull up the anchor, so we descended along the line and found a huge mess of kelp. The leaves were so thick that I could hardly see a few inches and quickly got wrapped up in kelp. After getting free I found Jim using his EMT shears to free the anchor. By the time we were back in the boat with the anchor Jim and Mariah had to scramble to get on the boat before it left at 3:30.  Overall it was a fantastic day of diving with the ENST crew that had a few surprises. In my limited experience diving, most of which have been in Big Fisherman’s Cove, every dive is a new experience with something different to see or a new challenge to overcome.

Article by ENST professors about Guam

Article by the Daily Trojan discussing the work of this years students

Student Blog about Guam and Palau in Scientific American

June 29, 2011

Taking Out Fennel

Filed under: Uncategorized — ancheung @ 5:15 pm
Dan, Miller, and I removed fennel from our trail today. We primarily used the shovel and the pulaski. I preferred the shovel. To use it properly, I dug the shovel at an angle near the fennel, then stomped a few times and jumped on the shovel to gain leverage. When the shovel was deep enough, I pushed down hard on the handle to dig up the root. Usually a pop could be heard. It was important to get deep enough to the taproot; otherwise the fennel would continue to grow back from the meristematic tissue, right above the root. It was always gratifying to completely get the fennel out and that took a lot of practice. If I didn’t get the root, I had to go back and dig for the rest of it.
For more pictures, check out today’s photo album: Day 18 Major Fennel Work

June 28, 2011

Best Hiking Ever!!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — drkasang @ 3:56 pm
Today I worked with Charlie De La Rosa and the Invasive Plant crew removing invasive Tamarisk on the West end of the Island. We hit the road that enters the interior near Catalina Harbor in a dense marine layer. The whole trip there we could only see a few feet outside of the car until Charlie pulled over on a nondescript section of road and said we had arrived.  The crew piled out, did some stretches and prepped for the day ahead of us.
Charlie led Tammy Tran and me down the main drainage of the area that has a few populations of Tamarisk before we would meet up with the other crew to hit the main population.  As we hiked down we passed beautiful scenes of Catalina Ironwoods, a massive Cherry tree and small rock waterfalls with calm pools of water. As we were traversing a dense patch of Cat Tails, of which the shoots and pollen are both edible [survival skills!], Charlie shouts out that he found some Tamarisk. When I investigate his finding all that I see is a seemingly dead stump but he points out a small shoot with a few leaves that had branched off underground and was weaving through the cattails.  As he sawed and applied herbicide to the plant, Tammy and I trampled through the area looking for other shoots, finding none yet successfully getting tangled and thoroughly pollinated by the reeds.
After treatment we continued down the trail and I saw what i believed was a crawdad in the water. Charlie glanced at it, immediately told me it was a dragonfly larvae and snatched it out of the water to display its retractable mandibles used for feeding. We continued down the watershed, performed another simple treatment and then began seeing signs that the other group had already passed through our area. Once we caught up, the other group was already working on removing the main population of this persistent plant. Since I am unable to handle the herbicide I began digging a channel along some tamarisk shoots to see if we could find a place where they joined up underground.  After a good amount of toiling in the moist, silty bottom of the drainage Charlie decided to make the cuts and apply herbicide because it seemed like we would never unearth these roots.
We finished heading down the basin to where it emptied into the ocean and saw a beautiful cove with an impressive rock jutting out of the ocean just offshore. We sat and decompressed as the waves crashed into the cove; the perfect end to a great day, except now we had to get back to the truck. We hiked with a healthy mix of bouldering up a different ravine towards the ridge. As we ascended, the marine layer had burned off opening up magnificent vistas of the surrounding peaks, accented by clouds above and the marine layer below. I arrived at the ridge quite winded but was rewarded with an amazing view of the Southern California Bight, Catalina Coves and mountains on the mainland. I crawled into the truck tired, covered in dirt and immensely satisfied: I had just spent a day among some of the finest nature and people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
For more pictures, check out today’s photo album: Dan’s Hiking Day

