Lightning Talks

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Lightning Talks

Thursday, October 20 at 3:00-4:40 pm, Gateway Ballroom

Session Description: The fast-paced lightning talks session is not to be missed! Each five-minute talk presents an exciting idea intended to spark discussion amongst conference attendees. 

Session Chairs: Liv O’Keeffe (California Native Plant Society, Sacramento, CA, USA) and Amina Sharma (California Native Plant Society, Los Angeles, CA, USA)

L.1    Urban Greening From the Ground Up: Native Habitat Medians

Jessica Rath (University of California Irvine), Julie Coffey (UCI Nature, University of California, Irvine)

Cities play a critical role in efforts to protect California’s biodiversity. The location of cities in areas of high ecological importance (floodplains, coasts) and the intensity of negative impacts from human density and urban development have led to the degradation of natural systems and species loss. At the same time, cities present unparalleled opportunities for conservation and restoration, especially in biodiversity hotspots like Los Angeles. The impacts from lack of open space, environmental degradation, and climate change have been disproportionately felt by disadvantaged communities. Urban greening offers community benefits like access to greenspace and mitigation of urban heat island effects, in addition to providing habitat and increased plant diversity. However, most of these urban greening efforts fall into a few categories: rebates for private homeowners, top-down special projects, and free street tree request programs. These projects rely on state or municipal funding, can take years to process and often do not apply to renters. Instead of waiting for top-down action, we envision scalable solutions for grassroots, ecologically informed urban greening. We use plants to transform the social fabric of a block as people engage with visible stewardship of public parkways and with each other in shared pedestrian areas on their own blocks. 

We conducted 4 pilot plots in 2021, seeding six species of annual wildflowers: Lasthenia californica, Sisyrinchium bellum, Clarkia amoena, Phacelia minor, and Escholzia californica. Access to three of the plots was built through door to door conversations with owners, renters, and gardeners. To mimic real conditions for residents, we took a low cost and naive approach to seeding. We found even when seeding species late in a dry year we achieved good coverage and flowering of several species. We hope to empower blocks to envision their own local transformation to a greener future.

L.2     Increasing native species in urban ecosystems

Joanna Tang (University of California, Santa Barbara) 

The majority of people live in urban areas, but the majority of native species live far away from urban areas. Restoration in urban areas can provide ecosystem services, increase native diversity, and also increase the diversity of people involved in restoration. However, urban areas have unique environmental conditions that may not be conducive to native species; can native ecosystems be successfully restored in urban areas? UC Santa Barbara has been engaging with the local community to restore vernal pool wetlands in and around its campus for the past 40 years. I performed a vegetation survey to assess whether these restored urban vernal pools harbored successful native plant communities. I found that vernal pools embedded in the urban matrix actually exhibited higher native cover than vernal pools embedded in a grassland matrix. This suggests that vernal pools may benefit from the unique conditions of urban areas (e.g., compacted soil and small parcel sizes). Further, vernal pools are ideal candidates for urban restoration projects because they harbor charismatic species that both engage the urban community in land stewardship and foster fully functioning endemic ecosystems.

L.3     Restoring Coastal Prairie in San Luis Obispo County

Mindy Trask (Caltrans District 5) 

Due to coastal erosion and sea-level rise, the California Department of Transportation recently realigned a 3-mile stretch of Highway 1 just north of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse in northern coastal San Luis Obispo County. The road realignment resulted in the need to restore over 75 acres of coastal prairie habitats. Strategies for habitat restoration originated with innovative design and construction practices, some of which had to be updated during construction to respond to new challenges. Several design and construction minimization measures were implemented to reduce impacts to protected species and habitats, including construction of three floodway spanning bridges where previously there were undersized culverts, salvaging topsoil and duff, and retention of wetland hydrology with a type of porous subgrade treatment under the new roadway in wetland areas. Despite the many impact minimization efforts, the project resulted in about 15 acres of permanent and 62 acres of temporary impacts to wetlands, aquatic habitat and coastal prairie that needed to be offset. As part of the mitigation, the old highway was removed with the goal of restoring it to natural habitats similar to the adjacent landscape. Locally harvested native transplants of wetland species were designed to supplement native seeding, which has been highly successful in the wetter of the wetland areas. Restoration of the roadsides adjacent to the new highway has been far more successful than restoration of the old highway thus far. There have been many challenges with converting a large section of former roadway to natural habitat, some of which are site-specific and some of which convey lessons learned for future, similar efforts. 

