Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Teen's Perspective on Pepperwood

By Nurel Arriaran, TeenNat Intern

Nurel (right) and Rebecca
Fernandes in the field at 
Nurel is a student at Rincon Valley Middle School and was one of the 28 interns who participated in the 2013 debut of TeenNat, a program designed to educate teens about the natural world and introduce them to careers in science. From July 9th through August 9th, for 3 days each week, TeenNat interns spent their days exploring Pepperwood, engaging with scientists, photographing plants and animals, uploading their observations to iNaturalist.org where they can be used by researchers. Their photography was made into a gallery show entitled "Teen Visions of Pepperwood" now on display in the exhibit hall.

Nurel wrote the following article for Pepperwood's blog!

Pepperwood Preserve is a gem embedded between Santa Rosa and Calistoga that all the Bay Area’s residents must know. It is place for constant science research about the magnificent biodiversity from our area where hundreds of plants and animal species native to Sonoma County are kept safe.

For more than 30 years this preserve has been protecting untiringly the flora and fauna of the area. Its importance for Sonoma County is remarkable. Pepperwood participates and collaborates in multiple scientific works such as: Terrestrial Biodiversity Climate Change Collaborative (TBC3), The Landmark International Fog Study, Save the Redwoods League, and the monitoring of the wildlife. It also offers an exclusive rainbow of educational programs. This year Pepperwood Preserve offered the first TeenNat program.

Nurel records an observation.
I am one of the 28 teenagers that participated in this internship, a unique experience where we worked and learned invaluable information from some of the best environmental educators and conservation scientists from our county. This program changed my perspective, the information that I gained lay in fertile ground. Now, I am determined to advocate about the importance of biodiversity and environment.  

While I was hiking with the biologists and scientist as an intern from Pepperwood, I recognized that the work from earth is so powerful that it blinds our generation from appreciating the value nature. As a curious and science oriented teenager, I interviewed Sandi Funke, Education Director at Pepperwood:

When was Pepperwood formed and why?

Pepperwood is a 3,200 acre nature preserve located in Sonoma County. As one of the largest scientific preserves in Northern California, Pepperwood provides a sanctuary for wildlife and affords a native habitat for its flora and fauna to thrive. Pepperwood Preserve was originally established in 1979 as a gift of the Kenneth Bechtel family to the California Academy of Sciences. Jane and Herb Dwight established the Pepperwood Foundation in 2005 to acquire Pepperwood Preserve and to expand the conservation, research and education programs based at the preserve through the creation of the newly opened Dwight Center for Conservation Science. The mission of Pepperwood is to advance science-based conservation throughout our northern California region and beyond.

How does Pepperwood benefit the community?

Pepperwood is the place where researchers are answering the critical questions about how our northern California wild lands are responding to climate change. This research is critical as our community grapples with how to spend limited funding for parks and open space. Their work is also vitally important for water planners to ensure we have enough water to go around in years to come. Pepperwood’s education program link youth and families with the outdoors, empowering then to get outside, get moving, and discover the amazing world around them.

Nurel took this wonderful photo of a baby western screech owl!
What kinds of animals can you find at Pepperwood?

Pepperwood’s diverse landscape provides incredible habitat for a wide variety of native animals. We have over 130 species of birds including ground birds, songbirds, and raptors such as the Golden Eagle. Our mammals include mountain lion, black bear and even American badger. We host 29 species of amphibians and reptiles with include the Pacific giant salamander, blue tailed skink, and the California King snake.

What programs are there at Pepperwood?

In addition to TeenNat, we run the SCENIQ-Students Conducting Environmental Inquiry program. SCENIQ brings first through sixth graders out to Pepperwood and sends our educators into their classroom. About 900 students from our area participate every year. We also offer over 40 community and adult education classes, workshops, hikes and lectures every year. Our citizen science program links volunteers with real on the ground science studies hosted at Pepperwood. Community members help gather and analyze data focused on wildlife density and occurrence, grasslands, oak woodlands, and more!

What influenced the creation of TeenNat program?

Another great photo by Nurel of a western fence lizard.
Teens in Sonoma County are greatly underserved by environmental education programs. At the same time, many high school students are not meeting academic standards in life science and biology. An overwhelmingly large number of our teens are also suffering from being overweight or obese. In creating TeenNat, we hoped to empower youth such as yourself to be able to get outside and confidently explore the outdoors. We also hoped to give connect teens with new scientific knowledge and skills that will enhance their background in natural science.

Are there any plans for Pepperwood in following ten years? 

2013 TeenNat interns and Pepperwood educators.
Pepperwood has just completed drafting a five-year strategic plan. Included are 5-year action plans designed to guide specific priorities through 2018 in education, research and preserve management, communications fundraising, and administration. In education we hope to continue our TeenNat and SCENIQ programs and better connect with Latino families. In research, we will solidify Pepperwood as a “sentinel site” in which citizen scientists and researchers can “take the pulse” of wild lands’ reaction to climate change. We want to be a regional leader for conservation science and environmental education. Our communication, fundraising, and administrative efforts will be fully developed to support these efforts.

I dare you to learn more about the biodiversity of the Bay Area, check out places where you can find more about environmental education, and visit iNatutalist.org. You will be breath-taken by the species and sights you will find. And take your turn to contribute to protect our valuable resources! Start visiting Pepperwood; the beauty of the place will amaze you. Pepperwood preserve offers hiking programs for the community starting at no cost. Call them at  (707) 591-9310 or visit www.pepperwoodpreserve.org for more information.

Read the Spanish version of this article published by Avance News HERE!

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