*private sector involvement
As a result of vast governmental irrigation projects that have transformed the natural water flow of the Central Valley, California has probably suffered more destruction of its riverine habitat than any other state in the U.S. One of the most promising conservation projects in the region is the restoration of the Kern River Valley. The Kern River Preserve, located in the community of Weldon, is home to the largest contiguous riparian (river-side) forest remaining in California. The riparian habitat is indeed one of the rarest ecosystem types in the western region of the United States and the Kern River Preserve is a paragon of private conservation.
Beginning in the mid 1800s miners, farmers and ranchers began to settle Californias Central Valley. But it was not really until the 1940s when the California state and federal governments chose to build a dam at the end of the Kern River Canyon that the terrain truly began to change. The devastating effects of these ongoing water projects are clear: almost 90-95 percent of the original 100 million acres of riparian forest and brush have been destroyed throughout California. The riparian forest of the Central Valley bears the brunt of this destruction with only 2-5 percent of the original 900,000 acres of riverine habitat remaining. By the 1970s conservationists and environmentalists concerned with the states loss of this precious habitat began to take action. In 1981, with funding from Chevron, USA, Getty Oil Co. (Texaco), and the W.M. Keck Foundation, The Nature Conservancy purchased the 1,600 acre A. Brown Ranch. Afterward, the Conservancy acquired smaller plots of riparian forests from farmers neighboring the core ranch.
One of the first actions that the Nature Conservancy undertook was the fencing off of existing riparian forest areas in 1981. At the same time, they worked to reduce and carefully manage cattle grazing in the surrounding areas by formulating a compatible grazing strategy. The Conservancy also implemented a research program that included inventories of flora and fauna and vegetative monitoring. One of the concerns particular to this undertaking was to remove all exotic plant species that had the potential to crowd out native species. Without native vegetation, native wildlife would find it difficult to thrive. Following these two steps, the Preserve’s staff embarked upon an ambitious program of habitat restoration with plans to replant large areas with natural riparian forest species. This extremely successful initiative inspired greater efforts at reforestation aiming at increasing the overall size of the riparian forest habitat.
The deed to 1,127-acre Kern River Preserve was transferred from The Nature Conservancy to the National Audubon Society on November 25, 1998. California-Audubon provides funding for the Reserve through local programs such as the annual Kern River Butterfly Count, the Kern Valley Bioregions Festival, the Kern River Valley Turkey Vulture Festival, in addition to nature walks, wildlife viewing weekends and tours through re-vegetation sites. The Preserve is, also, one of the four Flagship Projects of the California Riparian Habitat Joint Venture, a coalition of private and public organizations working to restore and enhance Californias riverside forests. The Kern River Preserve is undoubtedly one of the preeminent, private bird conservation organizations in the country and demonstrates what going beyond preservation, and into active restoration ecology can do.