Environment, Parks, Libraries

Citizen Scientists

20160414_0788_UNRClaunch_MDThe Natural History Museum (NHM) is turning all of urban Los Angeles into a field site for wildlife research – with residents pitching in as “citizen scientists.”

From its newly-launched Urban Nature Research Center (UNRC), the museum is conducting the largest urban biodiversity study in the world, dubbed SuperProject. The objective is to extend scientific research and investigation beyond its Exposition Park location and, with the help of local residents, inventory the myriad species of animals and insects that live throughout Los Angeles.

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Supervisor Ridley-Thomas as citizen scientist, examining specimens in their urban habitat at NHM

Mark Ridley-Thomas lauded the museum’s efforts to engage the community in its groundbreaking research. “This urban biodiversity research is a new frontier for all of us, and I look forward to children, teachers, and librarians across Los Angeles County joining the museum’s army of citizen scientists,” he said.

Hundreds of citizen scientists have been trained to collect data and submit it to the museum’s scientists via iNaturalist, a free app for reporting personal observations of any plant or animal species. Already, UNRC’s SuperProject has led to many exciting discoveries about the regional environment.

“There’s often a misconception that Los Angeles is a concrete jungle, when in reality the city is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world,” NHM Curator of Entomology and UNRC Co-Director Dr. Brian Brown said. “At NHM, we’re committed to learning more about the extraordinary plants and animals around us, and to making L.A. a better place for wildlife — and, by extension, humans —to thrive.”

The biggest challenge to studying urban biodiversity is that a significant portion of the habitat exists in backyards and other areas inaccessible to scientists for research. “We are excited to partner with volunteers across the region to establish citizen science as one of today’s foremost scientific research methods,” said Dr. Greg Pauly, Associate Curator of Herpetology at NHM and UNRC Co-Director.

2MZ_4348At the launch of UNRC, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas presented NHM President and Director Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga with a scroll declaring April 16 as Citizen Science Day, and she talked about envisioning the museum as “a hub for the investigation of urban nature, shaped not only by scientists and experts, but by user, visitor and educator interests.”

“It’s a new approach to science: using the expansive and diverse Los Angeles landscape as a field site to look at things in a less compartmentalized way, and conducting research in the urban matrix — with the help of the public,” Dr. Bettison-Varga said.

With human populations worldwide increasingly concentrated in cities, urban biodiversity is quickly becoming a central part of the future of plants and wildlife on Earth. However, much of it remains a mystery. NHM Research and Collections Vice President Dr. Luis Chiappe hopes that by analyzing historical data and gathering new data through the SuperProject, NHM can become “a major think tank for urban issues relating to climate change, pollution, urban habitats, and ecological resource management.”


Tighter Regulations for Oil and Gas Wells

Inglewood Oil Field

Inglewood Oil Field

The Board of Supervisors is looking into tightening regulations for oil and gas facilities in Los Angeles County’s unincorporated areas.

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, the Board unanimously called for being proactive in ensuring that existing oil and facilities operate safely, as well as for enhancing the regulatory process for future well sites. The motion incorporated slight amendments by Supervisors Michael Antonovich, Don Knabe and Sheila Kuehl.

DFA_0208 (1)“We have spent far too much time reacting to environmental catastrophe after catastrophe – from the former Athens Tank Farm, to the Aliso Canyon methane leak, to the Exide Battery Recycling Facility in Vernon,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “These incidents highlight the dire environmental, economic and public health repercussions when industrial facilities are not properly operated.”

“The significant community disruption, coupled with consequential environmental impacts, provides ample justification for a proactive approach,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added.

More than half of the 1,687 oil and gas facilities in unincorporated areas already operate under strict regulatory requirements created by the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District. At the Inglewood Oil Field, for example, the District restricts the amount of drilling allowed; monitors air quality, groundwater, noise and seismic activity; and requires emergency response protocols and monthly meetings with members of the community.

An estimated 800 facilities in unincorporated areas, however, operate with a lack of consistency in permit conditions, and under regulations that vary from project to project. The motion calls for creating a “strike team” to inventory those facilities and conduct on-site inspections and safety audits. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “The objective is to ensure that these facilities are appropriately monitored and are operating in a manner that protects the health and safety of surrounding communities.”

The motion also sought to update zoning and other regulations to ensure that future well sites minimize environmental impacts and pose no danger to surrounding populations.

An initial report is expected this fall.

Inglewood oil field and pump jack

Building a Trail to the Ocean

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas dedicated the new Stocker Corridor Trailhead, the easternmost segment of the Park to Playa Trail that will connect the Baldwin Hills Parklands to the Pacific Ocean.

“The Stocker Trailhead provides a long-awaited and much needed amenity,” he said. “Now the residents of View Park and Windsor Hills will have a safe and efficient connection to the rest of the Baldwin Hills Parklands.”

IMG_2193 (1)“It is just a part of our plan to bring a variety of new recreational amenities – ranging from trails to community and nature centers – to the surrounding community,” he added.

Key improvements include a public fruit tree orchard designed by civic art partner Fallen Fruit, a direct connection to adjacent Reuben Ingold Park via a pedestrian walkway that can also accommodate wheelchairs and strollers, and a new parking lot.

IMG_2199 (2)Other features include California native trees and shrubs, water-smart irrigation, and formal entrances at Valley Ridge and Presidio.

Also present at the dedication ceremony were officials from the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, California State Parks and the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority.

The Stocker Trailhead is part of the 13-mile Park to Playa (P2P) trail that will create a direct link from the communities of View Park, Windsor Hills and Baldwin Hills all the way to the coast. P2P is anticipated to be 90 percent complete by the summer.



New Park Along the Banks of Ballona Creek


Continuing the renaissance of Ballona Creek, a new park has opened along its banks in West Los Angeles.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas dedicated the $4.2-million Milton Street Park next to a segment of the trail and bike path along the Ballona Creek, home to many varieties of wildlife and vegetation.

IMG_1794“For decades, the only way for people to experience Ballona Creek was to walk the trail or pedal on the bike path,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Until now, there were no opportunities to sit and take in the scenery. Milton Street Park changes all that.”

In addition to providing a safe new gateway to the trail and bike path, the park also features native trees and shrubs, water-smart irrigation and permeable walls. Other amenities include an outdoor classroom, interpretive displays, a drinking fountain, bike racks and decorative fencing.

Later, a “Green Street” will be added to clean and recycle storm water from the street before it drains into Ballona Creek.

IMG_1802The park sits on property owned by the Baldwin Hills Regional Conservation Authority (BHRCA), chaired by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

It will be a stop on the planned 13-mile Park to Playa Trail connecting the majestic Baldwin Hills to the Pacific Ocean.

Funding and other support for Milton Street Park came from the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, State Coastal Conservancy, Natural Resources Agency and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission. The Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority constructed the park and will maintain it.