Can viticulture in the Santa Monica Mountains be more sustainable? Are Los Angeles-area beaches dirtier than you think? Are travelers afraid that green hotels just aren’t clean or comfortable?
UCLA environmental science majors are answering these questions in their senior projects
and helping the region in the process by launching a range of studies about local conditions affecting the mountains, ocean and natural habitat around us.
Turning their attention to topics such as vineyards in the Santa Monica Mountain and post-rainfall bacteria counts in the ocean, 12 teams of graduating environmental science majors in UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES) presented their results after a year of research.
“I’m constantly impressed by our students,” said Cully Nordby, the academic director of IoES. “This is really graduate-level work.”
Guided by Professor Travis Longcore, the practicum coordinator, the senior practicum pairs students with an IoES adviser and a community stakeholder, which this year included businesses like the Walt Disney company, nonprofits like TreePeople and Heal the Bay, and government agencies like the National Park Service.
“The students are doing all this incredible work that has real-life applications,” said Mark Gold, an IoES associate director. “They’re making a difference in the region and on campus.”
Two teams this year looked at vineyards in the Santa Monica Mountains, counting 38 vineyards covering 165 acres. While most are relatively small backyard “hobby” vineyards, the rugged mountains are also home to five large commercial enterprises, said one team that worked with the California State Parks to assess the potential for and risks of vineyard expansion.
“The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is one of the few remaining large tracts of land in the Los Angeles area that provides natural habitat for native species,” said Katie Hoeberling, a senior environmental science major. “Vineyards can significantly alter land cover and displace native vegetation.”
Oaks, California sycamores, coastal sage scrub and six other local plants are particularly threatened by sprawling, sometimes terraced vineyards, her team explained. Thirty of the 38 vineyards disturb the native vegetation. The team looked at 48,400 acres of unprotected land in the mountains. By discounting land that was zoned against vineyard development, or that was too rocky, wet, sandy or sloped, they found 30,000 acres, or 63 percent, could legally become vineyards.
A second team looked at the best management practices for vineyards in the mountains, and the threats posed by grape cultivation. Sedimentation and runoff into local streams, along with erosion and pesticide pollution were all dangers to the local habitat.
“Everything went right into the water,” said team member Nicole Grucky. The team produced an advisory document explaining what kind of damage agriculture can do to mountain habitats. Among other practices, the team recommended eschewing chemical pesticides in favor of controlling pests with natural predators like wasps.
“It’s great that they’re focusing on this,” Gold said. “Vineyards have proliferated tremendously in the Santa Monica Mountains over the last five to 10 years, and no one knows the effects. So these two projects are a great start looking at the [negative] contributions the vineyards are making, in regards to pesticides, sedimentation, erosion and so on.”
Other projects included: