Out West student blog

A Unique Interface Between Humans and Wildlife

Image of an injured Cooper's hawk wrapped in a towel
Cooper's hawk concussed by striking window

 

By Julia Goolsby
B.S., Earth Systems, 2018
Wildlife Ecology Intern at the Santa Lucia Conservancy

Fifteen minutes down the road from Monterey, plus an extra fifteen alarmingly windy minutes down another small one lane ‘road,’ lies the house where I’m living this summer, on the Santa Lucia Preserve. For the past four weeks, I’ve been assisting the resident wildlife ecologist, Christy Wyckoff, in maintaining various animal populations in this 20,000 acre nature preserve.

The projects I’m working on are particularly interesting because the Preserve is a little different from your typical state park. It has all the requisites for a beautiful central Californian park – rolling grasslands, majestic valley oaks, a smattering of redwoods, an enchanted forest featured in a Muppets movie – but it also sports one hundred mansion-like homes, a herd of grass-munching cows, and a golf course. The Santa Lucia Conservancy, where I work, exists to manage the unique interface between humans and wildlife that exists on the Preserve. Since I’m the only full time intern, I usually spend my mornings in the field work with my fellow interns, and my afternoons tinkering on the computer, making maps using GIS or doing research.

One of my main research projects involves finding new ways to reduce human-wildlife conflict on Preserve homes. Directed by Christy, who has always wanted to create this guide for new homeowners, I’ve learned about everything from bird-proof glass to reduce bird strikes, to designing pools and fountains with escape ramps for small animals. The coolest part about my research is that when I go out on the Preserve, I see real-life (and really cute) examples of these wildlife problems. The other day, I held a Cooper’s hawk in a beach towel while Christy drove it to the local wildlife rehabilitation center. It had flown straight into a transparent glass-covered breezeway, and glared at me for the whole ride.

Out in the field, one of the projects I help with is a camera trap study. For every camera placed near a house on the Preserve, there’s another out in undisturbed areas further away from the houses. By comparing animal presence captured by the two sets of cameras, we hope to understand how the houses affect animal movement throughout the Preserve. The best part about this project, other than the insight it will lend into environmental planning, is that I get to hike all over the Preserve collecting data from the cameras!

Although I’ve grown up around nature parks, and have hiked around California before, my first few weeks at the Santa Lucia Preserve have been entirely unique, and really exciting – an up-close look at how nature parks operate, and an opportunity to experience (and even hold) the awesome Californian wildlife. I’ve learned a lot about the area so far, including how distinguish a vulture from a hawk by it’s v-shaped wing angle, and that any socks that come into contact with California grasses can and will be destroyed by stickers. I’m excited to see what new adventures the Preserve will bring in the coming weeks.

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