June 23, 2011

Brushing and Trip to Emerald Bay

Filed under: Uncategorized — mzou @ 11:10 pm
Now that we had our trail completely flagged, it was time to start brushing. Brushing is basically just removing any branches, bushes, trees, cacti, leaves, rocks, grasses, etc. that lie directly in the path of the trail or are within a foot or two of the trail. Getting the prickly pears (cactus species) out of the way is crucial, because nothing can ruin a hike quicker than getting a couple cactus spines in your leg. Charlie and Chris Baker showed us the tools and techniques used for brushing. For our trail we have handsaws, pruners, loppers (giant pruners), and a bow saw. We walked up the trail and brushed as we went, using the loppers for twigs and small branches and saws for bigger branches. The cactus was a bit trickier; to remove them you have to chop them up with the loppers and then use two big sticks like chopsticks to take them away. Or the alternative is to impale the cactus with a handsaw and then carry it off. One of the major problems associated with trail-building is the creation of social trails: trails that are not part of the planned trail but are created by people looking to take shortcut or go a different way. Chris taught us that the creation of social trails is undesirable because it takes away from the structure of the original, planned trail. They can cause erosion and confuse hikers about which is the proper way to go. So to discourage the development of social trails we block off any possible sites with brush that we have already cleared, mostly cacti and large branches. Charlie told us that even chopped up cactus pads can take root and regrow if placed in a new location. So we used the removed brush as kind of both a physical and psychological barrier, since most people will choose the path that contains the least cactus. To remove the grasses on the trail you just kind of shuffle your feet to get it out of the ground, and later we will use rakes to fully clear a path. However it appears to me that simply walking up and down the trail repeatedly is doing a large part in removing the grass that is in the way.
After lunch we all drove over to Emerald Bay, a nearby cove and a popular tourist destination, to examine two examples of trails that were not planned well. Both lead from the road down to the beach in pretty much a straight line. The problem with this is that is causes channelization and erosion of the trail, since water will always gather in it and travel vertically down to the beach. The first trail we went down was so bad that it was closed off to the public. It was pretty much vertical, and at least 2-3 feet entrenched between ground on either side due to the erosion over the years. The other trail wasn’t much better, and it was the only way to get up and down from the beach. It was eroded to the point that there wasn’t even any dirt left on the trail; we had to climb up and down rocks in a ravine to traverse the path. Seeing those trails in Emerald Bay really drove home for me the importance of low-impact trail design. It’s definitely good that we took our time planning and flagging our trail, because I would be embarrassed if it ever ended up like the ones at Emerald Bay.




June 22, 2011

Trail Design: Day 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez @ 4:26 pm

By Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez

We spent today flagging the trail all the way to the summit! We started at the Picnic Oak where we ended yesterday and placed markers all the way up. We were lucky to have Sarah Ratay, the Conservancy’s Senior Plant Biologist, joining us. Because we want our trail to be as minimally invasive as possible, we needed Sarah’s expertise to ensure we weren’t harming any rare plants. She walked the trail with us and made some suggestions to help circumvent some rare plants. Chris and Charlie hiked ahead to help us find more control points while the rest of us spread out through the area trying to find feasible routes. We reached a couple of roadblocks.

View of Bird Rock and Ship Rock

First, the fence-line on the left hand side of the trail prevented us from crossing the hillside to gain a more reasonable slope and cross-slope. The fence was placed in this area back when the Conservancy was eradicating the goats and pigs from the island. It is part of a system of fences that break the island into smaller containment or management zones, that help land managers deal with each parcel and each problem at a time. The fences are still in place to help manage deer and bison, although the latter are capable of simply walking through the barrier!

