LOS ANGELES, CA — Students around the United States have been getting in touch with nature in a program run by the group, The Nature Conservancy. Some teenagers from Los Angeles spent time on an isolated island off the California coast, a short distance from home, but a world away from the city.
Located a little more than an hour off the coast of Southern California by the daily ferry, Santa Cruz Island is a a nature preserve. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was used for ranching, but today, wetlands are being restored, with some help from seven teenage girls.
The rugged island, at 25,000 hectares, is the largest of the Channel Island group. It was once home to native Americans and ranchers, and student coordinator Irene Bailey says humans brought invasive species and changed the ecosystem.
“So we are trying to get the invasives removed from here and then plant native grasses and other native vegetation that will be good for the plant community and the birds and stuff that are coming in,” explained Bailey.
The students are getting a glimpse of species unique to this island group, like the island fox and island scrub jay.
The students come from the Environmental Charter High School in suburban Los Angeles. They are taking part in a national program called LEAF, which stands for Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future
. It is run by the Nature Conservancy, which owns most of the island.
More than 90 other students in other parts of the country are taking part in similar programs, including four boys from Los Angeles who spent four weeks on a nature preserve in Montana. Students from other states worked at preserves from Arizona to New Hampshire.
The Nature Conservancy's Santa Cruz Island project director, Ric Wiles, says the program takes city kids to the country. “We partner with various environmental high schools around the country," he said. "And we try to combine classroom curriculum with real-world conservation work experiences, specifically for urban youth.”
Focus on environment
The girls on Santa Cruz Island are learning about natural diversity, says student Keira Adams. “Like sometimes we will drive through a patch and it feels like the Amazon, and then it will feel like the desert, and then it will feel like a tropical rain forest," she said. "So it is very interesting going through this island and feeling different types of environments.”
Some of these youngsters are getting excited about careers in environmental work, says student Glenda Sanchez. “I think our generation, where we are learning more about the environment, is crucial because now we have learned about it and we know the problems, so we need to find a solution to them,” she added.
The experience is also helping the students learn to cooperate with those outside their circle of close friends, says Sharon Tam. “Because we are with people that we are normally not familiar with. And we are living together. And we have to deal with each other every day, and communication became really important,” Tam said.
Ric Wiles says this is the first exposure to nature for many students. “A lot of these kids have never ever left the urban area where they live," Wiles explained. "And it gives them an opportunity to live, to work, and in some cases to play in the natural world and connect with it.”
Although campers are allowed stay overnight in another part of the island, which is run the National Park Service, access to most parts of the island preserve is restricted. But for four weeks during the summer, these kids had a chance to explore it - so close, yet so far, from the city they live in.