L.4     Protecting Threatened and Endangered Plants with the Native Plant Program

Mariel Boldis (California Department of Fish and Wildlife—Native Plant Program) 

How do we help conserve California native plants at risk of permanent extinction from the wild? As part of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the Native Plant Program (NPP) is an essential component in aiding conservation and management of over 150 threatened or endangered native plants that are protected by the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The NPP is a platform for CDFW scientists to research, monitor, and provide information and permitting avenues related to CESA-listed plant species’ biology, populations, distribution, and range using the best available science. The NPP’s scientists review CESA-listing petitions submitted to the Fish and Game Commission, conduct status reviews of CESA-listed plants, issue 2081(a) voucher collection and research permits for scientific, educational, or management purposes, and are currently developing a recovery plan framework for listed plant species. The NPP’s scientists also liaison and coordinate with partner agencies and NGOs to help develop and implement recovery or management objectives for listed plant species, helping maintain native plant biodiversity across watersheds. The NPP works closely with a diverse set of stakeholders when enacting its CESA-related duties and is working to improve the process of actively engaging a wide range of communities, including Indigenous Peoples. Overall, the reports and information the NPP provides through collaborative partnerships can help inform legislation, policy, range-wide conservation plans, and recovery efforts to manage threatened and endangered plants for long-term conservation. By sharing the current functions of NPP, its scientists can be better positioned to receive and integrate valuable feedback for how the NPP can better serve the native plant resources it protects.

L.5     Shuttles to Sustainability: How Conservation needs Transportation

Heidi M. Petersen 

We need to implement comprehensive train, bus & shuttle access to our natural spaces. We’re currently experiencing problems of congestion, gridlock, and smog in some of the areas we are trying our best to protect & share with future generations. Even fairly remote state parks are seeing 400 cars a day on a holiday weekend, impacting safety, the experience of park goers and sending the overflow into unmaintained and vulnerable spaces. With increasing urban populations, a younger population that doesn’t drive, and rising car costs we also need to increase public transit access to encourage the love of nature across more demographics. I will provide examples of where California is succeeding and failing at providing equitable transportation access, including Yosemite NP, Samuel P. Taylor SP, Elkhorn Slough, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP, and local and regional parks. I will conclude with a look at international solutions, and how those as well as solutions from California’s past can be applied into the future. 

L.6     Post-fire Restoration at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Haley Heesch (University of California Irvine Center for Environmental Biology), Priscilla Ta (UCI CEB), Jennifer Long (UCI CEB), Sarah Kimball (UCI CEB), Katharina Schmidt (UCI CEB), Erin Chin (Bolsa Chica Land Trust), Kim Koplin (Bolsa Chica Land Trust), Beverly Hantson (Bolsa Chica Land Trust)

When wildfires burn heavily invaded landscapes, it provides an opportunity for restoration by increasing bare ground for the seeding and planting of natives. The Bolsa Chica Mesa is a unique habitat due to its proximity to the coast and the rarity of undeveloped coastal sites in Southern California. On July 26, 2020, 26 acres of the Bolsa Chica Reserve Mesa burned in a wildfire. The resulting bare ground provided an opportunity for native species to be established through restoration plantings. Our overarching objective was to determine the best method for increasing native diversity and reducing non-native plant cover at a recently burned site within the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. The site was dominated by non-native, invasive species with limited-to-no native seed bank. Native species that have been successfully introduced include coastal sage scrub species, such as Salvia mellifera, Eriogonum fasciculatum, and Artemisia californica, as well as native perennial grasses, such as Stipa pulchra, Aristida purpurea, and Stipa cernua. We established experimental plots within the burned area to address the following research questions: 1. Does herbicide treatment (applied 2 weeks after the first germination-triggering rain event, after non-natives have germinated and before natives have germinated) improve the success of restoration efforts? 2. What combination of native perennial species added as container plants (grasses or shrubs), have the greatest survival and growth? 3. Does the addition of native forb seeds, added around the container plants, successfully increase native cover and diversity and reduce non-native cover and diversity? We found that herbicide successfully decreased non-native cover, and that shrubs survived better than grasses. The addition of native forb seeds successfully increased native diversity and cover and decreased non-native cover. Our results provide information on how wildfire can be used as an opportunity for restoration.

Increasing our public transportation connections can: Increase access with less congestion, noise and air quality impact; Reduce climate change impact; Protect wild spaces by guiding people into permitted, maintainable spaces instead of trampling sensitive areas; Protect wildlife; Maximize space for plants. The problems include climate change, gridlock, safety, air quality, “Loved to Death” spaces, and cars sparking fires. The solution can be found in buses, shuttles, park & rides, train routes, carpooling perks, and increased hike/bike campsites.

