Last week, neighbors gathered at the historic Ebell of Los Angeles for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s (GWNC) September board meeting, and a special town hall session to learn how they can participate in the City’s Bureau of Sanitation (LASAN) new Biodiversity Project – an effort to create an index of our local wildlife.
GWNC Sustainability Committee chair Julie Stromberg said she first learned of LASAN’s efforts to create a biodiversity index several months ago, and she’s been hoping that the neighborhood could get involved in this first-ever effort by a U.S. city to develop an index that measures local biodiversity. Stromberg then welcomed LASAN researchers Dr. Mas Dojiri and Isaac Brown, who said their efforts began in 2017, when the Los Angeles City Council passed a motion on biodiversity. The motion directed city departments to measure biodiversity, and resulted in the creation of the 2018 Biodiversity Report. The motion also prompted the city to identify communities that lack access to biodiversity, and to develop outreach and education programs to engage Angelenos.
Following a framework devised in the 2014 Singapore Biodiversity Index, Los Angeles is the first U.S. city to spearhead a project that not only catalogues biodiversity but defines metrics for it to be monitored and maintained to achieve the city’s goal of no net loss of biodiversity by 2030.
Brown told the GWNC audience that biodiversity is best conserved in urban areas by first providing habitat for wildlife. He noted that Los Angeles already hosts a boast-worthy 1,200 different native species, and is a globally-recognized hotspot for biodiversity, despite being one of the more park-poor cities in the US. But even so, he said, the situation is still dire.
“Since 1970 we’ve lost 50% of our organisms,” said Dr. Dojiri, “globally, we’ve lost 90% of our bees; without bees to pollinate our crops, should they go extinct, the human race could starve to death within five years.”
“It’s gotten dire,” said Dojiri. But “in a little over two years, LASAN’s Biodiversity Team, with the help of the Expert Council, has accomplished a great deal. Our program has become internationally recognized, and we are extremely proud of what we have accomplished…but understand we have a lot to do still. Climate change and biodiversity may be the two most important and the highest priority challenges that we face, and we don’t have a lot of time to address them. We need to act now!”
As the lead agency for the city’s environmental initiatives, LASAN has appointed an interdepartmental Biodiversity Team to oversee the project moving forward. In addition, LASAN invited the GWNC to partner with LASAN, making it the first neighborhood council to pilot city efforts towards the biodiversity objectives outlined in the 2018 report.
Stromberg invited the Hancock Park Garden Club (HPGC) to join the effort as well…and Julie Grist, president of the club, announced last week that the group will indeed be partnering with LASAN to engage their members and help the GWNC drive community participation to crowdsource data using the smartphone friendly software iNaturalist.
“The Hancock Park Garden Club has been working to educate residents about the importance of supporting local urban wildlife, and the use of California natives plants, for several years through our Front Yard booklet and pollinator project, so participation in this project makes a lot of sense for us,” said Grist. “It’s a lot of responsibility in a way, but we are really proud to be a part of it.”
iNaturalist, described at last week’s meeting by Lila Higgins, senior manager of community science at the Natural History Museum, as “the Facebook for species identification,” will be used as the primary tool for adding data to the biodiversity index. Higgins explained how the app is used to gather data in the museum’s citizen science efforts, and at the museum’s Urban Nature Research Center, recognized as one of the world leaders in engaging community with science. The NHM has also organized the City Nature Challenge for the past four years. Last year, 162 cities competed in the challenge around the world to record the most observations.
Higgins, who also lives in the neighborhood, explained that data collected through the iNaturalist app, or the desktop version, is accessible to scientists all over the world. In her presentation, Higgins also illustrated how the app has identified wildlife all over the region for NHM’s community science projects studying reptiles, snails, slugs and squirrels.
“With your help, we can fill in the data gap and get more information in our neighborhood,” said Higgins. She also offered to help train people on how to use iNaturalist and to conduct “Bioblitzes,” in which neighbors go out together for a specified time and make observations that are uploaded with the app’s platform.
Both the Garden Club and the GWNC will be scheduling community biodiversity programs to take place over the next year. This Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at 7 pm, the GWNC Sustainability Committee will meet in room D200 of Marlborough School to discuss planning iNaturalist training sessions and Bioblitz events.
While crowdsourcing data is an important contribution our community can make, participation in the biodiversity project can also involve educating local home and business owners about the importance of landscaping with native plants. By planting species native to this region, we can recreate the natural environments displaced by our man-made one. It’s important to design spaces which serve not only the humans living in Los Angeles, but also the wildlife with whom we share our city.
“Planting native plants is beautiful, and right in line with our biodiversity concept,” Dr. Dojiri declared, “That’s a great example of what we would like to see.”
The Larchmont Buzz will also be participating in biodiversity project events and keeping our readers informed of the project’s progress. So stay tuned…and explore the links above for even more information on how you can get involved.