It could have been an endless sea of red tile roofs. Instead, an oasis took shape in the midst of southern California’s urban sprawl—the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve—offering hikers and other nature enthusiasts the opportunity to enjoy some of California’s rarest landscapes.
Coaxed out of the surrounding malls and housing developments, the plateau protects nearly 10,000 acres of southwest Riverside County, including unique Engelmann oak woodlands, some of southern California’s rarest native grasslands and the region’s last remaining vernal pools. The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve and other protected lands in the area—known collectively as the Santa Rosa Plateau—comprise an unusually intense concentration of extraordinary species rarely encountered anywhere.
In late 1983, Riverside County’s population was edging close to 750,000, and development was booming, with enormous plans in the works. Concerned with protecting the many unusual species of the plateau, TNC worked to purchase 3,100 acres from a housing development company.
In hindsight, the purchase of 3,100 acres sounds so simple. Yet it belies the scientific research that precedes any purchase we make to determine if the property in question will produce the greatest conservation outcomes. It fails to convey the enormous effort that goes into the fundraising, negotiating and closing of an acquisition like this. TNC long knew the value of the plateau and fought to preserve it.
Since 1983, we have worked in partnership with the local community and a host of local, state and federal agencies to secure today’s total of nearly 10,000 acres of the Santa Rosa Plateau. Through this series of strategic additional acquisitions, we have focused on developing a wildlife corridor that links the plateau to the Cleveland National Forest, providing room to roam for wildlife, like mountain lions, that need space to survive.
Santa Rosa Plateau represents one of the California program’s great achievements.
In July 2011 TNC transferred its remaining properties and two of its conservation easements in the area to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).
Complementing our transfer were two important acquisitions. DFG acquired the Santa Rosa Springs property, the only previously unprotected private inholding of the reserve through which Cole Creek flows. And the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority acquired another important priority property in the corridor. TNC assisted both of these acquisitions.
A Suburban Oasis
Twenty million people live within a 100-mile radius of the Reserve. It is indeed a beloved and needed oasis, with more than 60,000 visitors annually, including 7,000–8,000 schoolchildren. There is an active volunteer program that always welcomes new members. The fact that the Santa Rosa Plateau receives so many visitors is a testimony to our need to get out on the land, and this vast and amazing landscape is there to fulfill that need.
The Reserve is always seeking volunteers. For more information please call 951-677-6951 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.