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  • January 15, 2020

The quarterly update of the Barred Owl Observations Database is available in the BIOS Viewer for CNDDB subscribers. The barred owl database includes barred owl (Strix varia), Strix hybrid, and unknown Strix detections.

Many of the records represent incidental detections made during spotted owl surveys; therefore, this dataset may not accurately represent the current distribution of barred owls in California. Furthermore, this dataset is only available to CNDDB subscribers because it contains references to sensitive spotted owl locations. A public version will be available in the future.

For a copy of the geodatabase or for site-specific inquiries, contact the database manager at

Screenshot of BIOS mapping application displaying the barred owl dataset

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  • January 10, 2020

In December 2019, the Vegetation Classification and Mapping Program (VegCAMP) updated the “map of vegetation maps” in BIOS that shows footprints of fine-scaled vegetation maps: Vegetation (MCV/NVCS) Mapping Projects – California [ds515]. This dataset can help you discover what vegetation types are in your area of interest. California’s Natural Communities are based in the National Vegetation Classification System (NVCS), which is a hierarchical system; and VegCAMP works together with the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) to maintain California’s expression of the system. We publish a list of Natural Communities at the bottom two levels: alliance and association. We also work to rank these communities for rarity, using the same ranking concepts as are used for species in CNDDB. Our published Natural Community lists and other online information were also recently updated. For more information, please see VegCAMP's Natural Communities page (updated November 2019) and link opens in new windowCNPS' Online Manual of California Vegetation (updated October 2019).

Where does ds515 come in? If you are working in an area and want to know what vegetation types have been documented there, you can see if there is a mapping project overlapping or near your area of interest. If you click on one of the polygons of ds515 in BIOS, you will see who is responsible for the map, whether it is complete, and how old it is. There are links in ds515 to download the datasets and view the classification and mapping reports. The classification reports have keys that will help you determine vegetation types based on species cover. Since many of the maps are produced at the alliance level, which is coarser than the association level, it is important to know how to identify associations. This is particularly true for those interested in determining whether there are sensitive natural communities present, because there can be sensitive associations within alliances that are broadly distributed that are not considered sensitive. To see ds515, along with other published vegetation datasets, including a newly published, updated map of the Delta (ds2855) and part of the Modoc Plateau (ds2858), please see our BIOS bookmark.

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  • January 7, 2020

A special opportunity for our subscribers in the San Diego area: we are taking our CNDDB/BIOS training on the road and will be in San Diego on January 21st and 23rd. There are only a few spots available. Please contact Annie Chang if you are interested or have any questions.

If you are interested in taking the training course at a different time, we offer classes in Sacramento every other month. Please see our training website for more details about what the class covers, cost, and where it is located.

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  • December 31, 2019

The end of the year is often a time of reflection and appreciation and we at the California Natural Diversity Database appreciate all the species detection data we receive throughout the year. We are thankful for contributors like you for helping us conserve California’s many sensitive species. We rarely get the opportunity to get out of the office and do field work ourselves, so we appreciate your awesome photos as a welcome reminder of what makes this job worth doing. We couldn't do it without your continued efforts!

Closeup of Santa Susana tarplant flower

Deinandra minthornii (Hemizonia minthornii) – Santa Susana tarplant

Submitted by Chris Dunn and Patrick Crooks, Padre Associates Inc.

This interesting plant was found at the Boeing Santa Susana Field Laboratory site in Ventura County. The site formerly housed everything needed to test rocket engines, but ten years ago Boeing decided to preserve the site as open space habitat. It has since become a sanctuary for plants and animals alike. Deinandra minthornii is endemic to California and is listed as 1B.2 (rare or endangered in California and elsewhere, fairly endangered in California) in the California Rare Plant Ranking system. It is commonly found in rocky areas of chaparral and coastal scrub. Chris assisted in some interesting work on the conservation of D. minthornii. In a study of the plant, it was determined that D. minthornii was highly pollinator dependent, having a much better seed viability when greater numbers of pollinators visited the plant. Plants found near areas of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory that had been seeded with native forbs were found to have greater numbers of pollinators visiting. This led to the enhanced viability of D. minthornii seeds in those areas. The study concludes by encouraging the use of local forb seed mixes in general restoration practices to help in the conservation of plants that are pollinator dependent. Thank you, Chris and Patrick, for sharing this amazing work that you do!

For those interested in the study: Galea, M., V. Wojcik, and C. Dunn. 2016. Using Pollinator Seed Mixes in Landscape Restoration Boosts Bee Visitation and Reproduction in the Rare Local Endemic Santa Susana Tarweed, Deinandra minthornii. BioOne. Vol. 36 (4).

