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Submission: UCLA must make preservation of Sage Hill a priority

By Daily Bruin

Oct. 11, 2013 12:00 a.m.

By Thomas W. Gillespie

Sage Hill is a small patch of wildlife in the northwest corner of UCLA’s campus that still contains native flora and fauna. It is a unique ecosystem representing California’s natural and cultural heritage.In 2009, a majority of the native vegetation was cut without consulting anyone in the environmental community at UCLA.This
has resulted in the invasion of nonnative grasses, which are a significant fire hazard and can outcompete native plants.
Since then, I have been an invited member of a landscape committee to discuss preserving this unique ecosystem, which covers less than 1 percent of the UCLA campus, and possibly developing it for educational use.

Faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students requested that I ask the university to not cut any native plants when they remove nonnative grasses that pose a fire hazard. We also requested a trash can at the site so people can remove trash and that dangerous piping, no longer in use, be removed. Finally, students requested that hydroseeding of native annuals be undertaken near the Krieger Child Care Center to improve the educational use of the area and reduce the chance of fire.

None of these things have been done and the general response is that UCLA does not have the money in these hard economic times. It is now time for the UCLA community to ask itself whether it wants a small section of the campus to contain a functioning ecosystem with native plants and animal species for educational purposes, like many other campus in the University of Californiasystem, or whether we just want to watch the slow degradation and local extinction of California’s natural and cultural heritage.

In the early 1900s, Sage Hill was surrounded by native vegetation, ranchland and agricultural areas, which have slowly been developed over time. This has resulted in the local extinction of a number of animals, such as bobcats in the 1990s, acorn woodpeckers in the 1960s and plants such as California buckwheat in the 1980s. However, by 2000 the site still contained the highest diversity of native flora and fauna on the UCLA campus. Many of the plants were used by native California Indians to make arrow shafts, bows, flutes, acorn mush, orange juice, waterproof baskets and mosquito repellent. The site also contains the only native grassland and California coastal sage communities in Westwood, salamander populations, the highest native bird densities on campus and the largest remaining native mammals on the UCLA campus (including the California ground squirrel, Botta’s pocket gopher and the dusky-footed woodrat).

If you would like to find out more about Sage Hill just Google “Sage Hill UCLA” and there are a number of student and faculty websites that talk about the history and research undertaken at the site over the last 50 years. The biggest impact someone in the UCLA community can have is also to email Chancellor Block ([email protected]) and let him know what you think should be done with this area on the UCLA campus.

Gillespie is a professor in the UCLA Department of Geography.

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