Hiking With A Purpose: Post-fire community science with Josie Lesage

After fire, ecosystems can experience many changes. There can be increased risk of erosion and novel species can invade new areas, but fire can also reveal plants that have been waiting years for this natural disturbance to stimulate their seed banks — and there is still much to learn.

As the Santa Cruz community recovers from the impacts of the CZU Lightning Complex fires, we can look to other communities for guidance on where to go from here and how community scientists can help.

Join us for an online presentation from Josie Lesage of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and learn about their response to the Thomas Fire that burned through Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties in 2017-2018.

About the Mapping Recovery Project

The Mapping Recovery project leveraged the enthusiasm of over 100 volunteers who surveyed plants and erosion in the Thomas and Whittier fire scars. The project gathered over 5000 data points on the locations of plants in these fire scars, significantly expanding the known locations of many common invasive species, while also identifying populations of some rare or new invasive species. This data is being used to develop a map of priority intervention areas where restoration of native habitat is most needed and will be most beneficial to the ecosystem in the future.

About the Speaker

Josie Lesage works to understand, protect, and restore California habitats using ecological theory as a guide. She has a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she studied long-term management and community change in California’s coastal prairies. As the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Applied Ecologist, she is interested in understanding how local ecosystems respond to disturbance and restoration intervention, and in building a community of volunteer scientists to steward our local habitats. She is currently involved in several projects related to invasive plant management and ecosystem recovery following fire. Her favorite plants are in the genus Castilleja

Interested in becoming a community scientist? Join us for an iNaturalist training in the Museum’s Garden Learning Center on September 11.

Long-term lessons: Perspectives on three years of mushroom monitoring in the Santa Cruz Mountains with Christian Schwarz

As mushroom hunters, we enjoy traveling far and wide, bouncing from place to place and following the rains to stay with the season. But what happens when we focus on revisiting the same small areas whether there has been rain or not? And what if we take it a step further, and rather than just harvesting chanterelles or photographing the flashiest species, we take the time to pay attention to everything, counting individual fruitbodies and keeping track of changes from year to to year?

Christian Schwarz has been undertaking just such an effort for the past three years, supported by a grant from the Save the Redwoods League, and this year, some of his survey transects were burned in the CZU Lightning Complex fires. Join the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History to hear what discoveries, lessons, and patterns have emerged from this ambitious project.


Watch past presentations from Christian:
Data is Not the Destination
Macabre Mushrooms: Ghouls of the Woods

Other resources:

About the speaker

Christian Schwarz is a naturalist currently living in Santa Cruz, the land of milk (caps) and honey (mushrooms). He studied Ecology and Evolution at UCSC, and now spends his time photographing, teaching about, collecting, and researching macrofungi. He is coauthor of Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast. Fungi satisfy his curiosity with their seemingly endless forms – from the grotesque to the bizarre to the sublimely beautiful. Besides dabbling in mushroom taxonomy, he loves fish, plants, nudibranchs, moths, and dragonflies. He is passionate about citizen science, especially iNaturalist.

This program is part of a series in support of the exhibit Look. Act. Inspire. and is presented in partnership between

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Lecture: Data is Not the Destination with Christian Schwarz

This live program was held on May 4, 2020 and features a presentation from Christian Schwarz in conversation with Marisa Gomez, Public Programs Manager.

The world is changing rapidly — and not just in the way we’re all currently experiencing! Citizen science or community science is an immensely popular model of engaging the natural world, and can be done even while physically distancing.

Using mushrooms and the community of people who admire them as lenses to focus our discussion, we’ll talk about where we’ve come from with traditional science and where community science is taking us.

Community Connections

During these isolating times, it’s more important than ever to connect with nature and to connect with our community. Even from home, you can help nature and inspire stewardship of the natural world! Below are a few of our favorite stewardship and community science opportunities. In addition to environmental stewardship projects, we also encourage you to be a steward of your social community.
For all volunteer and stewardship programs, be sure to maintain safe practices as highlighted here.


The produce section of a large grocer

Volunteer Grocery Shopper
Help homebound seniors and others in need by shopping for their groceries. The individual will provide you with a list, and you leave the groceries at their door. Give essential assistance to members of your community who require extra help.

Resources: Sign up at the Volunteer Grocery Shopper form here. Background checks and some other paperwork required (takes about one week to process).

Connections Without Walls
Give social support to isolated elderly adults across the country with simple phone calls. This flexible program is offered for free during the COVID-19 outbreak as so many people (including you and me) need friendly socializing. It’s a good way to connect to our national community in times of need.

Resources: Sign up with the Family Eldercare program here.

Neighborhood Cleanups
One way you can be a steward of both your community and your planet is by doing a neighborhood or beach cleanup. Get started with this tutorial:

Notice: Access to beaches and parks may be limited due to ordinances regarding COVID-19. Please check your local guidelines for up-to-date guidelines.

City of Santa Cruz recycling guidelines
County of Santa Cruz recycling guidelines
What are microplastics?
Save Our Shores Marine Debris app or Save Our Shores Data Card

Community Science

One of the best ways to advance science is by utilizing the community to build a previously unheard of body of knowledge and researchers both locally and globally are using data found on iNaturalist. Simply photograph and record the location of what you find to build a database of your observations and contribute to studies of how ecosystems are changing with time.

With iNaturalist you can explore nature, take photographs, and help scientists. What’s not to love? Get started!

A handful of leaves displaying symptoms of Sudden Oak Death

Sudden Oak Death Bioblitz
California’s iconic oak trees suffer from a devastating disease known as Sudden Oak Death (SOD). UC Berkeley’s community science program invites volunteers to track the spread of SOD by walking through forests, identifying trees that have SOD, and creating a real-time map of the trees and forests affected. 

This does require some training (watching a video and answering a questionnaire), as well as the use of both a website and app. The bioblitz can be done by all ages.

About the SOD Bioblitz
Registration for the bioblitz
What is Sudden Oak Death?

Sea otter chilling on its back in the ocean

The Sea Otter Monitoring Program
Hosted by the Elkhorn Slough Foundation, you can watch and observe wild sea otters from a webcam. The arguably cutest marine mammal faces a lot of threats, so monitoring their daily activities provides valuable data on steps needed to protect them. And who doesn’t need a sea otter web cam in their life?

Sea Otter Community Science Page
About sea otters

Zooniverse is a virtual program that collects research projects around the globe that need community science or virtual volunteers. You can scroll through and see what research projects interest you most. There’s gravity waves, rainfall studies, wildlife watching, and many other projects.