L.7     Meeting Our Carbon Neutral Pledge Through Forest Recovery

Lester Lubetkin (El Dorado Chapter, CNPS), Natalia Blackburn (El Dorado Chapter, CNPS)

In 2019, volunteers raked around legacy conifers in advance of the Caples Creek prescribed understory burn to protect them from fire damage. While this work was done to help return the forest to a healthier, more fire-resilient condition, we also realized we were helping store carbon through the annual growth of these magnificent trees. The El Dorado Chapter had pledged to become “carbon-neutral” and we decided to measure the carbon storage that resulted from our volunteer efforts. The calculations considered the annual growth of the trunk, branches, and roots, and then adjusted for loss of some trees due to the prescribed fire that turned into a wildfire after an intense windstorm. The volunteer efforts led to storage of 6 tons of carbon dioxide, offsetting some of the vehicle travel our chapter members incur attending meetings, field trips, etc.

L.8     Sand Hill Restoration

John F. Balawejder (CNPS, Central Coast Wilds)

My client-centered project has restored a section of a previously disturbed area in a private yard in a local Sand Hill environment which locally, is found nearby in Henry Cowell State Park along the Graham Hill Rd border of the park.The area, a downhill southwest-facing hill, was overgrown with an unknown dwarf grass that required hand removal. I projected that I would use the installed overhead watering system as a “best uses practice” to foster the initial root growth during the first dry summer season and then as a continual as needed.

I tracked the local flora in this chaparral-type environment and then ordered from a local nursery, Central Coast Wilds, with starting site specific seed. During this initial design phase I engaged their field biologists as to their previous experiences in planting into the sand/soil. They started plants in various types of containers, some adapted for deep and long initial root growth as the Sand Hills are exceptionally dry, and getting a good head start with root growth would lead to best success.  

During installation, which I plotted to avoid late season frosts,  I added an aesthetic quality to my plant placement and accents using floral mixes as well as length of floral show, different heights, bunching as well as singles, and erratic groupings of large and smaller boulders of Sonoma Fieldstone. I reset the overhead watering to allow for what I call a “summer rain” type of coverage. My main concern was getting sufficient initial root growth to sustain the plants during the dry season in this sand. This has proven to be a success as my retention rate is near 100 percent. 

L.9     Wildfire Safety and Healthy Habitats: UCI Ecological Preserve Defensible Space Demonstration Project

Moises Perea-Vega (UCI Nature, UCI Center for Environmental Biology), Julie Coffey (UCI Nature), Megan Lulow (UCI Nature), Sarah Kimball (UCI Center for Environmental Biology) Priscilla Ta (UCI Center for Environmental Biology), Katharina Schmidt (UCI Center for Environmental Biology), Danny Fry (Natural Communities Coalition)

Fuel Modification Zones (FMZ) regulations imposed on urban-wildlife interfaces often create anthropogenically disturbed zones harmful to native habitat restoration efforts. Ecologists and restoration specialists, FMZ regulating bodies, and firefighters are concerned with how the choices of native plants, planting organization, and maintenance in FMZ can both prevent fire hazards and increase biodiversity in adjacent native habitats. In this study we asked how planting design and irrigation affect first-year performance and influence maintenance costs in the FMZ. We also set baselines for a long-term study on plant survival and developed a technique for sampling cactus water content. Two native cacti species with low landscape flammability were planted within the FMZ using a FLOSS (Few-Large or Several-Small) design and random block design. Large and small plots were further categorized as seeded and unseeded (the control) for future native seeding research. We compared the health of Opuntia littoralis in the FLOSS by measuring relative first-year performance of height as a function of plot treatment types. The results demonstrate that the Few-Large planting organization provided a growth advantage as well as reduced maintenance costs. We analyzed the growth of Cylindropuntia prolifera across all four plot types by measuring first year performance of pad count. Our results establish similarity in growth viability between plots a priori to seeding. We studied the differences in water content of Opuntia littoralis at several inland and coastal sites to assess species difference at potential harvest and restoration areas. As global warming trends change soil and species health, we suggest extending these studies over time and expanding data collection on more variables that affect planting organization, soil environment, and CSS species to further the restoration efforts in FMZ.

