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BITTER CREEK NWR: Volunteers Help Protect Our National Heritage at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge
California-Nevada Offices , September 1, 2009
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A bull Tule elk in rut chases a cow elk on the Bitter Creek NWR.  In recent years, Tule elk have been repopulating the refuge (Mike Stockton, USFWS, 2009).
A bull Tule elk in rut chases a cow elk on the Bitter Creek NWR. In recent years, Tule elk have been repopulating the refuge (Mike Stockton, USFWS, 2009). - Photo Credit: n/a

by  Pam De Vries, Botanist and Restoration Ecologist

This past spring, we were honored to conduct botanical studies at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, a 14,057 acre refuge in California managed by the dedicated and undermanned professionals of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  What a terrific opportunity for myself, a semi-retired botanist and my outdoor-loving husband, Otto Gasser.  We live just a half an hour down the road from Bitter Creek in Pine Mountain Club, and we were thrilled to volunteer our time and expertise doing what we love to do most, botany.

 

Bitter Creek is located at the western-most end of the San Emigdio mountain range in California.  It was purchased in 1985 and set aside primarily for the protection of the embattled California Condor.  Condor biology has been very well documented and much debated, but the other natural resources of the property have never been examined and catalogued in depth.  We all agreed that documenting the flora and fauna of this vast, former range land would help in the development of a comprehensive management plan for the Refuge.  Funding to conduct in-depth biological assessments is not readily available at this time, so Bitter Creek accepted a little help from its friends down the road.  We were more than happy to volunteer to help with the botany, and we managed to bring some other friends to help too.

 

We, along with LeRoy Gross, a botanist working for the herbarium at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens in Claremont, California, approached Mike Stockton, Bitter Creek Wildlife Refuge Manager, early in 2009 with a proposal to document the flora on the Refuge.  We offered to collect plant specimens and voucher them for permanent public reference at the herbarium.  Once the proposal was accepted, the word got out and we quickly had a number of other individuals volunteering to help out.  Mary Ann Lockhart, current chair of our local Sierra Club chapter, joined us for a good portion of the field work, and several graduate students working on a variety of botany projects also joined us from time to time.

 

Survey work began in early March with trips to Bitter Creek two to four days every week.  We maintained that schedule throughout the spring, after which the schedule was cut back to an as-needed trip.  A total of 359 volunteer hours were spent in the field survey effort.  An additional 500 plus hours have been logged on the project documenting and identifying voucher specimens and preparing a technical report of findings for the refuge manager.  Work on the project is still ongoing, and the plant list has been continuously updated as the work progresses.   

 

This year’s effort was a good start, and we hope to continue the work in the future.  In addition to providing Bitter Creek a much needed service, we are also proud to have contributed to the knowledge base of California’s diverse plant life.  It is a labor of love, and we thank Mike and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for the opportunity to serve.


Contact Info: Michael Woodbridge, 916-978-4445, michael_woodbridge@fws.gov



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