Conservation & Research
October 4, 2022

A Visual Story on Restoring Rare Plants on California’s Channel Islands

By Daniel Cisneros

Off the coast of Southern California lies an archipelago of eight islands, each with their own unique biology and story.

Despite having lived in Southern California my entire life, I had only seen the islands a handful of times on clear beach days. I knew very little about them until I moved to Santa Barbara to complete my undergrad at UCSB. It was in Santa Barbara where I learned how special the Channel Islands are and this curiosity led me to many day trips to Santa Cruz Island. With more and more day trips, I learned from the people and the land that there is a unique story to be told about the Channel Islands. Its land had been used for thousands of years and in recent times has undergone an incredibly rapid ecological shift with the onset of the island’s ranching era.

For 200 years, introduced animals liberally grazed ill equipped plants and drove many towards the path of extinction, however, with better conservation strategies, island plant communities are beginning to rebound.

I learned first hand about this fragility on a rare plant monitoring trip to Santa Rosa Island. For five days I assisted in demography surveys for soft-leaved island paintbrush (Castilleja mollis). Soft-leaved island paintbrush is a federally endangered perennial herb historically threatened by introduced herbivores. Despite federal protection, this plant continues to be at risk by habitat fragmentation, climate change, and hybridization.  I knew while I was there that more people needed to know about the fight to protect rare plants, which inspired me to develop the story map titled Restoring Rare Plants on California’s Channel Islands.

What is a “story map”?

A story map is a web map designed to be a stand-alone resource for education and communication purposes. In short, it’s a visually dynamic method for sharing information. Story maps integrate maps, text, photos, and videos to effectively tell a story of an organization or cause.

Restoring Rare Plants provides a brief history of rare plant conservation on California’s Channel Islands while also providing historical context and future conservation strategies. I created this with the intent of providing an all-encompassing story for people who may not know anything about the rare plants on the Channel Islands and to inspire others to think deeply about protecting irreplaceable biodiversity. It’s approachable and interactive and can be used in a wide array of settings, such as classrooms, visitor centers, and from the leisure of your phone. My hope is that this story map can help share the journey we’ve been on in learning about and working to conserve these rare plants. Rare plants are an integral part of our natural heritage and contribute to a network of irreplaceable biodiversity. By learning a little bit of their story, we gain a deeper understanding of our story as stewards of the land too. 

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