Wednesday, September 10, 2014

New Faculty Director for the Central Sierra Field Research Stations

From Jeff Brown, Director, UC Berkeley - Central Sierra Field Research Stations...


Hey all,

Rauri Bowie sampling the somewhat
startling Chickering Soda Spring.
We are pleased to welcome a new Faculty Director to Sagehen and Chickering. This all came together quite recently and we are very pleased to welcome Rauri Bowie to our world. We also want to acknowledge Jim Kirchner’s service as well as his new role as Senior Advisor/Faculty Director emeritus.

Rauri is an Ornithologist with a split appointment between the UCB Integrative Biology Department and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Rauri will add yet another layer to the interesting research/education/public service here at Sagehen.

His research broadly encompasses the seven interrelated research themes described below:
Jim Kirchner at the spring. One of
these men has tasted the spring
before: which do you think it is?

  1. Determination of the timing and direction of African-Asian faunal exchanges; 
  2. The use of molecular markers, morphology, molt (in birds) and GIS to infer current and historical population processes at various temporal and spatial scales across different landscapes - including rainforest sky-islands in tropical Africa, the arid-savanna/fynbos/forest ecotone in southern Africa, mountain systems of California, and among isolated colonies of seabirds and other marine fauna; 
  3. Investigation of evolutionary versus ecological processes as determinants of distribution patterns; 
  4. Evolution of life-history traits, extent of sex-ratio manipulation and extra-pair paternity in birds; 
  5. Diversification and taxonomy of sunbirds (Old-World ecological analogues of hummingbirds); 
  6. Disease ecology of avian malaria; 
  7. Investigation of candidate loci underpinning morphological and physiological adaptation. 
His research is question driven as opposed to taxon driven, although he primarily focuses on birds (particularly from Africa). He also has a keen interest in the evolutionary biology of small mammals, marine molluscs, inshore rockfish and insects.

He has recently launched projects much closer to home in the Sierras. So please join us in welcoming Rauri to our world!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Collections Activity Report, 2014

For the past three years, Erica Krimmel has been running the Sagehen collections program.

It's been a huge amount of fun, but after reading this report, you'll see that we've also really accomplished a lot!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Smart phone field guides for Sagehen Basin.

We've just completed digital field guides for your smart phone or iPad.

These free guides parse our iNaturalist presence to show you the plants from our basin lists. You can use them to identify plants in the field, or to ID your photos later. They can be perused on-line, or downloaded for field use.

It's like having a Peterson Guide to Sagehen Creek plants, but it should be useful for the general area, too.

To make the guides less unwieldy, I've broken up our comprehensive basin plant list into logical chunks. There are currently guides for:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Harrison project gaining steam

The Harrison art/science project plots were fenced this week.

The fencing will provide herbivory protection to the delicate seedlings that will soon be transplanted to Sagehen. These plants were grown at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum from seeds collected at Sagehen last fall.

Newton at the pick-up truck.
The art component of the Harrison project is also starting to gain momentum. In addition to the detailed section about this artwork in their massive upcoming career retrospective book, they have produced a website for the new Center for Force Majeure at UC Santa Cruz, which was set up to study the Harrison's oeuvre. This website contains more information about the Sagehen artwork and related projects, including a downloadable PDF.

A completed enclosure at Site 4.
Interpretive sign for enclosures.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sagehen's collections gaining new relevance in the digital age

Sagehen's Collections Manager, Erica Krimmel, has put an immense amount of effort over the past three years into curating and building our teaching collections. She's also worked very hard to make these collections more accessible and useful to current research through digitization.

Berkeley MVZ crew madly digitizing at Sagehen.
Recently, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology added to this effort, digitizing and organizing our insect and bird collections, and adding mammal collection photographs by Erica's crew of volunteers to the Berkeley museums databases and the BIGCB effort.

It is very hard to track data of any kind, but to date we are aware of at least two botanical researchers led to Sagehen by our recent digital presence: one looking at Ceanothus, another at Mimulus. Another researcher examining Sierra Red Fox genetics found us through our teaching collection pelts.

Here's a recent metric for our digital herbarium on California Consortium of Herbaria that suggests that our specimens are actually being accessed and appear to have relevance that exceeds their numbers.

From Erica:

CCH Sagehen records graph.
"In summary, we have 1000 of our records pushed to CCH, which is an insignificant 0.05% of the total records in CCH, but in total CCH searches over the past 3 years we're come up with 0.09% of the records returned. That's a total of 95,396 instances of SCFS records being retrieved! Still pretty insignificant on a grand scale, but much more significant on a Sagehen scale because I interpret it as meaning we house specimens that users are interested in."

Friday, July 25, 2014

Force Majeur book excerpt

Environmental artists Helen and Newton Harrison are wrapping up a new book that is a retrospective of their 45 year career. The Harrison's work melds art and science, and demonstrates the ability of art to alter cultural structures and social policy in a constructive way.

