UC Merced is bustling with students and wildlife

February 21, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
UC Merced is bustling with nearly 6,000 students, but it is also home to a variety of animals, including some endangered species. Now the University is working to use the surrounding environment as a unique teaching tool.

Construction is a common sight on the growing UC Merced campus, but just beyond the buildings is more than six thousand acres of protected grassland the university shares with a cattle rancher.

Kimberly Giron a UC Merced student said, "We can walk out over there and you see the landscape and there's not lights everywhere, it's so peaceful."

The property is filled with wildlife, from rare birds and salamanders to rabbits, coyotes, and ground squirrels. It is also covered in vernal pools that are home to five different species of endangered fairy shrimp.

Chris Swarth, the UC Merced reserve manager said, "These are tiny invertebrate animals not large enough to eat, perhaps only a half inch in length, and they're uniquely adapted to living in these vernal pools, which are only filled with water for part of the year."

Swarth is now working to make the property part of the official UC natural reserve system, which consists of more than thirty reserves across the state. That means developing policies to provide students and faculty members more access to study this unique environment.

Swarth also said, "We're also going to be bringing students from the college as well as the community, k-12, out here to learn about this ecosystem so that they can begin to appreciate what they are, how they work, and why they're important."

Students we spoke with say they are excited about adding research opportunities, while still protecting their natural surroundings.

David Fahim, a UC Merced student said, "It's cool how we're still going to preserve our green campus, even though this is a small school and they want to expand, they're still taking into account the environment, which I think is really awesome."

You may remember the endangered fairy shrimp posed a challenge for planners who were designing the campus years ago because they had to work around the protected land, but now the University is finding other ways to expand, including taller buildings that take up less space on the ground.


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