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Have you heard about the San Joaquin Experimental Range otherwise known as SJER?

Well, it is a hidden gem located about 25 miles north of Fresno, California. On Wednesday, November 24th, Agriculture and Rangeland Management Supervisor Justin Morgan, District Manager Steve Haze, and I took a site visit to the San Joaquin Experimental Range. Staff from NEON and UCANR welcomed us to a day of exploration and engagement. Rebecca Ozeran a UCCE Livestock & Natural Resources Advisor from UCANR, Erin Crandall a Senior Field Ecologist with NEON, and Sokaina Alkhafaji a Lead Field Technician also with NEON led a productive and insightful tour of the San Joaquin Experimental Range and NEON program.

After a short drive north on Highway 41, there is a blue sign that states “Water 1 mile” and a marker for Rd 406. This is how you know you are approaching the quick turnoff for the entrance of the San Joaquin Experimental Range. Soon after comes the entrance which has another blue sign that states “Water 1/2 mile”. This is your sign to quickly turn off and enter through the gates of the San Joaquin Experimental Range.

Blue “Water 1/2 mile” Sign at the Entrance of the SJER. Image from Google Maps.

Gates at the Entrance of the SJER. Image from Google Maps.

The SJER sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s in Madera County, spread across 4500 acres of land hosted by the U.S. Forest Service. This land is important because it has a National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) program that started operations in the Fall of 2018, which runs environmental data collection across the country including Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska. Over a 30-year time span, NEON in collaboration with the San Joaquin Experimental Range is designed to provide plenty of observational research and data collection that can drive groundbreaking research for years to come.

Undisturbed Natural Area Boundary

NEON provides public data that is useful for research spread across multiple subject areas. These areas include agriculture, phenology, ecology, environmental science plus much more. The SJER is also a public site open to new research and data collection upon request and approval from the U.S. Forest service. That opportunity is also open to students who are looking to express their creativity and new innovative ideas on research or data collection in the SJER’s applicable fields of study. As one of NEON’s primary goals is to be an outlet as an educational site and feed the next generation of young scientists.

Located on the San Joaquin Experimental Range, NEON has a data collection tower that is 39 meters high and contains 6 levels. Here, the data is constantly collected, to ensure updated and accurate results. Data collection at the tower includes tree canopy cover, climate, air quality, air pollution, carbon cycling, and soil characteristics. This data can be combined with other data to understand and provide insight into the ecological processes and links between the atmosphere, climate, land use, and species.

NEON Tower


Another great aspect about NEON is its staff. With a warm welcome, the employees are eager to provide insight and encourage new engagements for the SJER. With a young group of leaders at the forefront of a great start to innovative science, it is refreshing to see and experience. NEON offers seasonal positions to get involved and engage in the pivotal work they contribute to every day.

I encourage all to take a visit or check out the opportunities the San Joaquin Experimental Range and NEON program have to offer. There is great potential and capacity for groundbreaking ideas and research to occur in addition to the foundational data collection already in process.