Five times the size of Manhattan, the preserve will enable greater movement and connectivity of wildlife into hospitable zones in the face of climate change
The Nature Conservancy announced the creation of its largest nature preserve in California, a stunningly beautiful 72,000-acre area in the Southern Sierra Nevada and Tehachapi Mountains, made possible by a transformative $50 million philanthropic gift by Frank and Joan Randall. The preserve, just over 100 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, will serve to protect a crucial wildlife corridor and biodiversity hotspot. As accelerating climate change continues to increase habitat loss and fragmentation, the Frank and Joan Randall Preserve ensures a critical linkage between Northern and Southern California that will allow rare, threatened, and endangered species to move and adapt to a changing environment.
The Randall Preserve covers a sweeping range of land securing connection from the Sequoia National Forest to conserved lands on the Tejon Ranch, allowing movement from the Southern Sierra Nevada down to Castaic, to the Transverse Ranges that run east to west, down to the Peninsular ranges, providing flow across a broad range of elevations. This area is also one of the most significant in North America because by connecting Northern and Southern California it helps complete an intact network of open space lands from Canada to Mexico. Its unique topography, and its location at the convergence of four diverse ecoregions (Sierra Nevada, Mojave Desert, the Central Valley, and South Coast) only add to its significance in protecting biodiversity in the western US.
Just like people, wildlife needs to move to meet their basic needs. Habitat loss, fragmentation and extreme climate events create obstacles to wildlife movement and compromise the health of various species. The protection of this immense area ensures that 28 sensitive species across California, including slender salamanders, condors, legless lizards, golden eagles, primrose sphinx moths, mountain lions, badgers, and several endangered plants and blue oak trees, have the best chance of survival.
This area of the Tehachapis has been called a “crucible of evolution” and is a critically important conservation landscape in a chain of protected and unprotected lands that run from the Sierra Nevada to the Baja Peninsula. TNC’s vision is to design and establish a system of resilient wildlife connectivity hubs to allow species to move up and down the state and across elevations.
The Tehachapi terrain is a critical piece in creating a centralized connectivity hub that is needed to improve genetic flow between populations of species that have become isolated and enable movement between southern and northern California. Partnering with Caltrans, TNC is studying and plans to create a system of wildlife crossings under and over California State Route 58 by retrofitting existing culverts into more functional wildlife crossings that will safely move animals under SR 58, by studying and retrofitting an existing overpass into a wildlife crossing to safely enable animal movement over SR 58, and by planning for and installing wildlife protection fencing along the highway.
“What is striking about the Randall Preserve and this area of the Tehachapis is not only its rugged beauty, but also its unique topography. It goes from these very high elevations where you can see snow, all the way down to the Mojave Desert and the Central Valley, and everything in between,” said Mike Sweeney, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in California. “This preserve will also ensure a much needed corridor for wildlife, like endangered mountain lions to the south, so they can mix and move, migrate and adapt.”
TNC created the preserve in part through a generous $50 million philanthropic gift from Frank and Joan Randall, to protect this biodiversity hotspot and wildlife corridor.
“Preserving open space has long been a passion of ours," said Frank Randall. "Once it’s gone, it’s gone. This area was under threat but, together with The Nature Conservancy, we’re doing everything we can to make sure this beautiful and ecologically diverse part of our state can stand the test of time for generations to come."
In addition to the Randalls’ generosity and commitment to conservation, the creation of the preserve was also funded by public and private donors, including the Wildlife Conservation Board, The Department of The Navy, CalTrans, Resources Legacy Fund, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, as well as other generous donors.
The Nature Conservancy has established key partnerships with scientific organizations and led on-the-ground work with other agencies to improve habitat and species connectivity. In the coming months, The Nature Conservancy will proceed with a full assessment of the land to learn more about what steps they will need to take to address the effects of climate change through ongoing conservation, transforming the preserve into a living laboratory where researchers can develop the tools to help nature adapt and persist.
The Nature Conservancy, collaborating with partners and stakeholders, consistent with the state’s 30x30 conservation goals, will embark on a multi-year planning process to understand all that is contained on the 72,000 acres as well as how to unite nine separate ranches with active cattle operations into one preserve while shaping its long-term use and management.
For the time being, until the planning process and management plan is complete, the majority of the Preserve will remain under existing ranching operations. There is some public access now that will remain open, a park and a mile or two of trails near the city of Tehachapi. There are also volunteer opportunities in parts of the Preserve for restoration and enhancement of native species which started in the area in 2017 and are expected to expand in the future.
To learn more about the Frank and Joan Randall Preserve at the Tehachapi Mountains, please visit: nature.org/randallpreserve
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 70 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.