Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 30, 2023


Mati Waiya, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, (805) 667-7818,
Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 907-1533,
Mike Traphagen, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, (805) 688-7997,
Liv O’Keeffe, California Native Plant Society, (916) 738-7602,

Students Receive Nearly $17K for Utom Conservation Studies

Scholarship, Fellowship Aimed at Protecting Southern California Watershed

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif.— The Utom Conservation Fund announced today that it has awarded nearly $17,000 to Southern California students committed to protecting the Santa Clara River, also known as Utom.

This is the second year that a group of cultural and environmental organizations has awarded scholarships and fellowships to students dedicated to protecting Utom, a 116-mile-long river flowing from the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County to the Pacific Ocean in Ventura County.

“We want to see the iša kowoč, or steelhead, recover in healthy and sustainable numbers,” said Mati Waiya, executive director of the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation. “To achieve this, we must maintain the ongoing efforts to protect the living river ecosystem. Southern California steelhead are a vital cultural keystone species and our relatives. They are currently facing high risk of extinction. Culture bearers and students are key to advancing much needed and ongoing protections. It is our hope that these scholarships will be of meaningful assistance to students in accomplishing their work.”

“The future of this unique and ecologically important watershed depends on the investments we make today,” said Peter Galvin, cofounder and director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we want people and wildlife to enjoy a flowing Utom for generations to come, it’ll require fresh conservation ideas from today’s students.”

This year’s fellowship, worth $12,000, was awarded to Christian Cormier, a biology student at Cal Poly Pomona. Two scholarships worth $2,000 each were awarded to Daija Patterson, a biology student at UCLA, and Nathan To, a mathematics student at UC Santa Cruz.

“It’s an honor to be chosen for this fellowship and a great privilege to be able to study the avian ecology of the Utom watershed,” said Cormier.

“I am grateful and honored to the Utom Conservation Fund for awarding me this scholarship and support,” said Patterson.

The Utom watershed is a biodiversity hotspot with more than 110 special-status species, including California red-legged frogs, arroyo toads and unarmored threespine sticklebacks. The Chumash people call this river Utom, or Phantom River, because water flow comes and goes like a phantom.

“We are heartened to see continued student interest in studying Utom and identifying the best ways to protect it,” said Kenneth Kahn, Tribal chairman for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “Our tribe is proud to contribute to the Utom Conservation Fund and help these students pursue their educational goals.”

“The Utom watershed is home to some of California's most unique plants and habitats,” said Nick Jensen, conservation program director at the California Native Plant Society. “As a long-time partner in the effort to understand and protect this special place, CNPS is incredibly proud to support the next generation of conservation stewards of Utom and the biodiversity it supports.”

The scholarship and fellowship is managed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and the California Native Plant Society. The Utom Conservation Fund was established with settlement funds from litigation to protect this unique watershed.

JP Utom
The Santa Clara River, or Utom, is seen near Santa Paula in Ventura County. Credit: J.P. Rose/Center for Biological Diversity. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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