Donation Expands Field Research Cause

UC Irvine recently received the property of Desert Club as a gift from owner Audrey Steele Burnand to become an addition to the university’s field research centers. Built in 1949, the former country club that has also been used as an art gallery and a private residence will become a field station to provide researchers with laboratory facilities, dormitories and classroom space.

Desert Club is located adjacent to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest state park that spans from the San Diego County to the Imperial and Riverside Counties. The desert park is important for California because of its size, the native species that inhabit the park and the large number of visitors that traffic the park each year.

However, since the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is located in a remote area, it is difficult to do research there without laboratory facilities and lodging. Thus, the gift of Desert Club is invaluable in allowing researchers to overcome these factors.

As part of the transition from country club to research center, it will be renamed to Steele Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center in honor of Steele Burnand’s parents and her husband’s family.

Diane Pataki, associate professor in the department of earth system sciences and the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, shares what the addition of this clubhouse would bring to UCI.

“This [center] will make it easier for researchers to study the natural sciences, social sciences and even arts and humanities in and near Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and it will also allow us to hold classes there,” Pataki said.  “Any professor will be able to reserve the field station for classroom use – whether they are from UCI or any other school. Students will also be able to reserve space at the field station themselves if they have an approved research or class project in the area.”

In addition, this property will become a part of the University of California’s Natural Reserve System, which protects natural reserves in California and uses them for educational purposes. Currently, the UC Natural Reserve System owns 36 different natural reserves located in various ecosystems. Of the 36 sites, UC Irvine manages two other natural reserves: The San Joaquin Marsh located at north campus and the Burns Pinyon Ridge Reserve located near Joshua Tree National Park.

On a more personal level, Pataki discusses how the addition of the Desert Club will aid her research.

“I study the influence of land use and land management on ecosystem processes, particularly plant and soil processes, and am looking forward to using the field station for this research,” Pataki said.

She also notes that the Center for Environmental Biology in the school of biological sciences and facilities involved in the center are also interested in studying the biology and ecology of California.

In addition to giving UCI the gift of the clubhouse, Steele Burnand will also be funding the expansion and operation of the property.