Closeup of coast ranged newt

Taricha torosa – Coast Range newt

Submitted by Peter Gaede

Peter found this Coast Range newt, also commonly known as the California newt, out and about near Las Llagas Canyon in Santa Barbara County. This species is endemic to California and research has shown that coastal populations in Monterey County and south are suffering from habitat loss and because of this, is considered a California Special Species of Concern. Coast Range newts are terrestrial during warmer months and migrate to bodies of water to breed from December through March. Their rough skin gives off a poisonous neurotoxin known as tetrodotoxin to ward off predators. Tetrodotoxin is found throughout their skin, muscles, and blood and is strong enough to kill animals and even people. A study was conducted that showed the neurotoxin found in a single Coast Range newt’s skin is powerful enough to kill around 2,000 mice! Their sticky tongue helps them catch prey like worms, snails, slugs, and even their own eggs and larvae. They are found in chaparral, woodland, and grassland habitat. Currently, the database has 88 mapped occurrences along the southern coast from Monterey county to San Diego county. Thank you, Peter, for catching such a detailed look of this awesome amphibian!

Do you have some great photos of rare plants or wildlife detections? Submit them along with your findings through our Online Field Survey Form and see if your photos get showcased!

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  • December 16, 2019

Photo of saguaro in the desert by Duncan S. Bell
©2011 Duncan S. Bell

The saguaro (pronounced sah-wah-roh) cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) can grow to over 45 feet in height and is the largest cactus in the United States. It can survive for over 150 years but grows very slowly and generally does not start reproducing until about 35 years of age. The saguaro cactus only occurs in the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert and is a critical component of the desert ecosystem providing homes and food for a variety of wildlife.

The saguaro cactus is an iconic component of the landscape in Arizona and northern Mexico with an entire National Park dedicated to preserving and celebrating these cacti (Saguaro National Park in Arizona). In addition to Arizona and Mexico, a few isolated populations of this species occur in the far southeastern corner of California along the Arizona/California border. This means that California can claim the saguaro cactus as part of our diverse native flora!

The saguaro cactus is an excellent example of a plant that is rare within California but more common outside the state (California Rare Plant Rank/CRPR 2B). As such, this species is tracked by the CNDDB with only about 30 occurrences known in California. By tracking species that are rare in California but more common outside the state, we are helping to conserve the entire geographic range of widespread species and protecting evolutionary processes and the genetic diversity of these species.

If you happen to come across a saguaro cactus in California, please submit your observation to the CNDDB using our Online Field Survey Form.

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  • December 9, 2019

  • Number of Element Occurrences in Current Distribution: 93,915
  • Number of Element Occurrences Added Since Last Distribution: 224
  • Number of Element Occurrences Updated Since Last Distribution: 262
  • Number of Source Documents Added: 2,608

Species we’ve been working on:


  • Allium munzii (Munz’ onion)
  • Amsinckia grandiflora (large-flowered fiddleneck)
  • Astragalus agnicidus (Humboldt County milk-vetch)
  • Astragalus tricarinatus (triple-ribbed milk-vetch)
  • Brodiaea orcuttii (Orcutt's brodiaea)
  • Carex davyi (Davy’s sedge)
  • Centromadia parryi ssp. congdonii (Congdon's tarplant)
  • Lomatium stebbinsii (Stebbins’ lomatium)


  • Ambystoma californiense (California tiger salamander)
  • Eumetopias jubatus (Steller sea lion)
  • Gambelia sila (blunt-nosed leopard lizard)
  • Prosopium williamsoni (mountain whitefish)
  • Spea hammondii (western spadefoot)

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  • December 5, 2019

Photos of presenters Kim Tenggardjaja, Melanie Gogol-Prokurat, and Martha Volkoff

Launched in 2018, the California Biodiversity Initiative is a statewide effort to secure the future of California’s biodiversity. Such a large undertaking entails improving our understanding of California’s biodiversity, protecting and recovering California’s native species and ecosystems, and engaging participation by many partners. This talk will provide an overview of the California Biodiversity Initiative and the history of its development and will share initial efforts to implement the Initiative that are underway at California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Kim Tenggardjaja joined CDFW in April 2019 as the Biodiversity Coordinator in the Science Institute and also serves as the lead coordinating staff for the California Landscape Conservation Partnership. Before this, she worked at the State Water Resources Control Board for several years, primarily focusing on seawater desalination and once-through cooling power plants. Kim has a PhD and MA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from UC Santa Cruz, where her dissertation research focused on marine biodiversity in the Hawaiian Islands.

Melanie Gogol-Prokurat is a Spatial Ecologist in the Biogeographic Data Branch, where she develops and analyzes landscape-level datasets to support decision-making in conservation planning. Melanie began her career with the Department in 2000, and has been with the Conservation Analysis Unit since 2009. She received her PhD in Conservation Ecology at UC Davis.

Martha Volkoff, Environmental Program Manager for the Habitat Conservation Planning Branch’s Invasive Species Program, has worked for the Department for 20 years, the past 11 of those in the Invasive Species Program. A native to the Sacramento area, Martha earned her BS and MS in Biology, with a Concentration in Conservation, from CSU Sacramento.

