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Caterpillar Release Brings Hope for Return of Another Lost Presidio Species


Black and orange variable checkerspot butterfly caterpillar. Photo by John Hafernik/San Francisco State University.
This variable checkerspot butterfly caterpillar is one of 1,500 recently reintroduced to the Presidio. Photo by John Hafernik/San Francisco State University.

The weekend of March 10th saw the reintroduction of 1,500 variable checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas chalcedona) caterpillars to the Presidio—a species not seen here since 1978 when the army transformed their last remaining habitat into a garbage dump. Thanks to recent restoration efforts, the park once again has the habitat that the butterflies need to thrive.

The caterpillars, collected from San Bruno Mountain in San Mateo County, were carefully placed onto host plants at El Polin and near Lobos Creek. The hope is that enough caterpillars avoid being eaten by hungry birds so that a couple hundred adult butterflies can emerge around mid-April and spread into nearby areas over the course of their 15-day lifespan. Presidio Trust staff plan to continue to release variable checkerspot caterpillars for the next two to three years to help create a self-sustaining population.

The butterfly is among several native species that have recently been brought back to the Presidio, including three-spine stickleback fish and western pond turtles. If successful, this reintroduction will create the second of only two sites where variable checkerspots are still found in San Francisco.

Read more in these recent San Francisco Chronicle and SF Gate articles, or contact Jonathan Young for more information.

Partnership with Local Restaurants Aims to Help Bring Back Native Oysters


Emptying water from a yellow bucket of sterilized Olympia oyster shells collected from local restaurants. Photo by Presidio Trust.
Sterilized Olympia oyster shells collected from local restaurants will be used to restore a reef at the foot of the Tennessee Hollow Watershed. Photo by Presidio Trust.

Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida) were largely lost from the San Francisco Bay by the 1860s thanks to Gold Rush era sedimentation, pollution, and overharvesting. Although their larvae are still found in the Bay’s waters, a lack of hard surfaces means that the young oysters don’t have enough places to settle on and grow.

To help fix this problem, the Presidio Trust is working with local restaurants to collect oyster shells that can be sterilized and used to create reefs at the edge of the Tennessee Hollow Watershed. So far, they have collected about a third of the approximately 20 cubic yards of oyster shells they need.

Contact Bridgette Haggerty with questions or read more in the Presidio Trust’s blog.

Exciting Rare Plant Finds in Golden Gate and Point Reyes


Drooping yellow flower of Dirca occidentalis, or western leatherwood. Photo by Roxanne Foss/NPS
The rare Dirca occidentalis, or western leatherwood, was recently found in both Golden Gate and Point Reyes. Photo by Roxanne Foss/NPS.

The last month revealed two new populations of a very special plant right here in the San Francisco Bay Area National Parks. Natural Resource Management Intern Robert Hogg spotted the California Native Plant Society-listed rare plant Dirca occidentalis at Sweeney Ridge. The find marks the first time this species has been documented within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s management boundary.

Point Reyes Range Management staff Roxanne Foss and Aaron Peretz also found a new population of D. occidentalis at Cheda Ranch. Known as western leatherwood, this species is one of the rarest shrubs in California and is only found in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is also the only representative of the Thymelaeaceae, or Daphne family, in California.

Eradicating Highly Invasive Weed in Marin Still Possible


A dense stand of highly invasive Japanese knotweed in Marin County. Photo by Eric Wrubel/NPS.
Contolling highly invasive Japanese knotweed in Marin County will take a coordinated effort by agencies and private landowners. Photo by Eric Wrubel/NPS.

Native to Japan, China, and Korea, Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is considered one of the worst invasive plant species in the world. This fast-growing member of the buckwheat family forms tall, dense, leafy monocultures that shade out other plants. Supported by a deep and extensive underground rhizome network, it readily resprouts from even tiny fragments, making it extremely difficult to eradicate. It is hardy enough to survive on the slopes of active volcanoes and strong enough to penetrate concrete. As a result, managers are not only concerned about the ecological threat this species poses, but about the damage it can do to homes and property.

Although Japanese knotweed is not widespread in California, it is found at several sites in Marin County. About half of the known populations are on National Park Service land in Lagunitas Creek, and about half are upstream at Samuel P. Taylor State Park and on private land in San Geronimo Valley. The National Park Service currently controls Japanese knotweed by pulling it by hand; however, the Mattole Restoration Council in Humboldt County also tried manual control before reluctantly resorting to herbicide after these methods failed. Because the plant disperses by water, eradication efforts must be focused along the entire lengths of San Geronimo and Lagunitas Creeks. Otherwise, upstream populations will continue sending out propagules and establishing downstream.

