Fire Recovery & Community Science

Do you want to help our wildlands and trails recover following the Thomas and Whittier Fires? Are you interested in brushing up on your local botany? Do you enjoy hiking? The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (the Garden) and the Conservation Biology Institute need YOU to help map over 300 miles of local trails that were affected by the Thomas and Whittier Fires as a Community Scientist (also known as Citizen Scientist). Community science is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur (or nonprofessional) scientists.

Are you ready to become a Community Scientist?

  • No prior botanical knowledge or experience is needed, although it’s helpful!
  • You must be willing and able to hike a chosen trail within the Los Padres National Forest on your own (no Garden botanist accompanying), looking for targeted plant species. Trails can be as short as one mile and as long as 18 miles, with varying level of difficulty – we’ll do our best to match you to your best trail.
  • You’ll need access to a smartphone, or be able to borrow a friend’s phone, and you’ll need to be able to download our app.
  • You’ll be expected to volunteer to hike and map this trail at least once between March and June, and participate in both a classroom and field training.

Step One: Attend a classroom training and complete onboarding forms.

This training session will introduce the Garden’s Fire Recovery Mapping Project and teach you the methods used to map wildland recovery after fire. You’ll learn species identification skills to recognize new and noxious invasive species along our local trails and will learn how to record these occurrences using our app. At the end of the training, you’ll receive a trail to steward in 2020 by hiking it once or more during the growing season.

Register now for classroom trainings!

REI Santa Barbara

REI Oxnard


Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Step Two: Attend a field-based training:

Classroom training at REI will be followed by required in-field afternoon trainings to demonstrate the methods. Participants will sign up for field trainings at the classroom training. In-field trainings will take three hours from 1-4 pm at the following dates and locations. You may select to attend any of these after your classroom training:

Step Three: SCIENCE!

  • Community Scientists will hike their chosen trail in the Los Padres National Forest looking for targeted plant species.
  • When target plant species are found, Scientists will assess their extent and abundance, and record that information using a smartphone-based app.
  • Community Scientists will also be looking for eroded areas and trail damage, and taking photographs to share with the Garden.
  • All mappers will be looking for at least 12 different invasive plant species. Experienced botanists can opt to look for more invaders and a suite of rare plant species as well.
  • We will provide “cheat sheet” pages with photographs, illustrations, descriptions, and key features of the plants we are looking for.
  • Trails will be located throughout the Thomas and Whittier Fires, on Forest Service land.

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.