Indian Paintbrush

The second obstacle we reached was the drainage area on the right hand side. What creates a beautiful feature lower on the trail, is a great rock cavern higher up the hill. The third obstacle was extremely high slope with little cross-slope. The area was pretty much vertical. As we hiked up a stretch, we turned back around to measure the slope and it was laughable how ridiculously steep it was. We solved all of these problems by hugging the fence-line to the left and making a slow and steady ascent across the hillside reaching the right hand side. We continued up the hillside in the other direction and found a great path through some trees with some natural rock steps leading up. Once we reached the summit we were greeted with the Catalina Crososoma, a Channel Islands endemic plant, and some Indian paintbrush, or Castilleja, an iconic American species. It was a great find at the end of the trail! At the top you reach the road to the interior and the bison gate. The gate is in place to keep animals in the interior, but some rogue male bison still break through and wander the hillsides of the west end.

At the Summit!

I feel very confident in the trail route we created and I think it will be a great addition to the Wrigley campus. Having the trail connect to the road that leads interior is a very valuable; it will allow hikers to access the Wrigley campus from the main road, making the amenities offered even more accessible. Troops of Boy Scouts and other camps often hike down the main road, so maybe trips to Wrigley’s touch tanks, kayaking, and snorkeling can be added to their adventures! I also hope that this trail can serve as an informative interpretive hike that encourages people to learn more about Catalina while they enjoy the outdoors.

For more photos see Day 11 Scouting and Flagging the Trail

June 21, 2011

Trail Design: Day 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez @ 8:46 pm

by Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez

Today we continued scouting and flagging the Deer Valley trail using the principles of sustainable trail building outlined by Chris. We also had Ellen Kelley, Wrigley’s Naturalist, join us in scouting. We flagged the trail up until our first control point which was  a grove of Toyon (a California native tree). The Toyon grow in a ring like shape and provide a canopy of shade, making a prime location to stop and relax along the hike. We continued to scout around the area in search of our next control point. For our control points we wanted a mixture of overlooks into Big Fisherman’s Cove, geologic features, and interesting plant life. We finally stumbled upon our next control point, which is one of the coolest spots on the trail. As you approach the drainage, there is rock wall teeming with plant life. The best part is during the rainy season the rock will funnel the water down forming a waterfall! It is a breathtaking spot and has 3 of the 6 Catalina island endemic species: the Catalina Live Forever, St. Catherine’s Lace, and the Catalina Bedstraw.

Rock wall/waterfall with 3 endemic species

Unfortunately, to have the trail enable hikers to get a closer look at this magnificent feature meant creating high impact in some areas. We spent a lot of time trying to circumnavigate high grades and still reach the same point, but we were not successful. We decided to keep the route we had chosen but we would have to take extra steps in order to maintain a low impact trail such as full-bench construction and rock steps. Full-bench means the the full width of the tread (the actual travel surface of the trail) is cut into the hillside, which requires more excavation into the soil and leaves a larger backslope, with an outsloped grade of 5% to sheet water off the tread surface. Full-bench construction along steep hillsides would help prevent erosion in the long run and make the trailbed more durable and require less maintenance. Steps along areas of very steep grade greater than 20% would help reinforce the ground, prevent the trail from eroding, and provide a comfortable passage upward along the trail. In order to incorporate these elements into the trail we will need expert rock workers and trail builders to construct the tread. Chris Baker suggested we recruit an ACE crew to do the rock work and cut the tread. We are now working to have an ACE crew come out and hopefully help us complete the trail by the end of the summer!


Sabrina and Charlie mapping, Dan and Ellen scouting area

For the remainder of the day, we continued flagging to our next control points, a viewshed of Bird Rock and Ship Rock, a bison wallow, a large oak canopy, and a grove of scrub oaks we named the Picnic Oak. As we found control points Charlie and I used an ArcPad to map the points as shape files, using a GPS. We are hoping to including mapping the flora of the area and our trail into our project. Afterwards we traveled bit by bit along the trail, connecting the points and using the clinometer to ensure a slope of 15-20% and that the cross slope that the tread followed was one half of the hill slope (the Rule of Halves). We finished the day with about half of the trail marked which is a great milestone! I can’t wait to finish up the trail tomorrow.