The book includes a chapter dealing with Force Majeur, a large theme of ongoing work that includes "Sagehen: A Proving Ground", their science/art hybrid work unfolding here in the basin.

You can read a draft of the entire chapter here.

This is the best explanation of the Sagehen project we've yet seen. It maps the newly installed plots, explains the research design, and puts the project into context with the Harrison's greater, multi-decadal career around the world.

Environmental remediation artist Mary O'Brien checks out
a Harrison plot while scouting locations for potential fish
Now that there are actual plots on the ground in the basin, having something to look at is stimulating other scientists and artists to ask related questions.

For instance, we just learned that UCIRA and UCNRS have awarded the first artist-in-residency at Sagehen to Matthew Jamieson and Seth Andrews. Their work will, "document the progress at each [Harrison] site through the use of photo, video, and field sketches. This documentation will be compiled with each successive site visit over months and years, and later be used in the Harrison’s gallery installation at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Sagehen employee!

Thanks to the generosity of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, we were recently able to hire our Winter Caretaker, Dan Sayler to be our new permanent Maintenance person.

Dan is now a 60% employee, and will continue his winter caretaking duties.

Since he is a skilled carpenter and a clever problem-solver, Dan's first order of business is to update some of the living spaces here at Sagehen that are badly in need. Here he is replacing the splitting board and batten facing of the Apartment.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why art?

Update: Read an expanded version of this post on the UC Institute for Research in the Arts, and UC Natural Reserve System blogs.

Kathleen Wong of the UCNRS also posted a related article.


A couple weeks ago, we sent out a press release about the Invisible Barn at Sagehen. Here's a great article that came out of it.

We've had some interesting feedback and would like to continue the conversation about how to move forward from here. I have some thoughts I'd like to share with you, and hear yours in turn.

The purpose of the art program at Sagehen is to inspire reflection, connection, and new insight about the ecosystem of which we are a part. This insight can and should inform scientific inquiry into, and management of, this ecosystem.

My feeling is that the process of forming a scientific (or any other kind of) question is essentially an artistic one. People seldom--if ever--come up with their research question via the Scientific Method: science is a Criterion of Truth and a test of knowledge, not necessarily its originator. In fact, science has been so successful at this, that the term "knowledge" is often assumed to mean only scientific fact, leading to conflicts with other cultural knowledge like religion, ethics, and economics ;)

Art--whether literary, visual, musical, performance, or other form--is, at its deepest core, the discovery process whereby we connect apparently unrelated elements to create new knowledge of any flavor...knowledge that can then be explored and tested via the scientific method, or brought to cultural attention through the application of pattern and beauty.

As Helen Harrison once told me, "It becomes art when it starts to reverberate in your mind".

The history of Sagehen is peppered with this kind of occasional alchemy. I would argue that the two-year collaborative process of designing the Sagehen Forest Project, which will begin shortly, was essentially about writing a community narrative. From art, to science, to policy.

Graduate students frequently (typically?) come here with a thesis question that changes dramatically as they see things on the ground. From art to science.

In a more concrete example, researchers living on site at Sagehen randomly happened upon large Rainbow trout spawning in tiny ephemeral rivulets. This serendipitous discovery ultimately changed Forest Service management policy for these formerly devalued, temporary water courses. Again, from art, to science, to policy.

But no one really knows that story. Loggers loathe any rule that constrains their commercial activity, even though many of them also appreciate wild fish. It would have been helpful to have a physical artwork to mould and share the narrative, to provide a doorway to participation and ownership by the community of that new truth...and the subsequent science and policy emerging from it.

Invisible Barn is a bit of a departure from this idea, however. It's more abstract. It speaks to the themes of the larger Harrison project happening here. And it builds on the techniques of the Aldo Leopold Land Ethic Leadership (LEL) workshops we held here a few year back.

LEL teaches the 'Observe, Participate, Reflect' model, "providing a framework to help you facilitate values-based discussions in a new and open way, allowing you to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of your own views as well as those that differ." There is no end goal except to start a conversation around a subject and see what commonalities emerge to guide future action.

I think that, given the almost universal reduction in natural history emphasis, collections, and field time within university science programs in favor of lab work, art is naturally going to play a far larger role in discovering and exploring future scientific questions. Somebody has to be out there observing the world as it is and reporting its meaning back to us.

So, the point of this lengthy manifesto is that the public doesn't seem to understand any of this. They don't get what art has to do with our research program, or why it's important. We have heard this directly from an agency partner, and from many confused visitors who, perhaps understandably, can't wrap their heads around the Harrison's complex Force Majeur 50-year art project.

But, at least the program is already stimulating questions!

I'm thinking that addressing this confusion would be very helpful to our community, to Sagehen, and to the UCNRS in general.

