Growing up on a Fresno farm, Lauren Hoff spent most of her waking hours exploring and enjoying the outdoors.
“My family could always find me trying to catch feral cats in the barn or climbing 15 feet up a tree,” Hoff said. “Not much has changed really.”
What has changed, though, is how and where Hoff spends her outdoor time—particularly during her River Partners internship. While she’s not currently chasing cats, she is tracking down names of dozens of plant species. And instead of scaling trees, the Forestry and Natural Resources major at Cal Poly SLO is modeling floodplain inundation along a 10-mile stretch of the San Joaquin River—specifically studying flood rates and associated elevations at 10 different cross sections.
“This project should help provide insight for determining sites with adequate flooding for restoration efforts,” she said. “This is beneficial for the environment and agriculture since it decreases erosion, improves water quality, and increases groundwater filtration which helps replenish the aquifers. It also supports wildlife by restoring their natural habitat, particularly Chinook salmon, an endangered species native to California that uses these waterways to reproduce.”
In spite of (or perhaps because of) her wide-ranging interest in everything outdoors, Hoff said she didn’t know early in her life that she would eventually focus on botany, forestry, and natural resources. A decade ago, her sights were set on becoming an archaeologist, an artist, or a pilot in the Air Force—but she recalls how 2015’s Sky Fire and 2017’s Railroad Fire impacted her.
“These fires destroyed large portions of the Yosemite and Oakhurst areas, regions I’d frequented growing up and fallen in love with,” she said. “At that point in my life, I didn’t know the importance of fire to ecosystems, so it became a goal of mine to discover why the fires were so severe and what could be done to prevent them from destroying the places I loved.”
This drove Hoff to her Forestry and Natural Resources major, where she learned about the role of fire in ecosystems, as well as the importance of watershed management and community composition. She said her interest was further cultivated in her “Intro to Botany, Dendrology, and Plant Taxonomy” class at Cal Poly SLO.
“The materials just clicked for me and I found the inner processes and interactions of each plant species endlessly fascinating,” she said. “Normally, skill and interest do not occur simultaneously for me, so I took that as an indicator that botany would be a good fit for me.”
While Hoff doesn’t quite know yet what she wants to do after graduating from Cal Poly SLO, she’s confident she’s moving in the right direction after her summer internship.
“My experience with River Partners has definitely solidified my desire to go into a field where I am able to work with plants and use my skills to determine their identity and knowledge of them to assess how they interact with and affect their surrounding environment,” she said.