Plants, Life, Riverside is an ongoing interpretive project about plants in an urban setting, continuing ArtPlantae’s mission of encouraging an interest in plants and addressing the subject of “plant blindness”. Where do plants reside in this city of concrete, asphalt and stucco? Let’s find out.
The Inland Empire region of southern California is home to many native species of plants and animals. It is also home to many invasive species that threaten local plant communities and animal populations. The Inland Empire is a two-county area east of Los Angeles composed of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. In terms of mileage, the Inland Empire (or “IE”) is generally 60 miles from Los Angeles. In terms of drive time…well, the 80-mile commute to west Los Angeles from Riverside can take 3.5 hours during peak commuting hours.
Nestled below the San Bernardino Mountains, is the Santa Ana Watershed. The watershed is an area of land through which water flows from the mountains to a single outlet at the Pacific Ocean. Water flowing from the mountains travels through four counties on its way to the ocean. These counties are San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles and Orange County. The Santa Ana watershed, its plant and animal communities and its namesake river are monitored by many resource conservation districts whose objectives are to promote the care of natural resources within the watershed.
The Santa Ana Watershed Association (SAWA) began as a collaborative of local Resource Conservation Districts and the Orange County Water District. Formed in 1996, the purpose of the new association was to eradicate Giant Reed (Arundo donax) and other invasive species that had established themselves in the Santa Ana River. The Association became a nonprofit organization in 2000.
While earlier efforts focused primarily on field work, biological monitoring and habitat restoration, SAWA realized there was a need to educate the public about watershed issues. The Education and Public Outreach Department was formed in 2008 and in five short years, the three-person department has established itself as a major player in environmental education. The educators at SAWA participate in 30 outreach events per year, host four to eight educational events of their own and host four volunteer days (e.g., “clean up” events) at different locations in the Inland Empire. The Education Department connects with 12,000 people per year through its workshops, field trips and events, operates an interpretive center at Chino Creek Wetlands and Educational Park and is responsible for establishing the California Naturalist program in the Inland Empire.
You may already be familiar with the Master Gardener program and its requirement of 40 class hours and volunteer time. The California Naturalist program is similar in that it also requires 40 class hours. It differs from the gardening program in that it does not currently have the volunteer requirement. Participants are instead required to complete a capstone project to earn certification. Capstone projects must be a citizen science project, an educational or interpretive project, or be a work effort benefiting a local environmental organization.
The California Naturalist program was created by UC Davis as a way to promote environmental literacy and engage California residents in the stewardship of California’s natural resources. This program exists in the Inland Empire because of the tireless efforts of Carrie Raleigh, SAWA’s Education and Public Outreach Manager. Carrie was already familiar with naturalist programs for the public because she herself had completed Florida’s Master Naturalist program in 2006. She returned to California, began work with SAWA and in 2011 began looking for a comparable program in California. She learned about the California Naturalist program through the UC Cooperative Extension. One of the first adopters of the program in inland southern California, Carrie worked on the program with her staff for two years and launched the Inland Empire California Naturalist program in
Subject areas covered in the 40-hour program include: native plants, nature journaling, geology, climate, water resources, wildlife, forest and woodland resources, interpretation, communication, citizen science, and global environmental issues.
Thirty-six states have a Master Naturalist program. If you are interested in becoming a certified naturalist in your area, look for Master Naturalist programs near you.
On May 29, 2014, the Santa Ana Watershed Association closed its Education department. To inquire about future programming in the Inland Empire for the California Naturalist Program, please click on the link below.