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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Vernal Pools Stewardship Program

The Problem

In 1997, a landmark survey reported that approximately three million of the original four million acres of vernal pools within the Central Valley of California have been destroyed since European settlement. Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that occur in landscape depressions within the Central Valley and coastal counties, and are filled by flood waters from adjacent streams, rainfall, or shallow groundwater. It is important to protect these remaining vernal pools because they provide habitat for a diverse assemblage of plants and wildlife, included rare and endangered species that occur nowhere else on the earth.

The Solution

Through an Interagency Vernal Pool Stewardship Initiative, various government agencies have established a statewide network of vernal pool conservation areas through public and private partnerships. EPA has teamed up with federal, state, and local agencies and non-governmental organizations to protect and restore vernal pools and related ecosystems – native grasslands, oak woodlands, etc. Through our partnerships we have documented losses of vernal pools and mapped them in selected regions as a basis for setting conservation priorities.

The Results

One recent accomplishment of this partnership has been the purchase of the 725-acre Herbert Ranch by the Sierra Los Tulares Land Trust (SLTLT) in the San Joaquin Valley of California. This site represents the last large tract of vernal pools within a 547-square mile expanse of rural landscape in Tulare County -- a region almost completely covered with conventional farms and dairies. The SLTLT amassed enough money to acquire the Ranch for $1.3 million. The eventual Herbert Preserve will serve as a restored wildlife corridor reconnecting two existing preserves one to the northeast (Kaweah Oaks), and the other to the southeast (Creighton Ranch).

The Consumes River Watershed is another example of where agencies and NGOs are working together to protect these remaining vernal pools. The Consumes River is the last free-flowing river in California's Central Valley. EPA, the Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Packard Foundation, the State Water Resources Control Board and other partners purchased nearly 3,000 pristine acres on Howard Ranch in the Consumes Watershed. The ranch encompasses the transition zone between the Central Valley wetlands (vernal pools and related aquatic sites) and the oak-studded foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Saving the Ranch from development was a significant accomplishment. The Ranch has been added to other conservation holdings within the watershed bringing the total of protected acreage to nearly 40,000 acres. Conservation projects such as sustainable ranching and ecosystem restoration are also being pursued to demonstrate appropriate stewardship of the land.

Contacts

For additional information, contact Tim Vendlinski at (415) 972-3464, vendlinski.tim@epa.gov.

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