Featured Grant: Shawna Dark

Wetlands tell stories.  Their histories tell us how land was used 200 years ago, how climates have shifted throughout the southern California coastal region, when floods and fires occurred, and how these events shaped the rich, complex landscape of present day Southern California.

Geography professor Shawna Dark and her students are reconstructing these histories.

Under the direction of Professor Dark, the Center for Geographic Studies has launched a series of historical and contemporary wetlands projects throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties.  Over the past two years, the Center has secured more than $500,000 in contract funding to conduct a wide range of wetland and historical ecology projects as part of the Southern California Wetlands Mapping Project.  Partners include the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, San Francisco Estuary institute, the University of Southern California, the Coastal Conservancy, and, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wetland Inventory (NWI).   

The goal of this important initiative is to create habitat maps of contemporary wetlands throughout Southern California in addition to providing historically informed environmental analyses of wetland areas to assist land managers, land owners, anthropologists, historians, and geographers in obtaining a more in-depth understanding of the natural environment and human impact.

Utilizing Cal State Northridge’s own Geography Map Library, among one of the most comprehensive resource for historic maps of Southern California, Shawna and her students visually document the complex history of wetlands.  Through their involvement with this project, students gain valuable experience in working with geographic information systems (GIS), a mapping tool capable of integrating  a variety of historical data types into spatial formats for large scale regional mapping efforts and analysis.

Historical ecology work is critical to creating a foundation for contemporary restoration plans. This research also provides a backdrop to understand how wetlands have been impacted by humans and what the future holds for such vital resources.  The contemporary wetlands mapping allows for land managers to monitor wetlands in their watershed and provides data for the development of water policy at a local and regional scale. 

To learn more about Shawna’s work and the ongoing efforts of the Center for Geographic Studies, visit their websites: