Ecosystems of The Preserve

A diverse assemblage of ecosystems can be found in the 20,000 acres of The Preserve.


Over half of The Preserve is blanketed by a mosaic of woodlands. The sheltered valleys and north facing hillsides host wide spreading canopies of evergreen coast live oak forests sprinkled with California-bay, Pacific madrones, and bigleaf maples. Tucked between the hills, where it is cooler and wetter, you may find towering redwoods growing beside an understory of tanoaks and California-bays. Weaving through the hills and valleys of this landscape are the riparian gallery forests filled with regal California sycamores, twisting California buckeyes, alders and a variety of willows.

Trees offer many ecological benefits that value human populations such as climate regulation, air purification, water filtration and fuel. They are also important habitat for wildlife. From decaying trees providing nutrients to decomposers to the shelter offered by fire-hollowed redwoods; our forests are teaming with life, sometimes you need to know where to look for it.

Savannah and Grasslands

In 2012, the Santa Lucia Conservancy completed a rigorous assessment of the status of the ecological health on The Preserve. Using the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation developed by the Conservation Measures Partnership, the Conservancy completed a Biodiversity Management Needs Assessment, which identified conservation priorities. This process highlighted the Preserve’s native California grasslands as one of its most ecologically significant assets, also its biggest management challenge. Grasslands are essential to a tremendous variety of wildlife including golden eagles and burrowing owls, badgers and coyotes, California tiger salamander and California red-legged frog. Statewide, grasslands cover 10% of land area, but on The Preserve we have over 5,000 acres (25%) of grassland and savanna.

Coastal Scrub and Chapparal

Chaparral and coastal scrub ecosystems are made up of dense woody shrubs and form essential habitat for a variety of small mammals, birds, and reptiles. The two systems are distinguished by their vegetation communities. Coastal scrub, also called ‘soft chaparral,’ has less densely spaced shrubs with soft leaves that are drought deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves during the driest months. Coastal scrub plants produce aromatic oils to protect from grazing animals and their root systems are more shallow than chaparral. Chaparral may be described as too high to see over, too low to go under, and too thick to get through. Shrubs in this system can be 6’-12’ tall and have deep roots for collecting water from the substrate. The woody shrub vegetation in this system is more drought-tolerant than coastal scrub with small leathery evergreen leaves that orient vertically to maximize sun exposure. Both coastal scrub and chaparral share many species, making them hard to distinguish.Around the state of California, these systems are threatened by land use conversion, development, and fuel management practices. Despite the widespread conversion throughout the state, these systems provide broad benefits including biodiversity, recreation, soil stability, flood protection, erosion control, water quality and create important habitat to many avian, reptile, and mammal species.

The Preserve contains a number of perennial streams lined with willow and cottonwood-dominated riparian forests, as well as wetlands, lakes, and old cattle stockponds which serve as surrogate vernal pool habitats. Streams and wetlands are a vital part of any landscape. Rivers deliver vitality and nourish species that live in and near them, which in turn contribute to complex food webs. By definition, wetlands are lands that are partially or seasonally submerged in water. Wetlands appear in many forms around the Preserve; natural drainage areas, river beds, floodplains, and ponds are all different manifestations of wetlands found here. On the Santa Lucia Preserve, riparian zones and wetlands serve as wildlife corridors for native species, provide flood, erosion, and temperature regulation, supply habitat to an astounding variety of plants and animals, and provide crucial support to surrounding ecosystems.

Riparian and wetlands

Streams and wetlands are a vital part of any landscape. The Preserve contains a number of perennial streams lined with willow and cottonwood-dominated riparian forests, as well as wetlands. These hydrological systems are important for a variety of species especially our native steelhead trout, California red-legged frogs and California tiger salamander. The riparian zone is noted for its productive soils and the plants and wildlife adapted to the timing of fluvial events including flooding, drought, sediment transport and channel movement. Native plants are vital to the health of riparian areas, not only for wildlife habitat, but to promote healthy ecological processes.

Creeks and Ponds

All creeks and their watersheds are critical to landscape function, ecological water supply, and overall vitality of ranch ecosystems. Each watershed and its associated biota are vulnerable to activities throughout the course of the system, not only in the immediate vicinity of possible impacts.  Six tributaries of the Carmel River originate in The Preserve and provide important aquatic habitat. In addition to perennial and ephemeral streams, thirty-six ponds occur across The Preserve. These augmented wetlands provide valuable habitat for many resident and migratory species that utilize the ponds for nesting and foraging habitat. Maintaining the health of these ponds, including managing vegetation, is important to help sensitive species remain extant on The Preserve.


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