ESRI Conservation Program: GIS Stories from the field

James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve

The James Reserve is a University of California operated biological field station located on 30 acres at 5,300' asl in a remote wilderness area of the San Jacinto Mountains (Latitude: 33deg 48' 30" N Longitude: 116deg 46' 40" W, Average Temperatures: August maximum: 35deg C (96deg F); January minimum: -14deg C (6deg F) ) . The reserve is one of the best known of the University of California Natural Reserve System sites (

In case you have never visited before, you will discover the landscape is primarily a montane mixed conifer and hardwood forest, with a perennial stream, dry meadows and oak woodlands, and is situated entirely within Hall Canyon, a US Forest Service Research Natural Area. There are hiking trails starting in the reserve and leading into Hall Canyon RNA, eventually connecting to the Pacific Crest Trail. the primary facility is the Trailfinder Lodge, a solar powered multipurpose building with beds, kitchen, bathrooms, meeting room, and small museum and lab. There is also a camping area. Staff consists of a full-time Director (Dr. Michael Hamilton), a resident caretaker (Brian Strack), and a part-time maintenance worker.

Special Features: Montane forest and stream with diverse habitats in San Jacinto Mountains. Additional desert and montane sites (900+ acres) are within 30 miles of the reserve. Oasis de los Osos, a 65-ha (160-acre) satellite reserve, is located nearby at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains, north of Palm Springs, and has a mixture of desert and coastal species. Cahuilla Mountain, a 300-ha (740-acre) mountaintop is a USFS Research Natural Area. Garner Valley, a 40-ha (100-acre) high wet meadow is also owned by the USFS.

From Dr. Michael Hamilton, Reserve Curator:


"Every scientist keeps a personal journal, and in this I am no different. My day job is Resident Director of a biological field station called the James Reserve, sort of a bed and breakfast for biologists, located up in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California. Professionally speaking, that makes me chief, cook, bottle washer, plumber, mechanic, ecologist, electrician, naturalist, computerprogrammer, bus driver, diplomat, eco-terrorist, school teacher, fund raiser, and the list goes on... As Robert Heinlein once said, '...specialization is for insects.' "

As a practicing conservation biologist, I manage one of the busiest biological field stations and research natural areas in the UC Natural Reserve System. Last year the James Reserve experienced more than 8,500 user days, divided betweeen instructional users, research scientists, and community visitors. My personal research program includes local and international studies of monitoring and sustainability of biodiversity elements within protected and managed wildlands, and the software/ hardware development of technologies for visualizing multi-scale ecological patterns of biodiversity. Specifically, I co-develop new and adapts existing GIS and multimedia systems to allow rapid assessment of populations, communities, and landscape/land-use elements. Using imaging cameras, global positioning systems, and other portable sensors, I collect ecological samples which are spatially linkable to remote sensing data useful in characterizing and monitoring patterns and processes of biodiversity. Similar tools are used to interpret and analyze field collected data in order to scientifically visualize information for a range of applications including science education, resource management decision-making, research exploration, and remote access of databases across the Internet.

Using these and other methods, I have monitored numerous rare species and communities within the San Jacinto Mountains for nearly 17 years, insuring that land use and resource management decision-makers incorporate this data into their projects and programs. I am also active within a brand new organization called the Society for Conservation GIS.
It consists of a group of approximately 50 national and international non-profit organizations involved in conservation work and utilizing ArcInfo and ArcView GIS software. We have been meeting annually for 6 years at the James Reserve during the week prior to the annual ESRI ArcInfo Users conference in Palm Springs. As one of the principal partners, I help distribute software and hardware donations from ESRI and other technology corporations to organizations building databases for conservation biology studies, natural areas management, and environmental activism. I also coordinate and assist in training, and promote guidelines and standards for database development within the group. I have served on various boards and policy groups including California Native Plant Society Rare Plant Scientific Advisory Committee, the Riverside County Growth Management Committee, the Mount San Jacinto Winter Park Authority (which manages the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway), and the local school board. In addition I have a wide range of public school experiences such as environmental education field curriculum, internet education resources, and computer-based education and training. I lecture widely and enjoy working with people and organizations. I was the 1995 recipient of the Richard Greenwood Award for Contributions to the Environment from the Idyllwild Environmental Group.


Text and graphics: Dr. Michael P. Hamilton, University of California
January 2, 1997 , Michael P. Hamilton, Director University of California James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve PO Box 1775 Idyllwild, California 92549, voice: 909/659-3811 fax: 909/659-9897 (limited availability)

Web layout & design: ESRI Conservation Program, January 2, 1996

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