la kretz center celebrates opening of new building at field station

Opening new doors for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

This article by Suzanne Guldimann, Freelance Reporter, was originally published in the Malibu Surfside News on October 11, 2018

Scientists and researchers studying the Santa Monica Mountains have a new resource. 

Working together, UCLA’s La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science and the National Park Service have opened a new field lab at the La Kretz field station at Rocky Oaks Park in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. 

The original field station opened in 2013. It’s a modest building — a 1950s ranch house converted into living and work space for the center’s graduate students and post doctorate researchers. When it opened, it had everything the researchers needed except a laboratory. 

The new facility, housed in a former garage, features a “wet” lab, complete with freezers and a long-needed dissection table that will enable the center’s students and researchers to study wildlife in the field. The new facility includes additional overnight accommodations and a conference room. 

The project was funded in part with a $500,000 grant from the County of Los Angeles, arranged by former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. 

At the Sept. 30 grand opening of the newly completed facility, NPS ecologist Seth Riley described the wet lab as an essential tool for field researchers. “It’s amazing to have this facility,” Riley told the Malibu Surfside News. 

Riley is one of the lead scientists in the NPS study of local mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes. He explained that necropsies are essential for determining cause of death and to gather data about the diet and health of deceased study animals. This work has been crucial in determining the impact of rodenticides on the local carnivore population and up until the opening of the new facility, there wasn’t a laboratory available in the field. “

We’ve had to perform necropsies on the tailgate of out truck,” Riley said. He explained that the lab will provide not only a convenient on-site location to perform the exams, but that the freezers will give researchers more time to conduct tests. 

The wet lab has floors that can be hosed down, and double French doors for natural light and ventilation. It opens directly onto the parking area for easy transport of specimens and equipment. An adjacent “dry lab” will provide room for research and records. 

UCLA conservation biologist Brad Shaffer is the director of the UCLA La Kretz Center. He told the Surfside News that he sees the field station not only as the off-campus headquarters for La Kretz Center activities and a resource for researchers like the NPS urban carnivore team, but as a key center for conservation research, where students, researchers and the community can come together. 

In just its first five years, the La Kretz field station has hosted post doctorate researchers studying the effect of climate change on coastal live oaks; the wildfire implications of moisture levels in living plants; mountain lion population isolation and fragmentation; and the genomics of endangered native reptiles and amphibians. 

Shaffer explained how rare is it to have a National Park on the edge of a major population center, and how the Santa Monica Mountains are the ideal living laboratory for studying numerous aspects of climate change. The ability to have a small but complete field station in the heart of the mountains is a critically important aid to researchers, he said. 

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new facility, Shaffer said that he and David Szymanski, the NPS superintendent for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, are already discussing how the facility can continue to grow. Projects under development include a science camp for young students and an amphitheater for public talks. There are also plans to plant an oak woodland that will be a living lab for climate change research. 

Szymanski had praise for Yaroslavsky, who arranged for the grant for the field lab project, and for current Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. 

“People ask what is your secret for success in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area,” Szymanski said. “It’s the will of the people, a public that is engaged and is active for conservation. The people they elect to channel their will matter.” 

Philanthropist Morton La Kretz attended the event with his daughter Linda Duttenhaver, who spoke for him. 

“He’s so proud to inaugurate this newest addition to the field lab,” she told the Surfside News. “We are excited about the research being done at this center in this unique area.” 

More information on the UCLA La Kretz Center is available at www.ioes. ucla.edu/lakretz. news