Maybe it would be a good idea to talk to the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) or other groups about this issue and ways to address it? Maybe an article exploring the themes would be a good start, as well? Maybe we need more partners? Maybe we need a larger effort in the form of a workshop of some kind? Maybe there are tools out there already that we are missing? Maybe we need to incorporate this priority of communicating the value and purpose of art in science and at reserves into the Artists-In-Residence criteria? This would be at least as useful as any actual artwork produced.


We hope you will weigh in on this conversation with your ideas. Who do you think we might also want to bring into this discussion? In the meantime, please share the Kickstarter link widely. It's important.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Art vs. Environment at Sagehen

Invisible Barn relates very well to--and
comments on--existing Sagehen structures
and the surrounding forest.
Update: This post has been reworked by Kathleen Wong into an expanded article on the UC Natural Reserve System blog.


Invisible Barn is a notable-entry concept design, submitted to the Architecture League/Socrates Sculpture Park’s Folly competition by New York design firm stpmj. The contest explores the intersection of architecture and sculpture.

Since it didn’t win, Invisible Barn hasn’t actually been built…yet.

If the current Kickstarter campaign is successful, the piece has a new home: UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station embedded in the USDA Forest Service’s Sagehen Experimental Forest in California’s central Sierra Nevada Mountains.

One concern we and others have is this: collisions with reflective surfaces kill more migratory birds in North America than any cause other than habitat loss.

Most solutions involve making the glass less transparent and reflective, which is not optimal. But fortunately, birds can see UV light, while humans cannot. Reflective surfaces can be marked with UV patterns that deter birds, while remaining essentially imperceptible to people.

This can be as simple as regularly refreshing a grid of lines drawn on a window in sunny climates with highlighter markers, or as complex as integrating special bird-deterring glass (Ornilux, fritted glass, etching, UV films, etc.). Groups like and the Humane Society provide more information about bird-glass collision mitigation strategies.

As it happens, the aluminized mylar foil used to create the mirror finish of Invisible Barn is approximately 90% UV reflective in the range birds can see, so it is not invisible to them, as it would be were it made of glass.

Invisible Barn is beautiful. It draws people in. It stimulates questions and conversation about what it means to be embedded in an environment, and how people and that environment influence each other (including a mirrored structure’s effect on birds).

These themes are central to the research program at Sagehen that addresses--among other things--forest resiliencyendangered speciesanimal-vehicle collisions and climate change, all in highly collaborative ways.

These themes also relate to a larger, 50-year art project being developed at Sagehen by international environmental artists Helen and Newton Harrison. Their Force Majeur installation focuses on climate change in the Sierras and explores a potential increase in the water carrying capacity of the soil through native vegetation manipulations.

The Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art commissioned the Harrisons for this work. CA+E at the Nevada Museum of Art is also involved in bringing stpmj’s Invisible Barn to Sagehen, and has facilitated discussions with environmental artists Daniel McCormick and Mary O’Brien about integrating artwork into science infrastructure at Sagehen.

The Center for Art + Environment works with Sagehen because the museum is interested in a process where science informs art and art informs science. And we’re all interested in promoting solution-oriented interplay with the public.

That’s what we hope that the Sagehen Art Program will help us do. That’s what we hope that Invisible Barn will help us do.

And in the discussion about bird-structure collisions, it seems it’s already working: perhaps others will be moved to treat their own reflective surfaces, resulting in fewer dead and injured birds than would have otherwise been, had Invisible Barn never been built.

More info:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Artist residency pilot program at UC reserves


From the UCIRA website:


"Since 2007, the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) has developed experimental residency initiatives that offer opportunities for arts research to take place at sites within the UC Natural Reserve System (UC NRS).

The 39 reserves of the UC NRS make examples of most of California’s diverse ecosystems available for research, education, and public service. The reserves are a rich source for exploration by artists. Staying at a reserve will immerse artists in the natural world, allow them to meet and mingle with scientists conducting field research, and develop work that moves beyond traditional concepts of art and science.

In partnership with the UC NRS, UCIRA is providing funding for up to five summer art residencies for a pilot residency program to take place between June and September 2014. Proposals will be selected based on the quality and suitability of arts research proposed at a particular reserve site.

Selected artists will be provided with a travel and research stipend of up to $1500 to cover fees for reserve accommodations and travel to and from the site. Stipends do not include a per diem. Artists must remain in residence for a minimum of five days and up to one month. Artists may apply independently or as an organized group/collective who work together as an integral part of their practice.

Artists-in-residence are encouraged to work with the reserve manager and scientists using the site to develop opportunities for exploratory research that sensitively engage these environments in new ways.

Working within the unique natural conditions available at each reserve, artists may choose to conduct independent projects or propose collaborative work that respects and/or effectively intersects with research taking place at the site. For example, proposed projects could visualize/animate scientific data or form potential working relationships with scientists themselves."

Apply here.