A concerted and organized effort among multiple land management agencies and individual landowners is required; however, a recent meeting organized by the Marin Resource Conservation District saw disappointingly low turnout. It may still be possible to eradicate this species in Marin, but only if coordinated action is taken before the infestation becomes more widespread. A lack of public support or sense of urgency could hinder efforts to tackle the significant threat of Japanese knotweed before it’s too late.

Read more in this recent Point Reyes Light article or contact Eric Wrubel for more information about the biology, known impacts, and distribution of this species.

Implications of Sea Level Rise on Mediterranean-Climate Marsh Species


Marco image of Salicornia pacifica, a dominant salt marsh plant. Photo by Steve Matson ©2006.
The presence of S. pacifica, also known as Pacific pickleweed, affected species diversity in a set of recent field experiments testing the effects of sea level rise on marsh plants. Photo by Steve Matson ©2006.

Sea level rise is predicted to change both salinity and inundation levels—conditions that are already the two biggest stressors on plants living in Mediterranean-climate salt marshes. A recent study moved plants from higher elevations to lower ones in a southern California marsh to simulate the effects of sea level rise and test how it might affect competitive interactions and plant species diversity. This move was paired with manipulations of the dominant plant species, Salicornia pacifica, otherwise known as Pacific pickleweed, to see if plant species interactions became more competitive or facilitative.

The study found that both S. pacifica and the subordinate species were affected by inundation, but that levels of the subordinate plant species decreased with the presence of S. pacifica. Based on these results, the authors predict that increased competition and species interactions as a result of sea level rise may reduce plant diversity and exacerbate the effects of climate change on these plant communities. They conclude that restoration projects attempting to maintain a full suite of ecosystem functions should try to account for these changes by planting a high diversity of species in areas expected to see increased inundation.

Read more in the full PLoS ONE article “Early Stages of Sea-Level Rise Lead to Decreased Salt Marsh Plant Diversity through Stronger Competition in Mediterranean-Climate Marshes.”

Events & Announcements


Registration Open for 2017 Science and Natural Resources Symposium

On May 11th, the San Francisco Bay Area Network of national parks will host its 7th Science and Natural Resources Symposium. This event is open to park staff, volunteers, and partners from a wide range of disciplines.

This year’s symposium will highlight examples of the many ways the San Francisco Bay Area National Parks are working to meet their mission.

The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.

Regardless of what is happening in the world around us, this mission remains the same. However, striving to meet these lofty goals requires adaptability in the face of political, natural, and demographic changes that may be beyond our control. It compels us to use the best available science to inform resource management. It challenges us to go beyond what we have done in the past to engage new audiences in new ways. And, it calls for us to consider how we work with others for the benefit of all.

Get more information and register for this event here.

Youth Conservation Corps Hiring for Summer 2017

John Muir National Historic Site is seeking members for the 2017 Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) summer program (June 19th – August 11th, 2017). This paid program aims to help local youth, ages 15-18, gain work experience and skills, learn about their local environment and explore careers in environmental sciences, conservation, parks and recreation. This experience also comes with several educational field trips, including a camping trip to a local National Park.

Applications are due by Sunday, April 16th, 2017. You can learn more about the program and find application materials here. For questions about the program or to apply by email, contact Sierra Mathias.

UPDATE: Point Reyes National Seashore is also seeking YCC applications. The Point Reyes program will run from June 12 – August 4, 2017. Applications must be received, emailed, or postmarked on or before April 14.

Science Talk at Cal Conference – April 22, 2017

Learn tips for sharing science with the public from communications experts from the fields of climate change, water, and food. Then put these lessons to use on a project of your own in a collaborative, two-hour workshop. This free conference will be held at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California, Berkeley from 9 am – 4:30 pm. Space is limited so register here.