Charlie de la Rosa and Chris Baker resting and discussing

For more information on Sustainable Trail Construction and Maintenance visit:

For more photos visit: Day 10 Scouting the trail

June 20, 2011

Low Impact Trail Blazing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — drkasang @ 8:39 pm

Today we had the opportunity to work with Chris Baker, president of ACE (American Conservation Experience) and an expert on sustainable and low-impact trail design. He gave a short and very engaging and informative presentation to the interns as well as Conservancy staff, Travis from Howland’s Landing educational camps, and Ashley, the Nature and Conservation Director of Boy Scouts Emerald Bay on the principles of sustainable trail design. The 3 golden rules of trail design he covered were 1) Do No Harm 2)Complement the Landscape 3)Erosion Abuses the Landscape all of which he liked to sum up as “Think like water!” Chris discussed if you think about the purpose of the trail and the type of hikers that will visit, the design should match their needs so that they will use the trail instead of wandering around the general area. Since water can be such a damaging factor to a trail a large portion of the talk was dedicated to guidelines regarding slope, such as the Half Rule “the trail grade should be no more than half the sideslope grade” [Trail Solutions, IMBA 2004] and full bench construction, all the exposed soil on the trail is hardpack. He then trained us on the use of clinometers, a sighting device which provides information on degree or percent of a slope. We practiced estimating slope, then went to the Deer Valley Watershed right next to the WIES campus and set about designing the trail. The process ended up being considerably difficult, democratic and ultimately very rewarding. We would establish control points, areas of interest that we would like our trail to visit, then use the clinometer to determine the slope, look about, re-determine the slope, and debate about the best route for the trail. If we concluded that the trail would be successful, both for people hiking and with regard to impact on the ecosystem, we would put down a trail marking flag. Some areas were pretty obvious as to the direction we would go and others would be very difficult requiring us to fan out and follow game trails, some of which required crawling through. It was a tough day of work; just the beginning of the process of designing our trail but it was a great day and Chris Baker is very knowledgeable and passionate about his work and we were lucky that he was able to come out to Catalina to help us design this trail.

June 18, 2011

First Day Off: Snorkel Time!

Filed under: Uncategorized — mzou @ 8:03 pm
First free day of the internship and finally, my first chance to snorkel at Wrigley. Dan and Sabrina got certified for diving here last year, so they already knew the area and its marine wildlife. I was blown away by the amount of equipment that USC had for people to borrow: wetsuits in all different sizes, masks, snorkels, fins, kayaks, you name it. Our plan was to strap our snorkel gear to our kayaks and kayak out to a nearby cove and then jumping in the water to snorkel. So we get the three smallest and presumably fastest kayaks into the water, which was the choppiest I have ever seen in Big Fisherman’s Cove (the cove upon which WIES sits). We get halfway across the cove when I lay back and relax in my kayak for a second and look into the water. Before i know it I’m on the backside of a three-foot wave and promptly fall into the water with my wetsuit half on. Luckily I was only about 30 yards away from the cove we were going to, and I wouldn’t have been too nervous if I didn’t fall directly into a huge sea kelp. So I swim to the nearby cove with the kayak and the three of us put on our masks and fins after dragging our kayaks onto shore. The water was pretty cold compared to Mexico and Hawaii (the only places I have snorkeled before), but the experience was still pretty epic. Most of the time I was following Dan and Sabrina as we swam over and through thick kelp forests in search of cool animals to look at. We figured out that the best strategy for getting through kelp without getting tangled in it is to try to go directly over it by plopping onto it and swimming over it. Avoiding getting trapped in kelp is key, at least for me because for some strange reason I am more scared of the kelp than anything else in that water. There’s nothing creepier than having one of those slimy vines wrapped around your ankle. I shudder just thinking about it. Anyways kelp aside the snorkeling was awesome. The sea floor was only about 10-15 feet below us, but in certain spots it dropped down suddenly to depths of 30 ft or more, with full visibility to the bottom. We saw several garibaldi in and out of the kelp and a small goby hiding in a rock in about 2 feet of water. After I got out of the water Dan signaled me to get back in as he was swimming around, but I didn’t because I was already drying off. That was probably a good thing because what he had seen was a five-foot long shark of an unidentified species, and I am not sure how I would’ve handled seeing that in the water. Afterwards we kayaked back to Wrigley (I went as fast as possible) and ate some snacks. All in all it was a great day and I can’t wait to do it again.

