This Spring, the RCD of Greater San Diego County’s GrizzlyCorp Fellow, Joe Lewis, had the opportunity to complete a California Naturalist Certification through a course offered by Palomar College. The California Naturalist program provides California residents an introduction to the state’s diverse ecology through a blend of classroom lectures and immersive fieldwork activities. Over the course of 8 weeks, Joe and his class received instruction on California’s geography, engaged in nature journaling, and contributed to conservation oriented community service projects.

Joe completed his certification under the guidance of Palomar Professors Stephan Crook and Catherine Jain, alongside a group of 11 other students from a diverse set of backgrounds but all with a shared passion for the natural world. Students learned about San Diego County’s geological history, ecology, natural fire regime, and what conservation efforts are being made by local organizations, including those by the RCD itself.

The course included four field trips. One self-led using the iNaturalist app and three in-person excursions to explore San Diego County’s diverse regions. These trips included visits to the coast at Batiquitos Lagoon, San Diego’s montane regions at Ramona Grasslands Preserve and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, and finally venturing into the desert to Borrego Springs and the Salton Sea. Throughout these trips students were treated to a wealth of knowledge from the course’s professors. Joe pointed to Professor Jain’s expertise in birding and pointing out rare species on the trail as a particular highlight in his time taking the course.

To conclude the experience, students in the course are required to complete a capstone project, aiding a local natural resource organization in some form of community service. Naturally, Joe was able to complete his capstone project at the RCD. For his project, Joe compiled a native plant list for use by San Diegans to learn what native plants grow within their local bioregion with an accompanying map and links to native plant resources. We are excited to launch this new tool for public use within the next few weeks.

Overall Joe remarked that the course was an excellent opportunity to refresh his knowledge of Californian ecology and gain new insights into areas outside his educational background in geography. He particularly values the chance the course offers to explore San Diego’s diverse landscapes and highly recommends the course to anyone interested in better understanding the region’s natural ecosystems.