Vanessa Padilla

2021 Restoration Scholar – Stanislaus State

It’s likely that not too long from now, Vanessa Padilla may very well look back at her summer internship and appreciate the landscape of her hometown and a broader understanding of conservation.

Like others during their River Partners student internships throughout California, Padilla performed her work close to home. Working out of the agency’s San Joaquin office, the Manteca native monitored vegetation and researched mammal populations in the unrestored Grayson Ranch property—using the also-nearby Dos Rios Property as a comparison site. Pulling data from cameras set up at points around the Grayson property, Padilla hoped to establish an understanding of the base populations before restoration begins there to better understand the impacts of restored habitats on wildlife populations.

“Part of the restoration is to bring back native wildlife, so through the camera trapping, we’re able to see what is already present—say, at Dos Rios,” she said. “And if so, we can get an idea or baseline for Grayson through this monitoring that gives us a good starting place to see how restoration affects the wildlife—for example, if we get more species, if we see fewer species, or if other behaviors change.”

An important indicator species that Padilla said she is researching is the Riparian brush rabbit.

“It’s native to the valley and is a population that we really want to have around since it lives only in the valley,” she said. “There are a couple of things going on with them so that’s something we’re really looking out for.”

The research Padilla did with River Partners dovetailed nicely into what the Geography major is studying at Stanislaus State—including employing the use of maps in real time.

“We looked at the geospatial side of conservation efforts,” she said. “It was really cool because we went out and had the tables with all these maps pulled up so we could navigate to things and also visualize our data through maps.”

Additionally, working for and spending time at a conservation organization allowed her to gain a new perspective on its inner workings and to see the work that goes into all of River Partners’s efforts.

“It makes me appreciate everything so much more,” she said. “And living in the valley, looking at everything and finally understanding what the vegetation is and the importance of the work, it really ties everything together for me.”

With her River Partners experience behind her, Padilla is ready to embark on her final year at Stanislaus State, where she expects to graduate in 2022. After that, she remains open to the possibilities that lay ahead.

“Grad school somewhere down the road, and just getting to know the planet a little bit better, learning about different ecosystems through any opportunity possible,” she said. “That may look like service that doesn’t have anything to do with ecological restoration, or maybe it’s humanitarian work. I just really want to learn about more ecosystems, both through the natural world and through the human perspective, and see how those behaviors are changing—I just really want to learn how we can make this place better.”