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Natural Perspectives: Corps members help with species IDs

June 03, 2010|Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray

I just love working with the young men and women of the Orange County Conservation Corps. I had a crew of new hires at Bolsa Chica last week for an introduction to wildlife, habitats and conservation. Vic often joins my classes for lunch, but he was heavily engaged in final exams at Golden West College and wasn't able to participate in the fun.

Part of my morning program is a wildlife survey of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. Over time, we've accumulated valuable data on what time of year certain species of wildlife are likely to be seen.

The corps members choose a captain who is responsible for making sure everyone sees our target species. The captain appoints five lieutenants, each one in charge of a different family of animals: invertebrates, fish, reptiles, birds or mammals.

Each lieutenant uses a photo sheet that I created to help with species identification. The mammal person has the easiest job, as we're only likely to see Audubon's cottontails and California ground squirrels. I also have coyotes on the list, but they're usually holed up during the day and active only during the early morning or late afternoon. The raccoons and opossums that live at Bolsa Chica are nocturnal and we've never seen them.

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This particular group of young men was exceptionally motivated to find, identify and check off wildlife species. Crew members were John Angulo, Julio Alvarado-Martinez, Louie Bravo, Jose Bernal, Robert Herrera, Manuel Martin, Martin Martinez, Isaiah Myers and Miguel Reyes. I asked them if I could take their picture for the newspaper, inquiring jokingly if any of them were in a witness protection program.

"Dead witness program, you mean," one of them quipped.

I have to explain that corps members are young adults at risk. Many of them are gang members, and many are on probation for various offenses. One of their values is that they don't snitch. My corps members are such an interesting group. I dearly love them.

Another young man was quite excited at the prospect of having his photo in the newspaper.

"The only other time I had my picture in the paper, it was a Sheriff's Department photo," he said.

That part of their lives is behind them, and I like them to get recognition for the good things that they do in this new phase of their lives. They change during the time that they're in the corps. They move in new and better directions, and it's really exciting for me to be just a tiny part of that transformation.

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