Courtney McCammon has a sparkling personality. Discussing her new position as L.A. Recreation and Parks’ first ever ecologist, Courtney was enthusiastic about her goals and visions for our urban parks. Her energy is contagious; as we sat down and talked, the more excited I became!
Friends of Griffith Park has advocated for a full-time ecologist for more than a decade. Courtney comes highly qualified: a Loyola Marymount University graduate in Urban Ecology (BS, MS) who has consulted on many scientific projects in Southern California. Most notably, she has been a lead scientist on our Raptor Study since the beginning in 2017.
We met for a lunch interview in mid-March when Courtney had been on the job for less than two weeks. Already she had met with many of the Park Rangers, personnel, maintenance division, zoo officials and others.
Courtney is passionate about her new position, and yes, a bit nervous. That’s understandable since RAP is a big department and everybody wants to meet her. She often hears, “We’ve been waiting for you for 10 years.’ Being in the spotlight can be daunting but Courtney is determined to do her best to “live up to the expectations everyone has of an urban ecologist.”
Here’s a recap of our discussion.
Mary Button: When did you know you wanted to be an ecologist?
Courtney McCammon: When I was in high school I registered for environmental classes. I had a very inspirational teacher. My senior year in high school she took us on a trip to Yosemite, and I decided I wanted to be an environmentalist. I never changed course. I began doing beach cleanups with the Surfrider Foundation. I also started the first recycling program at San Clemente High School.
MB: Why do we need an ecologist in Griffith Park?
CM: We need a park ecologist because Griffith Park comprises more than 4,000 acres of some untouched natural canyons, scrub, chaparral and woodland habitat in the farthest reach of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains. The Park is a hub of recreation, with different areas used for various reasons. We have filming, the nursery, golf courses, plus the Observatory, the Zoo, the Gene Autry Museum and more. There’s a mix of recreation plus public interest spots. Beyond that, many people may not know Griffith Park is home to an intact habitat that needs to be protected. The role of the ecologist is multi-faceted. It includes education, protection, scientific studies and maintenance.
MB: How much of your time will be spent in Griffith Park?
CM: I am the ecologist for the entire Recreation and Parks Department, but my primary focus is Griffith Park and probably 75% of my time and efforts will be there.
MB: What are your short term goals and priorities?
CM: The education of the different park divisions is a top priority for my supervisor [Stefanie Smith] and me. I am advising the forestry division next month. I am also setting up training for the maintenance division. A lot of staff does not know what they are “seeing,” what is surrounding them and what best practices should be. I want to help the Park Ranger division revamp their interpretive component. There are more than two dozen Park Rangers. I plan to take a small group of rangers for a hike every Wednesday.
Nature walks is another short-term goal. I would like to lead a nature walk once a month for the general public to attend. Educating the general park user is critical. People need to understand they can’t just walk wherever they want. They need to stay on the authorized trails. Signage is helpful. I think the Bee Rock trail restoration is an important pilot study and hope it will be an example for other trails.
I want to advise with brush clearance and let the crew know what is necessary and what is not necessary. Often native habitat takes a beating during brush clearance for no good reason. And we need biological surveys to avoid disturbances during nesting and breeding periods. Filming is also upfront for 2022. I’m reviewing special events and film shoots on a rolling basis.
MB: what about the long term goals?
CM: I am most excited about species surveys in the Park, both plants and animals. I want to bulk up the scientific knowledge. I want to know what’s been done and gather it all together to assess where the gaps are and then fill them. We need to know what is here if we are going to maintain it properly. I am very motivated by the huge success of the raptor study and the wealth of knowledge; that type of data is missing in other areas of study. I want to examine the Wildlife Management Plan for Griffith Park to see what has been done and what hasn’t been done and why. The last plan was 15 years ago in 2007. We need a current plan with attainable management strategies for the future.
~Mary Button, FoGP Board Member
photo: Courtney McCammon is joined by RAP’s Tracy James, and Park Rangers Tom Mendibles and Brandon Wylie at the recent Earth Day Celebration Event in Griffith Park (April 23, 2022)