June 17, 2011

Day at the Herbarium

Filed under: Uncategorized — ancheung @ 5:46 pm

In this short week, we have been exposed to many different aspects of conservation activity that gave us a glimpse of the upcoming tasks our internship will entail: building trials, removing invasive plant special, giving interpretative hikes, recognizing political contention between the conservancy and locals of Catalina, and identifying plants. As overwhelming as it may sound, it actually blew my mind to find there was so much to do in my field, and I was excited! And today was no different; we got to add plant pressing to our list of new skills. We had the pleasure of meeting with John R. Clark, Senior Plant Biologist and Curator of the Herbarium at the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. Although we had been to the Garden earlier this week, we never entered the herbarium. This time we got to peek at the enormous collection of plant pressing and learn about the process. To be honest, I didn’t know what a herbarium was, I kept calling it a herbatory. I learned that a herbarium is a building or institution that stores a collection of the preserved plant specimens, similar to a library. Herbaria (plural form) keep precise records and are very resourceful. People can study plant taxonomy, identify unknown plants, make comparisons, and research how the plants evolve. More importantly a herbarium records the plants in an area and keeps a timeline of change in vegetation.

For our internship, we will prepare our own plant pressing collection for the trail since no one has collected plant species at that site yet. For each plant species, we will gather five samples, unless they are rare. The collected samples are distributed among us, the Wrigley herbarium, and the other herbaria. Once we have our samples, we will press them, classify them, and make labels for them. The pressing process is another topic that we will delve into when we start collecting our specimen. However, today, we helped attached labels and envelopes on to the pressed paper. The small envelopes, called “frag packs” were used to collect stray pieces of the plants that fell apart. It was important to collect these tiny structures because they could be crucial to aiding other people who are looking at the samples. I also learned there were other methods of preserving plant specimens, such as in plastic or glass jars. These were called spirit or wet collections. Delicate structures, such as a flower or algae, were kept in glass jars with liquid preservative such as ethyl alcohol.

As we prepared to take another hike through the garden, John showed us something cool. He discovered that some flowers had holes near the bottom of the petal. Apparently, the humming birds were poking the bottom of the flower to steal the nectar, making them nectar thieves. It seemed that the size of the hummingbird’s bill was incompatible with the flower petals. We made a trip around the garden and up to the memorial. As we looked down at the garden from the top, John told us that there were plans to change the layout of the garden, to make it more aesthetically pleasing as well as more sustainable. One idea was to redo the pathway through the garden. Instead of having a straight path down to the entrance, John was thinking of having the path meander throughout the garden. This would prevent erosion. Later, we adventured into a hidden trail. We jumped over the fence and walked through a trench. The vegetation through this trail was clearly different; it was made up of riparian woodland plant community, very green and lush with lots of trees hanging on top of us. I really adored this little path. After our hike, Sarah Ratay, the senior plant ecologist, joined us, and we had lunch under the pavilion and watched some educational Conservancy videos. Sarah’s favorite was the bison one, titled “Going Home”. It was really moving; it detailed the process of shipping bison back to South Dakota in order to control their population on Catalina. It didn’t have a lot of words, just a lot of Native American-inspired music that made it very emotional. Afterwards, we helped out with the presses. It was extremely fun and therapeutic gluing labels and envelopes.

For more pictures check this album: Day 6 Visiting John Clark and sarah at the Herbarium

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