Biologists welcome new UC research station at Point Reyes

May 22, 2019
By: Robert Sanders
Chimney Rock at Point Reyes
Chimney Rock at Point Reyes. Berkeley’s new Point Reyes Field Station facilitates access to Point Reyes National Seashore and thousands of acres of open space in West Marin for those conducting ecological or other research. (Photo courtesy of Frank Schulenburg)

Students and faculty at UC Berkeley have long conducted research at Point Reyes National Seashore, and now they have a home-away-from-home within the park to make overnight stays and field studies easier.

The campus and the National Park Service signed a five-year lease last year allowing an historic ranch house in the heart of the Olema Valley to become a campus reserve — the Point Reyes Field Station. Last week, the UC Regents approved adding the field station to the UC Natural Reserve System, bringing the total number of UC reserves statewide to 41.

“Point Reyes offers so many opportunities for our students and faculty to pursue their research and contribute to the conservation of park resources,” says David Ackerly, dean of Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources and faculty director of the station. Ackerly spearheaded the effort to create the new station, now one of 15 field stations, reserves and experimental forestsadministered by the Berkeley campus. “We’re very excited to partner with the park service on this new project.”

“It is exciting that, just as UC Berkeley played a pivotal role in the creation of the National Park System over 100 years ago, the role of the university for science, management and education is still central and critical to preserving and managing national parks,” adds Ben Becker, a marine ecologist and chief scientist for Point Reyes National Seashore.

historic ranch house
This historic ranch house in Olema Valley is now available for students and faculty researchers. (UC Berkeley photo by Allison Kidder)

Owned by the National Park Service, the 3,000-square-foot house offers bunk beds, meeting space, Wi-Fi, a library, a full kitchen and indoor work space and is partially powered by solar panels. The house is surrounded by ridges of old growth Douglas fir forests, a stream and rolling grasslands. An adjacent field serves as a camping area.

“The field station is perfectly situated for researchers and classes accessing a variety of public lands in the region and is a great place for collaborative work, meetings and writing retreats,” says reserve manager Allison Kidder of UC Berkeley.

The UC Natural Reserve System has similar arrangements with other national parks, including Yosemite and Lassen, and encourages all disciplines, from artists to zoologists, to use the field stations.

The Point Reyes Field Station began hosting researchers, K-12 and university-level classes, academic workshops and local nonprofits in June 2017. Since then, more than 250 Berkeley undergraduates have visited with their classes to learn about conservation and ecology. The field station enables them to stay longer than a day at a time and to practice field research within the park.

student working at Point Reyes
Berkeley undergraduate Michele Maybee worked on an archeology internship at Point Reyes National Seashore. (Photo by Lobsang Wangdu, courtesy of UC Natural Reserve System)

The field station currently hosts studies on river otters, mountain beavers and the ticks that carry the bacteria responsible for Lyme and other diseases. In February, it was selected as a permanent plot in a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study to research how the microbial community interacts with plant roots to affect soil carbon turnover, storage and loss. The findings will inform models of how carbon cycles through the environment.

The park stands to benefit from the arrangement as well.

“Park management of natural and cultural resources is based on science. Allowing some of the world’s best scientists and students to observe and think about these lands, waters and their history will help inform how to best preserve and manage them into the future,” Becker says.

The field station land was originally frequented by the indigenous Coast Miwok people and eventually settled by European immigrants in 1856. During its early years as a dairy ranch, it supplied more than 3,000 pounds of butter a year to San Francisco. The house was built by the Healion family in 1915 and subsequently purchased by George Hagmaier in 1938. The property became part of Point Reyes National Seashore after its inception in 1962.

Over the next few years, Berkeley plans to raise funds to install a weather station and other research facilities there.

“Field stations inspire students to pursue careers in teaching, research and land management,” Ackerly says. “We hope the Point Reyes Field Station can help promote the next century of research to help conserve the landscapes and biodiversity of West Marin and the national seashore.”