Where the Wild Things Thrive

The signs of spring are starting to crop up on campus: buzzing hummingbirds, chirping squirrels, and blooming flowers. UCLA is not just a habitat for Bruins — we share the campus with many wild flora and fauna. As a university located in a region of rich biological diversity —L.A. is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots — UCLA has committed, through its sustainability plan and several other efforts, to helping all living things on campus thrive. And we’re taking that knowledge and research generated on campus grounds to advance biodiversity in our city and across the globe.

Landscape architect Ralph Cornell designed the Westwood campus to be a “college in a garden.” Across the college in a garden’s 400 acres are outdoor spaces home to over 1,700 plants, birds, insects, and other animals. These green places include the 7.5-acre Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden and Sage Hill, a 3.5-acre native California habitat in the northwest corner of campus.

UCLA’s Sustainability Plan takes environmental stewardship on our natural home field further — to keep the “college in a garden” healthy and flourishing. Goals in the plan are particularly critical given our changing climate and concerns like California’s ongoing drought.

The plan’s landscape and biodiversity section covers transitioning landscaping to more climate-resilient plants, more formally developing Sage Hill as an outdoor teaching and research space, supporting native pollinators, and other goals.

Southern California’s persistent drought conditions make converting campus landscaping to native and adapted species with lesser water demand an important aim. Incorporating more drought-tolerant plants keeps the campus green and still conserving water.

Representing the largest remaining patch of native California habitat in West Los Angeles and located in the northwest corner of the campus is Sage Hill. The site, home to native plant species, native mammal species, butterflies, and resident and migratory bird species, is utilized by UCLA faculty and students as an outdoor learning space. The plan is to continue restoring the area and further develop its role, with the help of academic departments across the campus, to make Sage Hill a formal place for teaching and research.

Another campus effort dedicated to advancing biodiversity is the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. The interdisciplinary university-wide initiative aimed at applying UCLA research, expertise, and education to help transform Los Angeles into a sustainable megacity is working with Los Angeles County to move toward a more resilient environment and community for people and native wildlife.

And recently, UCLA joined an international nature coalition created by the UN Environment Programme and the University of Oxford. As a founding member of the Nature Positive Universities Alliance, UCLA, as a higher education institution, commits to taking action to help ecosystems thrive.

Any Bruin, whether headed to class, a meeting or just strolling through the botanical garden, can become a naturalist for the campus. Track what you see at UCLA through iNaturalist and contribute to the campus biodiversity project here. Start practicing those biodiversity observations now – the City Nature Challenge starts in April.

Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds side by side on the UCLA campus.

Food For Thought in the UCLA Sustainability Plan

By Karen Hallisey

November, especially given Thanksgiving, is an ideal time to talk about conscious consumption and the impact of food on the environment. The month, and its holiday centered on cooking and eating, is an opportunity to highlight food systems practices at the university. UCLA supports food sustainability, and in its Sustainability Plan, outlines specific goals in this area. 

So why is this important? Let’s look at the very definition of sustainability first: maintaining or improving standards of living without damaging or depleting natural resources for present and future generations. How that applies to food systems and our campus is through the distribution and consumption of food products that keep the environment in mind. 

Non-sustainable food systems contribute to air pollution, create non-potable (undrinkable) water, and cause land erosion, among other consequences that contribute to the climate crisis. Through dining practices and dining consumption, Bruins can help curb climate change. 

The Sustainability Plan builds on work already being done to help preserve individual, community, and planetary health. These are the planned efforts to create a greener, healthier, and more resilient campus when it comes to food. 

  • Provide patrons and foodservice staff educational and training modules to support sustainable food choices. 
  • Reduce food’s greenhouse emissions through globally-inspired, culturally-acceptable, plant-forward menus. 
  • Strive to meet this topic area’s criteria in existing leased locations and incorporate language into lease requirements for new vendors and at renewal. 
  • Increase sustainable food procurement using Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System criteria. 
  • Increase sustainable food spending in UCLA Health using Practice Greenhealth criteria, which provides sustainability solutions for the health care sector. 

Review UCLA Sustainability’s food systems goals in greater detail and learn about the other sustainability initiatives outlined in the plan on UCLA Sustainability’s website.