Our California Channel Islands Wildlife Recovery and Reintroduction program will take place on Santa Cruz Island, the largest and most diverse of the California Channel Islands. Santa Cruz Island is approximately three times the size of Manhattan and contains a wide array of landforms; our field studies will take us to rugged mountain ranges, deep canyons, vast sea caves, pristine tide pools and expansive beaches. These landforms contain diverse plant communities such as grasslands, chaparral, and pine forests, and support more than 450 native plants, and 150 land animals. In addition to the terrestrial species, the island supports colonies of nesting seabirds, seals and sea lions, as well as migrating whales and resident dolphins. The island is also rich in cultural history, with over 9,000 years of American Indian habitation and over 150 years of European exploration and ranching.
Close to the mainland yet worlds apart, Santa Cruz Island is home to plants and animals that are found nowhere else on Earth. Like the Galapagos Islands of South America, the California Channel Islands have existed in relative isolation, allowing evolution to proceed independently, and fostering the development of sixty endemic species on Santa Cruz alone. Yet the persistence of these species to present day has not been without peril—the transition of the island from its natural state to a multifaceted working ranch resulted in severe impacts on native vegetation and indirectly drove some of its most iconic species towards extinction. With the end of the ranching era, the land managers of Santa Cruz Island aimed to restore the land to a more ecologically natural state. In the past few decades a number of large and controversial management decisions were made, resulting in a rebound of the island’s native flora and fauna. The ecological restoration of Santa Cruz Island is an amazing success story which demonstrates the triumph of modern-day conservation science. Although the island continues to recover, there is still much work left to be done, and many evolutionary and ecological discoveries yet to be made.
Over the course of your time on-island, you will gain firsthand experience with ongoing restoration projects, such as bald eagle reintroduction or island fox restoration. You will come to know the island’s various ecological communities, from the sun-drenched grasslands and rocky chaparral of the east to the foggy, forested west. Along the way you will learn about important island-specific topics such as island biogeography, endemism, evolution, and invasive species management. Come join us this summer for an intimate window into one of the most inspiring and unique places on Earth, the California Channels Islands.