That's right! The largest native plant eater on the island is the Beechey ground squirrel. It's a bit longer than a bread box and is a Catalina Island endemic, found only here. The scientific name for this half-pint is, Spermophilus beecheyi nesioticus. This distant cousin of the California ground squirrel found on the mainland is not completely vegetarian; it also eats bugs, birds, and eggs.

There are larger plant-eating animals on the island, like deer and bison but they were brought over by humans in the early 1900s. Fourteen bison were brought over to star in a black-and-white western movie, and a few deer were brought over for hunting.

Today, the deer wreak havoc on the native plant species. Deer are browsers, meaning that they eat the leaves off of shrubs and trees as well as plants on the ground. New shoots of the island endemic Tree Poppy are a special delicacy! Bison are primarily grazers and can pull plants up by their roots. Not to mention that they trample the delicate plants into the ground as they traverse the island.

Over time the herds have grown. This places an additional strain on the plant life of the Island.

The Conservancy implements a game management program for the California Department of Fish and Game to limit growth of the deer population. The bison herd, however, can be much more easily managed to keep the population from overwhelming the ecosystem. In addition to managing the herds the Conservancy also restores areas damaged by these non-native herbivores.

That's where the work of volunteers and staff at the Conservancy's James H. Ackerman Native Plant Nursery become so important. The Island is home to some 400 native plants. There are also rare and endangered plant species that the Conservancy carefully monitors and maintains. Keeping up with all of these plant species requires a corps of dedicated people. In one season more than 15,000 native plants were grown and used in restoration projects implemented by volunteers across the Island.

We invite you to become a volunteer. You'll really dig the plant projects, from seed to plant! 

And if your calendar is short on time, you can still make a world of difference on Catalina by becoming a Conservancy member. It's a gift, with perks for you, that'll keep Catalina Wild!