Places We Protect

San Luis Obispo County


Pronghorn antelope graze at Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County
Pronghorn antelope Pronghorn antelope graze at Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County © Larry Lamsa/Creative Commons

Providing habitat and migration corridors for a variety of native species.



Studded with rare Monterey pine forest and boasting coastal prairie, marshes, and sage scrub, interspersed with rolling grasslands and maritime chaparral, the San Luis Obispo County coastline is beloved by county residents and visitors from around the world.

By contrast, the county's interior is a rich mosaic of fertile grasslands, oak woodlands and savannas, riparian corridors, wetlands, and vernal pools — much of it  adjacent to wilderness areas of the Los Padres National Forest. Further east, the vast Carrizo Plain is home to a diversity of endangered species unparalleled by any other landscape in the state.

One of TNC's most recent efforts, the San Luis Obispo County Project has protected more than 18,000 acres of natural areas, open spaces, and grasslands.


Along California's spectacular Highway 1, San Luis Obispo County's coastline meanders for some 100 miles from the rugged cliffs at the southern gateway to Big Sur to the undulating Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, just south of Pismo Beach. Much of the county's 3,300 square miles (or more than two million acres) comprise its arid interior located east of the Santa Lucia Range and bisected  by the Salinas River—"The Upside Down River"—which originates within the Los Padres National Forest and meanders north through San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties into Monterey Bay.

Why TNC Selected This Site

San Luis Obispo County is home to 250,000 people, a five-fold increase since 1950. Experts predict the population to more than double by 2040. In addition to rural residential and commercial development, another threat to the area's biodiversity is the fragmentation and conversion of grasslands to more intensified uses, such as vineyards and orchards.

What TNC is Doing

The Nature Conservancy has identified five priority areas of the county for protection from growth and development. These regions, which are large enough to present opportunities for landscape-scale conservation and our conservation goals, include:

  • Cambria Pines. Preserve Cambria's Monterey pine forest—one of only three native stands left in the state, five in the world.
  • Irish Hills. Protect key parcels within the 60,000-acre region, especially ones that are contiguous with Montaña de Oro State Park, other protected and public lands and coastal areas. 
  • Upper Salinas Oak Woodlands. Safeguard the area's oak woodlands, seasonal wetlands, vernal pools, grasslands, and streamside forests.
  • Carrizo Plain National Monument. Protect key lands linking the 250,000-acre Carrizo Plain to Los Padres National Forest. 
  • Salinas, Estrella, San Juan Rivers. Preserve riparian corridors that provide movement channels and shelter to a vast array of species.

Our Partners 

  • The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County
  • Greenspace—the Cambria Land Trust 
  • The City of San Luis Obispo 
  • The Bay Foundation of Morro Bay 
  • Upper Salinas/Las Tablas Resource Conservation District
  • California Rangeland Trust 
  • Numerous other city, state, and federal agencies 




A diverse array of landscapes, including maritime chaparral and oak woodlands, that support a range of native wildlife, such as bobcats, pronghorn antelope, sandhill cranes, San Joaquin kit fox, giant kangaroo rat, and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard


More than 2 million acres (3,125 square miles)

Explore our work in this region

Plants and Wildlife

The county's size and geographic diversity support a wide variety of landscapes—including maritime chaparral, serpentine habitats, grasslands and juniper and oak woodlands—and provide habitat and migration corridors for a wide variety of native species, including:

  • bobcats
  • tule elk
  • pronghorn antelope
  • golden eagles
  • California red-legged frog

Sandhill cranes, mountain plovers, and other migratory birds find wintering ground in the county's freshwater wetlands, riparian communities and grasslands.
Native species and habitats at risk include the:

  • San Joaquin kit fox
  • Western pond turtle
  • California condor
  • Indian Knob mountain balm
  • Pismo Clarkia
  • coastal sage shrub
  • Monterey pine forest

Other mammals that TNC considers conservation targets are the:

  • giant kangaroo rat
  • San Joaquin antelope squirrel
  • southern sea otter

TNC is also focused on the protection of several reptile, amphibian, and bird species, including the:

  • blunt-nosed leopard lizard
  • southern rubber boa
  • American peregrine falcon
  • white-tailed kite
  • California brown pelican