L.10     State Funding Boosts Plant Conservation Seed Banking Effort

Joe DeWolf (San Diego Botanic Garden, California Plant Rescue) 

In 2014, botanical institutions across the state came together to form the California Plant Rescue (CaPR) initiative to better coordinate seed banking efforts for ex situ conservation. Our early successes positioned us to make the most of an opportunity presented to us in 2019: a CNPS-led lobbying effort resulted in a $3 million line item in the state budget for seed banking. A secure funding source has allowed us to ramp up collection efforts with more institutions participating in collecting and each institution making more collections. In the first two years of funding for collections, annual collection efforts have added unique taxa at over 2.5 times the rate of CaPR’s early years and 277 never-before-banked CRPR 1B taxa have been added to seed banks. By comparing collection patterns before and after the influx of funding, CaPR members have learned more about biases and tendencies in our collection patterns and how funding impacts those tendencies. The infrastructure support has allowed us to better curate and secure the collections made. While CaPR is well situated to hit our target of banking 1166 1B-ranked taxa with the state funding, the group is also looking beyond that goal. The group is seeking to bolster small collections of the taxa most in need and push further into researching germination and propagation protocols to make the most of the seed collections for conservation.

L.11     Natives Gardening Builds Equity and Inclusion

Lupe Peru (Alegre Landscape Design) 

Saving money gardening with natives can impact the equity and inclusion of under-served communities by making gardening more affordable. Gardening with natives allows us to spend less on water, spend less on products to grow and to keep the plants healthy and pest free. Also, seeds propagate more readily in their native soil, growing the garden without having to purchase more plants. Any savings opens the door for greater inclusion into the world of gardening, where it might otherwise be seen as a luxury activity and inaccessible. 

And because gardening is recognized as having health benefits to our bodies, our minds, our spirits, the more that under-served communities and those on fixed incomes would benefit from access to gardening, the more equity that is possible across communities. Gardening with native plants facilitates greater access to the world of gardening, and therefore also expands the use, and understanding of the benefits of planting natives.

L.12     Turning the Tides through Redwood Rides

Leslie Parra (Save the Redwoods League), Lucien Sonder (Golden Gate National Recreation Area), and Rebecca Au (Golden Gate National Recreation Area)

Save the Redwoods League seeks to deepen relationships with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color as well as low-income communities, and support their wellbeing by dismantling barriers and coordinating free rides to their local redwoods park(s). In partnership with San Francisco Bay Area community-based organizations and redwood park agencies, we are engaging these historically underrepresented communities with the opportunity to directly access bus transportation to their local redwood park. Our main objectives are to provide access to redwood parks by reducing the significant barrier of transportation and offering relevant, engaging outdoor resources and activities to enrich their experience. 

To provide communities with culturally informed programming during their visit, staff from the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy developed a community science program at Muir Woods National Monument. This program aims to broaden outreach efforts to underrepresented communities and introduce them to service through community science as the mechanism. It is a hybrid volunteer/outreach/interpretation/natural resources program to help staff connect to communities through art, science, nature, community, and personal connection.

L.13     Certification of the Professional Consulting Botanist in California

David L. Magney (California Native Plant Society) 

The ethics of the professional botanist can have, and does have, a tremendous impact on the flora of the world. This is because the professional botanist—particularly consulting botanists— assess the flora of a project site and determine the significance of the impact the proposed project would have on the flora. If the botanist’s ethics are not high, impacts can be ignored, understated, or hidden. This has and does happen. Due to the potential damage to the flora of a region that development projects may have on the native flora, the work and ethics of the professional botanist is extremely important. To help improve the work of the consulting botanists in California, in 2015, the California Native Plant Society created a program to certify field and consulting botanists who work in California. Certification is provided at three levels, Associate, Field, and Consulting Botanist, through examination and by agreeing to abide by the Botanist’s Code of Ethics. To date there are over 40 botanists who have become certified.

L.14     Consulting Botanists: A Role Much Greater Than Special-Status Plant Surveys, Vegetation Mapping, And Habitat Restoration

Justin M. Wood (Aspen Environmental Group, California Botanic Garden) 

Consulting botanists conduct special-status plant surveys, vegetation mapping, habitat restoration, and invasive plant management throughout their careers, but it is the work beyond these typical roles that can really leave a mark on the botanical community and make their careers have a lasting impact on conservation. Join us for a discussion on the importance of vouchered specimens, peer-reviewed publications, observation documentation, coordination, and collaboration from a twenty-year perspective as a botanical consultant.

L.15     Plant Permits 101: Understanding California Endangered Species Act (CESA) Permit Requirements for Rare, Threatened and Endangered Native Plant Species

Joanne Heraty (California Department of Fish and Wildlife Habitat Conservation Planning Branch, Native Plant Program) 

Navigating permit needs for rare, threatened, and endangered native plant species can be challenging. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) encourages research, conservation, and the recovery of state-listed species through a no-cost collaborative permitting process that also ensures legal compliance. In this presentation, staff from CDFW provide an overview of California Endangered Species Act (CESA) permits required for scientific, educational or management projects that could result in the take or possession of state-listed rare, threatened, endangered or candidate plant species.

