Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego, CA. / Thompson

Biodiversity Conservation in Urban Regions


Spring 2024 - San Diego, CA

George Hess (NC State) & Jan Thompson (Iowa State)


Conserving open spaces - areas left in their natural state, or at least not built upon - in urban regions has become desirable and difficult.  Desirable because open spaces provide in urban areas provide habitat for native plants and animals, space for recreational activities, areas for farming and forestry, and a sense of place.  Difficult because agencies and organizations working to conserve open spaces face competition with economic and political forces favoring development.  The key question we attempt to address in this course is ... How can open space be conserved in urban regions?  

During this Spring 2024 collaborative graduate course (also open to undergraduate seniors), we will explore concepts and practices from conservation biology, landscape architecture, landscape ecology, recreation resource management, and urban planning that frame open space conservation in urban regions. 

In 2024, we will do this in the context of San Diego, CA.  The course includes a spring break field trip (Sun 03.10 - Fri 03.15) to San Diego to study their  nature preserves and natural areas.   We will meet with key players in the conception, creation, and ongoing management of the County's nature preserves.   We'll get to visit conserved habitat and learn how managers meet the challenges of conservation in the region.

You will work with faculty & students from two universities (NC State, Iowa State) to collaboratively develop course projects, such as conference presentations, web-based materials, and working papers -- have a look at the StoryMaps we created for Boulder and  Jacksonville, FL.   We are seeking an interdisciplinary team of students to join us — conservation biologists, ecologists, economists, planners, landscape architects, recreation specialists, & sociologists, to name a few.   We'd like to have 6 students at NC State and 6 at Iowa State.  Instructor permission is required to register.

Downtown San Diego, CA, from Coronado Island. / Hess

Course Basics

Weekly video conference meetings throughout the semester 

   - NCState   |   NR 595-002   |   Tuesdays 15:00 - 16:50 Eastern   |   3 credits, graded 

   - Iowa State   |   NREM 596B ***   |   Tuesdays 14:00 - 15:50 Central   |   3 credits, graded 

Required course travel to San Diego, CA, scheduled for Sunday 03.10 - Friday 03.15 (ending at 16:00). 

To secure lodging, minimize costs, and proceed with planning, we need your commitment by Fri 12.08. 

        - At NCState this commitment is by registration and a $175 deposit.   No refunds after 12.08, if we have enough students to conduct the course.   If we don't have enough people by 12.08, we will return your funds and cancel the course. 

        - At Iowa State this commitment is by registration and payment of course fees. 

We've not established specific prerequisites for the course, because there are so many ways in which people might contribute.   If you're interested, please contact the instructor at your University and we'll talk through your interests, learning desires, and potential contributions.  Instructor consent is required to register for this course — please contact George (NC State) or Jan (Iowa State) to discuss your participation.

Before traveling, we'll do extensive reading of primary material and examination of conservation in San Diego City & County and develop a plan of inquiry.  On our return, we will reflect on and synthesize what we've learned.   Our objective is to develop one part of a compilation of urban conservation stories. 

For a more complete idea of how the course flows, including past syllabi, please have a look at the course in Jacksonville, FL, from Spring 2019 (the last time we traveled, you know, Covid) or the Spring 2023 offering (no travel).

Balboa Park, San Diego - home of the San Diego Zoo and many other museums and cultural attractions. / Hess

Preliminary Travel Outline

Sunday 03.10 - Meet at lodging by 18:00 local time.  Conversation and dinner.

Monday 03.11 - Friday 03.15 - Conservation site visits including discussions with key players from partner organizations.

Wednesday 03.13 - Working morning, free time after noon.

Thursday 03.15 - Class dinner.

Friday afternoon - Discussion, synthesis.

Friday 03.15 16:00 - Class ends.

Travel Notes 

Students are responsible for arranging and paying for travel to and from San Diego, arriving and departing at appropriate times.

Our intent is to cover lodging during the course using course fees (Iowa), deposits (NC State), and funds from varied sources we're still working to obtain.   We will share hotel rooms or book a hostel.  We will arrange lodging for the nights of 03.10-03.16.   If you want to stay any additional nights before or after the course meetings, you must arrange and pay for that yourself.  You may take a red-eye flight on Friday 03.16, if you wish; please expect course activities to end by 16:00 on Friday as you make plans.

Students are responsible for the cost of most meals; we're looking for a hotel that includes some kind of breakfast.

We will have vans for transport during the course activities.

We're still formulating the budget and are working to reduce costs as much as possible.   After subsidies from the Universities, our goal - which we can't guarantee right now - is to keep your total course-related travel costs, including deposit (NCSU), airfare, and course fees (ISU), to around $800.  It could be quite a bit higher, which we should know by late November.  You should also apply for any funds available through your department, college, or university.  A key message here is to have a backup plan - another course you could take if this doesn't work out for you.  Sorry for the uncertainty here.

Want to Join the Team?

Please contact the instructor at your University to talk about your involvement and get signed up!

Alleyway mural (3120 University Avenue) by Jason Acton, North Park, San Diego, CA (2019 - since replaced). / Hess

About Your Course Leaders 

Jan Thompson @ Iowa State University's Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management has collaborated with peer faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students, and community participants to enhance and inform management of natural resources.   She is interested in understanding relationships among peoples' perspectives, decision-making, and actions as they influence land use, conservation, and functional ecology in urban and urbanizing areas. 

George Hess @ NC State University's Department of Forestry & Environmental Resources has devoted his academic career to conserving open spaces in urbanizing areas.   He is a founding member of the WakeNature Preserves Partnership, which is devoted to supporting stewardship of high quality natural areas in Wake County, NC.   Although most of his work is in Wake County, George has studied and written about the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan in Pima County, AZ, which students in this course studied in 2015. 

Oh ... we do snacks sometimes ...

Donuts and ice cream, oh my! Krispy Kreme donuts (Raleigh) and MayDay Ice Cream (Jax).  We do healthy snacks, too :-)) / Hess