Keep your connection to nature in your own backyard at these virtual events
In these uncertain times, nature remains a rare place we can turn to for respite (safely, with social distancing), usually within reach of where we live. Research shows nature helps build resilience in times of crisis and provides solace, especially when we’re isolated from one another.
To offer a connection to nature while we’re stuck at home, a team of local scientists and educators at Sonoma State University’s Center for Environmental Inquiry has created a series of online events focused on getting us outdoors to explore, even if it’s just in our backyards.
“We want to give people experiences that let them feel that human nature and nature are connected,” said Kerry Wininger, the center’s enthusiastic educational outreach lead.
The center’s 450-acre Fairfield Osborn Preserve sits atop Sonoma Mountain, where acorn woodpeckers swoop among coast live oaks.
Normally, visitors can take guided hikes there during the center’s Dig into Nature public education programs, begun in 2017 to reach a broad audience and promote equal access to nature.
This spring’s events were originally scheduled to be held on-site.
But with the coronavirus threatening public health, the center closed the preserve to visitors and brainstormed to create the series of online events that use Zoom and other tools.
“Anything and everything we can do to help on this shelter-in-place journey,” Wininger said.
Miwok, Wappo land
Historically, Coast Miwok, Wappo and Pomo Indians hunted and gathered on the land now covered by the preserve.
The land was variously part of a Spanish land grant, then homesteads, then a sheep and cattle ranch.
In the 1950s Joan and William Matson Roth bought the land, eventually donating 450 acres through the Nature Conservancy and Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District to what is now Fairfield Osborn Preserve, in honor of Joan’s father, environmentalist Fairfield Osborn.
Its diverse landscapes, from chaparral to grassland, host wildlife such as red-crested pileated woodpeckers and red-tailed hawks, puma and gray fox.
Pale grey lichen, fungi, miner’s lettuce and wildflowers are scattered about the oak woodlands.
California slender salamanders, threatened red-legged frogs (California’s state amphibian) and banana slugs frequent perennial Copeland Creek, draining into the Laguna de Santa Rosa.
But with the center closed for now, visitors will have to wait for a chance to spot such wildlife, in person at least.
As COVID-19 rapidly advanced, the center’s team pivoted to make hourlong virtual events showcasing creative ways to connect with nature in our own backyards.
Events include live presentations and local nature exploration, lectures from experts, virtual preserve visits and citizen science data gathering from home.
At the first event on April 10 — Citizen Science Intro and iNaturalist — biologist Julie Wittmann of the center gave an overview of citizen science as a powerful tool to aid scientific research.
Volunteers can collect abundant data and photograph plants and animals, she said.
“Anyone can help by contributing photos to iNaturalist” and Fairfield Osborn Preserve’s project database, she said.
Attendees learned about the biodiversity app, how to photograph their own “slices of nature” and how to upload observations of animals, plants and other natural organisms seen in daily life.