Upcoming Park Academy Classes

  • Botany Series: Plant Families in the Field (Miwok Loop) - April 1, 2017 8 am – 12:30 pm
  • Soil Health Series: Physical Properties of Soil - April 4, 2017 1 – 4 pm
  • One Tam Event: Wildlife Picture Index Workshop - April 6, 2017 1 – 4 pm
  • Soil Health Series: Composting Methods & Biological Properties of Soil - April 11, 2017 1 – 4 pm
  • John Muir Laws: Nature Journal Workshop - April 11, 2017 12:30 – 2 pm
  • Botany Series: Plant Terminology - April 13, 2017 9 am – 1 pm
  • Wildflower Walk at Lands End - April 15, 2017 10 am – Noon
  • Soil Health Series: Understanding Growth Media & the Chemistry of Soil - April 18, 2017 1–4 pm
  • One Tam Event: Wildlife Picture Index Workshop - April 20, 2017 1–4 pm
  • Soil Health Series: Drought, Climate Change, & Soils - April 25, 2017 1– 4 pm
  • One Tam Event: Wildlife Picture Index Workshop - April 25, 2017 1–4 pm
  • Botany Series: Introduction to Plant Identification with Taxonomic Keys - April 28, 2017 1–4 pm
  • Wildflower Walk at Presidio Coastal Bluffs - April 29, 2017 10 am–Noon

Classes are free for NPS and Conservancy staff and volunteers. For more details or to register see their website.

Upcoming Field Institute Classes

The Point Reyes National Seashore Association's Field Institute has many classes coming up, including:

  • Geology Hike - Cliff House to the Golden Gate - April 1, 8:30 am – 5 pm
  • Maritime Painting at the Historic Lifeboat Station - April 7, 5 pm – April 9, 4 pm
  • Elk Calves and Spring Wildflower Safari - April 8, 10 am – 4:30 pm
  • Inverness Morning Kayak Tour - April 8, 10 am – 1 pm
  • Butterflies for Beginners - April 15, 10 am – 2 pm
  • Watercolor Nature Journaling: Sky, Land, and Sea - April 21, 5 pm – April 23, 2 pm
  • Marine Plastic Pollution: Research, Recovery, and Solutions - April 22, 9 am – 4 pm
  • Using POLES for Hiking & Outdoor Exercise - April 22, 10:30am – 4:30pm
  • Drakes Estero Natural History Hike - April 27, 9 am – 4 pm
  • Dramatic Shoreline Photography - April 28, 7 pm – April 30, 4 pm
  • Wonders of the Intertidal - Tidepooling at Duxbury Reef - April 29, 8:30 am – 12:30 pm
  • Tomales Point Geology Hike - April 29, 9 am – 5 pm
  • Secret Caves & Hidden Beaches - April 30, 6 am – 12:30 pm

Point Reyes staff can register for a class at no charge, contact the Field Institute at 415-663-1200 x307 for more details.

Mountain Lion Love is in the Air


Just in time for Valentines Day, a pair of mountain lions stroll together past a wildlife camera at Rancho Corral de Tierra
Just in time for Valentines Day, a pair of mountain lions stroll together past a wildlife camera at Rancho Corral de Tierra.

Wildlife cameras have been capturing a variety of images at Rancho Corral de Tierra since they were installed in 2014. Photos of mountain lions (Puma concolor) have become considerably more common since one camera was recently moved 50 feet from its original location to reduce photo over-exposure.

Among these new images is a series of shots of a pair of mountain lions. The cats commonly mate at this time of the year, and may have two to four kittens that will stay with their mother for up to two years. You can learn more about these big cats here or contact with specific questions about the camera project at Rancho Corral de Tierra.

Condor Nesting Season Begins in Central California


A condor chick waits for its parents to return to the nest at Pinnacles National Park. Photo by Gavin Emmons/NPS.
A condor chick waits for its parents to return to the nest last year at Pinnacles National Park. Photo by Gavin Emmons/NPS.

Pinnacles National Park visitors and staff members have seen increased California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) activity in the past few weeks, as the birds’ breeding and nesting seasons get into in full swing. Condors tend to form long-term bonds, and during the winter biologists observe them carefully to determine if new pairs are forming and to see which pairs are likely to nest.

Around February or March, the condors will usually have chosen their new partners or reestablished old bonds. They also will have found a nest cavity for their single egg. If successful, both parents will split nesting duties, incubating the egg for almost two months. After the chick hatches, they will continue to intensively care for it in the nest for another six months until it fledges, and then for up to another year after it learns to fly.

In 2016, there were eight active condor nests in central California, four of which produced chicks. One of the successful nests was in Pinnacles National Park, yielding the first condor fledgling from inside the park in over 100 years. This year, biologists are again observing several condor pairs in central California, which will hopefully add even more condors to the region’s flock. For more information contact