Fire Recovery & Community Science

With the help of over 180 local community scientist volunteers, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (the Garden) and the Conservation Biology Institute are mapping over 300 miles of local trails that were affected by the Thomas and Whittier Fires. Community science (also known as citizen science) is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur (or nonprofessional) scientists.

If you are already trained as a community scientist for this project and are looking for our training materials, please click here.

Project goals and background

Erosion and invasive species spread are major concerns after fire, and making informed decisions about where and how to restore requires knowledge about what areas to prioritize. With the help of volunteer community scientists, we will map trails and roads in the Los Padres National Forest to identify areas at risk of erosion, where invasive species are spreading, and areas in need of restoration to inform future projects.

Community science trainings

Registration and training to become a community scientist volunteer in 2020 is full, but you can keep up with the project by signing up for our newsletter here, and learn about other volunteer opportunities at the Garden by signing up here.

Previous conservation work on public lands

Botanical Blackholes Project in the Zaca and Jesusita Fire Scars

In 2017, The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (the Garden) conducted comprehensive botanical surveys, particularly for rare and invasive plants, throughout the little-surveyed areas (botanical black holes) of both the Zaca Fire (burned 240,207 acres in 2007) and Jesusita Fire (burned 8,733 acres in 2009) scars through grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. During day hikes, two and three-day backpacking or car camping trips, three-day horseback trips, and five-day mule pack trips, we identified areas in need of recovery action and collected seed for both rare plant conservation and habitat restoration. We conducted this work on all roads, maintained trails, and firebreaks throughout both fire scars.

We also used this opportunity to train and mentor local students in botany, and to widely communicate our findings through social media. Over the course of this project, we covered over 735 miles, mapping a net 324 miles at least once, over 307 people days. We mapped 19 rare plant taxa in 237 "populations" (polygon or point features), and 44 weed taxa in 604 "populations" (polygons). We collected 3,628 herbarium specimens, which will further the general botanical knowledge for these botanical black holes. We also made seven conservation seed collections of rare species, and 24 collections of more common plant taxa for future restoration needs. This project has benefitted from 2,390 hours of service to date from over 60 different volunteers. We have reached 45,315 people and counting with our Facebook posts, and 812 people via five different public and professional presentations, about the value of the Los Padres National Forest, the threat of invasive plants, fire ecology, and much more.

The data that we have gathered is helping to guide restoration actions in the Los Padres National Forest. Read more in our final report.