Date: Monday, December 9th Time: 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Location: 1416 9th Street, Room 1131, Sacramento (and via Skype)
Register to view online or in-person
Questions? Contact: Whitney Albright

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  • December 4, 2019

Days are getting shorter, temperatures are getting cooler, and rain is starting to fall. These changes are welcomed by many species that thrive in this wetter, chillier weather. We encourage all of you to get outside, enjoy this changing weather, and see these great plants and animals for yourself! Here are our favorite photos submitted through the online field survey form during November:

Frontal closeup of Del Norte salamander

Plethodon elongatus – Del Norte salamander
Submitted by Mark Raggon of the United States Forest Service

Mark snapped a close-up of this juvenile Del Norte salamander, a California Species of Special Concern, near the California Oregon border in Del Norte county. This species inhabits the very northwestern portion of the state in Del Norte, Siskiyou, Humboldt, and Trinity counties. Del Norte salamanders are lungless salamanders, so they breathe through their skin and tissues surrounding their mouths! Because of this unique way of respiration, they must live in wet terrestrial environments and remain mostly inactive during hotter months. Little activity combined with short limbs make for a fairly sedentary lifestyle. Studies have shown that the Del Norte salamander stays within a 7.5 square meter area within a year. This is only about a 24-foot square! Populations of this species are sensitive, yet stable even though logging is a cause of habitat loss and disturbance. Thank you, Mark, for the great picture of this neat species!

subalpine fir

Abies lasiocarpa var. lasiocarpa – subalpine fir
Submitted by Dana York

This evergreen tree was found by Dana while hiking along a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in Siskiyou County. It is listed as a 2B.3 (Rare or Endangered in California but common elsewhere; not very threatened in California) in the California Rare Plant Ranking system. In California, Abies lasiocarpa var. lasiocarpa is restricted to meadows and subalpine coniferous forests in Siskiyou County. Like many firs, A. lasiocarpa var. lasiocarpa creates cones that are wind pollinated, often in early summer. Once fully mature these cones begin to fall apart releasing winged seeds dispersing with help from the wind. Thank you, Dana, for sharing this amazing find from your hike!

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  • November 15, 2019

A view of Lassen Peak from the top of Cinder Cone

From moist forest to the dry deserts, California is home to diverse natural beauty. Luckily, the state is also home to numerous trails! This Sunday, November 17th is National Take a Hike Day. Celebrate by hitting the trails and appreciating nature! Who knows what you'll encounter along the way? If you see any CNDDB-tracked plants or animals, be sure to share your findings with us via the Online Field Survey Form.

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  • November 13, 2019

In observance of GIS Day and the CNDDB’s 40th anniversary, let’s take a look back at the technological history of the CNDDB and how geographic information systems help us keep track of the thousands of rare species occurrences in this very diverse state!

The first true GIS, CGIS, was developed in 1960 by Roger Tomlinson to store and analyze the Canada Land Inventory’s extensive map collection. Other GIS systems were developed over the course of the 1960’s and 1970’s, leading to the release of commercially-available desktop software such as Esri’s ARC/INFO in the early 1980’s.

When the California Natural Diversity Database was founded in 1979, GIS was still a relatively new technology and wasn’t widely available. CNDDB staff documented locations of special status species by marking 7.5 minute topographic maps with stickers and writing notes in the map margins. They would fill out forms by hand, in pencil, documenting each element occurrence and index cards documenting each source. In this manner they created an extensive repository of over 15,000 occurrences!

Topo map of Point Loma labeled with CNDDB occurrencesOld CNDDB source card: an index card filled out with author, source code, date, short description of the data, and where it was filed.

Over the course of the 1980’s and 1990’s, the CNDDB continued to adopt new GIS technologies as they became available. Occurrence locations were digitized into a CAD and occurrence forms were typed into a computer database. Later, the CNDDB adopted a true integrated GIS, and with advances in computer graphics technology they were able to display topographic overlays on their computer screens, mapping element occurrences fully on the computer and recycling the old library of paper maps.

1980s photo of CNDDB staff digitizing an element occurrence from a paper mapComputer monitor displaying digitized CNDDB occurrences

The program distributed sensitive species information to our subscribers at first by printing out map overlays and occurrence reports in response to requests, but by the 1990’s had developed the RareFind software application to allow subscribers to view and display CNDDB data on their own computers.

Today, the CNDDB is the largest natural heritage program database of any state, with over 90,000 element occurrence records. GIS technology has played an integral role in helping the database to keep track of the vast amount of information available on the rare and sensitive species of California.

With the wealth of information accessible on the internet, the explosion of citizen science in recent years, and the increasing risk to sensitive species in a changing climate, it is an incredibly difficult task to keep the database up to date and summarize all observations of a given site into high-quality occurrence records. However, the CNDDB continues to evolve and adapt to new GIS technologies, and we eagerly look ahead to the future, just like the CNDDB staff who began this whole endeavor on pencil and paper, way back in 1979.

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