PlaceMakers: Jonathan Young Talks Wildlife

Wednesday, Apr 13, 2016 Category Nature and Science; Education

Jonathan Young is a native Californian with a life-long interest in wildlife – in particular, miniscule creatures, such as invertebrates (backbone-less critters, like dragonflies and sea sponges). Five years ago, with a biology degree under his belt, he began an internship with the National Park Service in the Presidio and, after another year, returned to graduate school to study amphibian conservation. Word about Jonathan's talents got back to Terri Thomas, Presidio Trust director of conservation, who put him to work on the team helping to restore Mountain Lake. That two-year internship integrated with his studies and led to his current role as the Presidio's wildlife ecologist.

Is this your dream job?

Yes – it's my dream job in my dream place!

Why does the Presidio need a wildlife ecologist?

It's important to foster healthy natural systems in the park. Ecologists like me apply contemporary science to the management of the Presidio to promote biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. Each organism has a specific role in supporting a healthy, functioning ecosystem and biodiversity drives the health of the ecosystem. Most people don't realize there is actually a difference between non-native species and invasive species. An invasive is a non-native species that's aggressive and drives out what is indigenous to this place. An invasive species can greatly disrupt natural systems. We're placing a lot of focus on reintroducing long lost species that are a healthy part of the Presidio's ecosystem.

Why is the Presidio such an important place for wildlife and ecology as a whole?

As a national park in an urban area, the Presidio is quite significant. While the Bay Area is recognized world-wide as a biodiversity hotspot, it's also a fast growing and densely populated place. So you can imagine that a lot of our regional biodiversity is disappearing. One of the cool things about the Presidio is that it's federally protected. It shelters remnant natural areas, so our natural history is being restored and preserved here.

It's also important to bring our conservation efforts to a wider audience and increase awareness through outreach. At the Presidio we can tell the stories of our local wildlife such as the Pacific chorus frog, a charismatic animal that disappeared from the Presidio and that has now been reintroduced back into Mountain Lake (watch the video >>). People are hearing these frogs, loving their sounds, and wondering if they're the "right frogs." And they are! We're happy to talk about them, and tell people that these frogs were present here for thousands of years. We're bringing them back as part of a healthy ecosystem.

Whether it be through inspiring people to volunteer, or by inspiring kids to grow up to be an ecologist or conservation scientist, we're making an impact on larger conservation efforts.

Tell us something we don't know about wildlife in the Presidio.

We're coming into a different era in the park. In the 1990s, we were focused on plants, which makes sense because they're the foundation of a healthy ecosystem. But now a lot of the Presidio's acreage has been restored. We have these healthy, functioning ecosystems, plant communities, and water resources that can support the reintroduction of species. So we're identifying animals that have become locally threatened or extinct and are determining if we can physically bring them back…like the Three-spined Stickleback Fish and Pacific chorus frogs at Mountain Lake. This is why in my mind we're in a really exciting time in the Presidio's history.

How can the public support your efforts?

First, observe park guidelines around wildlife in the park. The Presidio has information and suggestions people can follow to help reduce dog/coyote conflict – check out our Coyote Management web page for information. Be mindful of signage and simply have a general awareness of your surroundings.

You can also use the iNaturalist app to share your observations with the community. If everyone who was visiting the park recorded the things they see in iNaturalist, we'd have an insane amount of useful information. Someone could spot and report a long-lost species that we didn't know was here. Or, if someone dumped a non-native turtle in Mountain Lake, and someone else posted that on iNaturalist, we could do something about it before that turtle introduces disease into the lake's ecosystem.

Another action is to volunteer. If anyone is interested in the type of work I do, whether professionally or just as an ecology enthusiast, I feel my story is a perfect example of the ways volunteering provides wonderful opportunities to really get involved.