Dr. Jennifer Gee File photo
Dr. Jennifer Gee
File photo

The next and final speaker for the 2016 Nature of Nature Lecture Series will be Dr. Jennifer Gee, director of the James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve. The University of California operates 39 reserves, of which four, including the James, are associated with the Riverside campus’ Department of Biology.

In 1966, Harry and Grace James sold the land to the university. The formal educational property will celebrate its 50th anniversary next month; but its biological significance has roots much deeper in history.

Gee, who assumed the directorship in 2012, will speak about the noteworthy history of the reserve, and the research ideas and products that have germinated on the Hill. She describes the reserve, as well as the entire San Jacinto Mountains, as “ecologically rich.”

Its value derives from its unique location. The Sonoran desert essentially surrounds the mountain. Geologically distinct from the Peninsular Range, the San Jacinto Mountains are unlike the coastal ridges and mountains to the west and north, for example, the San Bernardino Mountains.

Species such as the spotted owl or black bear can make their way to the Hill, but they don’t establish robust and lasting populations since it is not their natural habitat.

“Essentially, we are a ‘Sky Island,’ ” Gee said. “We’re isolated here and it’s attracted biologists for a long time.”

The James has been the site and sponsor of many UC retreats. And many current thoughts and ideas about biology and evolution and other scientific topics began to grow and sprout here. The early leaders were Jarod Diamond, author of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize winning book “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” Martin Cody and Chuck Taylor. All were at one time members of the UCLA faculty.

These retreats led to the development of the Center of Embedded Networked Sensing that was funded with grants from the National Science Foundation. One of the important leaders of this movement is former James Reserve Director Dr. Michael Hamilton.

“While these were scholarly retreats, it’s amazing the ideas that start informally around campfire discussions,” she said. “To have the time and space to gather with other people with similar questions is a rare opportunity.”

Gee is not sure what attracted her to the James and the Hill. She did not know about the geology, except for her quail research. Gee has learned about the mountain since arriving here. “It’s nothing in geologic time,” she said.

Gee’s presentation will be 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Idyllwild Nature Center. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for children and free for members of the Friends of the San Jacinto Mountains County Parks. The James Reserve and the Nature Center co-sponsored the four lectures this year.

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