L.16     Native Grass Response to the Inclusion of Siberian Wheatgrass in Restoration Seed Mixes

Rosemary Frederick (University of Nevada-Reno) 

While results vary from species to species, there is compelling evidence that the presence of Siberian wheatgrass in seeding mixes is detrimental to the establishment of many native species. However, while addition-series studies (experiments that add variable amounts of seed of one or more species to a set amount of target seeds) have been conducted on crested wheatgrass, similar studies have not been conducted to assess the effects of Siberian wheatgrass on Great Basin native species in a restoration context. This is important because Siberian wheatgrass is a significant component of many large federal seed mixes in Great Basin sites. Here we ask, how will the presence of Siberian wheatgrass in native seed mixes affect the emergence and success of native seeds in restoration scenarios over time?

To address this question, we planted ten experimental seed mixes containing four common restoration grass species (Elymus elymoides, Leymus cinerus, Poa secunda, and Pseudoroegneria spicata) into 500 greenhouse pots, half of which were sown alongside cheatgrass seeds at a rate averaged from field observations. We collected species density counts, mortality data, and aboveground biomass for all species in each pot, after one growing season. 

As predicted, we found that native biomass decreased significantly in treatments where Siberian wheatgrass density was higher, with differential sensitivity by species. We also found a surprising, small facilitative effect on native emergence in very low-density Siberian wheatgrass seeding treatments. In pots with cheatgrass, this appeared to be the dominant influence on native species, and there was no evidence that Siberian wheatgrass was able to suppress cheatgrass to facilitate native growth. This work can be used to provide direct recommendations to land managers, improving post-burn site biodiversity and our understanding of these species interactions.

L.17     Rare Plant Surveys in the Bureau of Land Management’s Bishop Field Office

Sean A. Carson (Santa Barbara Botanic Garden), Heather E. Schneider (Santa Barbara Botanic Garden)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 15 million acres within California, making up about 15% of the state’s land mass. Part of this stewardship includes monitoring and conserving sensitive and rare species. One challenge that the BLM faces is identifying the current extent of sensitive species and finding new occurrences. This is especially the case with the BLM Bishop field office, which manages 750,000 acres across a wide range of habitats and climates and dozens of sensitive species. To achieve the goals of monitoring, protecting, and prioritizing rare plant species, the Santa Barbara Botanic (SBBG) and the BLM Bishop field office teamed up to develop an inventory and monitoring plan focused on surveying a select group of sensitive plant occurrences that have not been seen in at least three years—and in some cases, much longer. The objectives of this work were to update the status of rare plant populations within the Bishop Field office via surveys and mapping, and to make conservation seed collections when possible. To accomplish these surveys, SBBG used ArcGIS Online and Field Maps app to collect data about the geographic extent of populations, habitat and ecological data, threats to populations, and negative survey data when plants were not found. As a result, SBBG compiled a large GIS dataset to share with BLM Bishop Field Office and inform future management and conservation decisions. This work is ongoing, but we have already increased the knowledge of rare plant populations within the Bishop Field Office, brought populations into ex situ conservation, and learned valuable lessons for how to tackle the challenge of monitoring rare plants across such a large area moving forward.

L.18     Flower Mimicry and Transformation

Barnali Ghosh  

As an immigrant landscape architect, I would always have trouble remembering the names of plants and flowers I didn’t have a relationship with. That changed for me during the pandemic, when I started creating self-portraits recreating California native flowers using South Asian fabrics and dance poses to highlight their beauty. I’ll share the story of these images that went viral, and how the project transformed my relationship with native plants, helped me find belonging, and raised funds for CNPS and Sogorea Te’ Land Trust.

L.19     Beyond Milkweed for Monarchs: Finding the Right Plants for the Right Places to Support California’s Butterfly and Moth Diversity

Christopher T. Cosma (University of California, Riverside), Nicole Rafferty (University of California, Riverside)

Monarchs need milkweed. It’s a well known ecological relationship that has guided extensive milkweed planting efforts to help recover the now officially endangered species. However, it is time for butterfly and moth conservation to move beyond this narrow focus on one charismatic species. Hundreds of other Western U.S. butterfly species are in decline—and, like the monarch, each species needs specific native host and nectar plants to survive. To protect these insects from extinction, we can’t just be choosing any plants and planting them wherever we want. My research has revealed that relatively few native plant species support the majority of butterfly and moth species in California, and that the identity of the most important plants varies geographically. I’ve integrated these findings into an app called The Butterfly Net that helps find the right plants for the right places to support entire communities of threatened butterflies and moths in California.

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