Face Of This Place: North Coast Forests
Botanists Geri Hulse-Stephens (left) and Kerry Heise (right) examine plant life on California's north coast. Photos courtesy Geri Hulse-Stephens and Kerry Heise.
Botanists Geri Hulse-Stephens and Kerry Heise have spent countless hours crouched in our North Coast forests, cataloging tiny plants—and making big discoveries. So far, they’ve turned up a number of rare species that find refuge on the lands we’ve protected. Here, they describe their work.
What do you do for The Conservation Fund?
We help the Fund’s sustainable forestry team harvest trees carefully by conducting botanical surveys that show where rare plants live on the Fund’s forest properties. That way, impacts to these plant communities can be avoided.
You work at our Big River forest in Mendocino County. What’s special about that place?
Kerry: The Big River watershed is a fascinating place to be a scientist. The geography is vast, ecologically complex, and biologically rich. It’s easily large enough to get lost in–and secluded enough to invite danger. That’s part of the appeal.
Geri: I love Big River because it’s a mosaic. Within the forest are remnants of the ancient majesty of the redwoods. These are windows into a past we can only imagine. At the same time, this land holds the beginnings of what will be the future of the redwood forest.
Why is your discovery of the Monterey Clover important?
When we stumbled upon an unusual patch of clover in 2011, we were surprised to learn it was the extremely rare Monterey clover (Trifolium trichocalyx), a state and federal endangered species. Up to that point, the clover was known from only a couple of populations on the Monterey Peninsula and not seen since 1995. We wondered, how did it get here, has it always been here? It may be awhile before this mystery is solved. For now, Big River is home to one of the rarest species in the North Coast coniferous forest.
What other surprises might be out there?
Over the years we have walked the gulches, slopes and mountaintops of Big River, we have come upon many surprises: waterfalls, tiny pristine ponds deep in the redwoods, lush marshes. We’ve also met bear cubs, mountain lions, turtles and toads. Who knows what else is waiting to be found? We’re so grateful that these lands are under The Conservation Fund’s careful management.