Originally Published as Occasional Paper Number 6
by the
Santa Cruz Island Foundation
Santa Barbara, California

"Island explorer and field botanist Blanche Trask (Luella Blanche Engles, 1865-1916) visited Santa Barbara Island in May 1901 and again in May 1902. She lived on Santa Catalina Island from 1893 until 1912 (Cantelow & Cantelow 1957) and collected extensively on the Southern Channel Islands during the late 1890s and early 1900s. She published notes on the floras of Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands (Trask 1899, 1904), and her collections formed the basis for the first checklist of plants for San Nicolas Island (1898). Unfortunately, her prime botanical specimens, deposited at the California Academey of Sciences, were destroyed during San Francisco's 1906 earthquake and fire (Millspaugh and Nuttall 1923). Two plants growing on Santa Barbara Island (Astragalus traskiae and Dudleya traskiae) have been named in her honor."

OBSERVATIONS of a NATURALIST in the 21st Century
Robert Roy van de Hoek
December 2000

Blanche Trask, Poet-Explorer-Naturalist, did most of her California wild nature exploration and writing on the Channel Islands of Southern California. She was a resident of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island in Los Angeles County, California from 1895 to 1915 (20 Years). Her winter home was located next to the Tuna Club in Avalon, but she also had a summer home at the Isthmus where the Institute of Environmental Studies of USC is currently located. However, she did travel to the deserts of the west as well and we know this through her correspondence such as in the following letter. Many people have acknowledged her contritubitions over the last 100 years. Scientists, in particular, have noted her contributions, such as Steve Junak, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, the foremost authority now on the California Islands flora and floristics.

Steve Junak recognized the botanical exploration accomplishments of Blanche Trask by dedicating about one-half page (p57-58) to her. Steve Junak correctly leaves off the "Mrs." as she was not married any longer by the time of her 1901 and 1902 "brief tarrying" on Santa Barbara Island, to use her own words. As Steve Junaks notes, she was an "explorer" as well as a "field botanist" but of course she was much more since she included archaeology, history, zoology, and geology in her collecting and exploring, such that she was a true naturalist.

She also appreciated the desert landscape of the southwest, as we can see from her letters and essays, and Santa Barbara certainly presents itself as a desert-like landscape rising from the sea. The rainfall is scant on Santa Barbara, within the realm of meeting the definition of a desert. Even so, the Channel Islands were paradise to Blanche Trask. The Geography of Hope for Blanche Trask is undoubtedly Santa Catalina Island, but she often could see Santa Barbara Island at only twenty miles west of Catalina.

The narrative and quote by Steve Junak was written and compiled by Robert Roy van de Hoek, December 3, 2000, for educational purposes in hopes of someday, having a "SONG SPARROW" on Santa Barbara Island again, so visitors to that National Park island can have their park visit enlivened by hearing their "song." When Blanche Trask explored and tramped by setting foot on Santa Barbara in 1901, and again in 1902, both times in May, it was Spring of course, and the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow would have been singing beautifully as she collected the two plants that we learned from Steve Junak are named for her. Alas, the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow is extinct, but the very closely related Song Sparrow of San Clemente Island could be established, in order to recover the natural ecological process that is lost at this time on Santa Barbara Island. The Song Sparrow, if returned to Santa Barbara would help spread the seeds of native plants around more effectively, hence accelerating restoration on Santa Barbara Island. There is no Song Sparrow on Catalina or San Nicolas surprisingly, so San Clemente Island is the logical choice the source island. The Song Sparrow undoubtedly utlized the Giant Coreopsis plants, for example, as habitat. The evidence lies in the fact, that the timing of the rabbits and fire decimating the vegetation of Santa Barbara Island also resulted in closely-paralleled and timed disappearance of the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow. And now, here we are, fast-forwarded into the new Millenium and Channel Islands National Park is the caretaker and land steward for Santa Barbara Island, and I believe it would be ecologically wise to consider bringing the close relative of the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow, known as the San Clemente Island Song Sparrow, to Santa Barbara Island. Sadly, San Clemente is a Navy Island, and the possibility of the Navy and National Park Service cooperating is slim to none. Thus, one realizes, yet another reason why the Navy needs to depart San Clemente Island and "let it be" part of the Channel Islands National Park.

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