Acknowledgements 5 executive summary

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C. References

California Department of Fish and Game. 2001. Natural Diversity Database Version 3.0.4 (1/4/06). California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento CA.

Callaway, R. M. and F. W. Davis. 1993. Vegetation dynamics, fire, and the physical environment in coastal central California. Ecology 74:1567-1578.

Cooper, W. S. 1922. The broad-sclerophyll vegetation of California: an ecological study of the chaparral and its related communities. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication Number 319, Washington, D.C.

Davis, C. B. 1972. Comparative ecology of six members of the Arctostaphylos andersonii complex. Ph.D. dissertation. University of California, Davis.

Davis, F. W., D. E. Hickson, and D. C. Odion. 1988. Composition of maritime chaparral related to fire history and soil, Burton Mesa, Santa Barbara County, California. Madroño 35:169-195.

Elkhorn Slough Foundation/The Nature Conservancy. 1999. Elkhorn Slough Watershed Conservation Plan. Elkhorn Slough Foundation, Moss Landing, CA.

Greenlee, J. M. and J. H. Langenheim. 1990. Historic fire regimes and their relation to vegetation patterns in the Monterey Bay area of California. American Midland Naturalist 124:239-253.

Griffin, J. R. 1978. Maritime chaparral and endemic shrubs of the Monterey Bay region, California. Madroño 25:65-112.

Hanes, T. L. 1988. California chaparral. Pp. 418-469 in M. G. Barbour and J. Major (eds.), Terrestrial Vegetation of California. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento, CA.

Keeley, J. E. 1992. Demographic structure of California chaparral in the long-term absence of fire. Journal of Vegetation Science 3:79-90.

Keeley, J. E. 2005. Fire history of the San Francisco East Bay region and implications for landscape patterns. International Journal of Wildland Fire 14:285-296.

Mensing, S. A. 1998. 560 years of vegetation change in the region of Santa Barbara, California. Madroño 45:1-11.

Monterey County Planning Department. 1982. Monterey County, California North County Land Use Plan: Local Coastal Program. Monterey County Planning Department, Salinas, CA.

Odion, D. and C. Tyler. 2002. Are long fire-free periods needed to maintain the endangered, fire-recruiting shrub Arctostaphylos morroensis (Ericaceae)? Conservation Ecology 6(2):4. Available online:

Van Dyke, E., K. D. Holl, and J. R. Griffin. 2001. Maritime chaparral community transition in the absence of fire. Madroño 48:221-229.

Wells, P. V. 1962. Vegetation in relation to geological substratum and fire in the San Luis Obispo quadrangle, California. Ecological Monographs 32:79-103.

VI. Elkhorn Slough NERR Goal #4

Protect and Restore the Watershed’s Key Coastal Prairie and Coastal Scrub Habitats
A. Introduction

Coastal prairie and northern coastal scrub are part of a complex and dynamic mosaic of upland habitats within the Elkhorn Slough watershed. Coastal prairie is a species-rich habitat that occurs within 100 kilometers of the coast. It hosts not only array of insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, but also a number of endangered annual forbs. This habitat can be defined, in part, by its native grass and forb species (Table 6.1). Coastal prairie often coexists with, and frequently has a successional relationship with, northern coastal scrub (Ford and Hayes in press, Heady et al. 1988, Heady et al. 1992). Coastal scrub is an assemblage of evergreen shrubs, and within California, ecologists recognize northern and southern divisions. Northern coastal scrub occurs from Santa Barbara County north to the Oregon border. In the Elkhorn Slough watershed, it is dominated by coyote brush. Co-dominants include California sagebrush, black sage, coffeeberry, bush monkeyflower, California blackberry, and poison-oak. This habitat is important for a variety of small mammals and birds. The mosaic and herbaceous height characteristics of coastal prairie with northern coastal scrub are critical to the upland habitat quality for special-status species, including:

  • Santa Cruz sunflower (Federally Threatened, State Endangered, and California Native Plant Society (CNPS) 1B (Rare, threatened or endangered in California and elsewhere),

  • artist's popcornflower (CNPS 1B),

  • water sack clover (CNPS 1B),

  • Smith’s blue butterfly (**need status)

  • burrowing owl (wintering population – CDFG California Special Concern Species)

  • great blue heron (**need status)

  • short-eared owl (**need status)

  • Monterey vagrant shrew? (**need status)

  • Salinas pocket mouse? (**need status)

  • American badger (CDFG California Special Concern Species),

  • grasshopper sparrow (**need status)

  • golden eagle (**need status)

  • American peregrine falcon (**need status)

  • White tailed kite (**need status)

  • northern harrier (nesting - CDFG California Special Concern Species),

  • Santa Cruz long-toed salamander (Federally and State Endangered, CDFG Fully Protected),

  • California red-legged frog (Federally Threatened and CDFG California Special Concern Species), and

  • California tiger salamander (Federally Threatened and CDFG California Special Concern Species) (CalPIF 2004, Becker 1988, L. Ford pers. comm., Hobbs and Mooney 1986).

Unfortunately, both coastal prairie and coastal scrub face significant threats. Approximately 99% of California native grasslands have been lost over the last 200 years, making them one of the most critically endangered ecosystems in the U.S. (Noss et al. 1995). Loss of coastal scrub in some parts of California has also been severe. Up to 90 % of the historic acreage of southern coastal scrub has been lost to development (Noss et al., 1995). Northern coastal scrub is apparently more secure for now, but it too has declined by over 35% since 1950 (FRRAP 1988:Table 7-4; FRAP 2003), and faces the same sprawl as Southern California. Within the Elkhorn Slough watershed, coastal scrub assemblages often face threats from infestation by tall exotic biennials and perennials, such as poison hemlock, fennel, and jubata grass.

Table 6.1. Definitive coastal prairie plants. Adapted from Stromberg et al. 2001.

Native Coastal Prairie Grasses and Rushes

Common Name

Species Name

California oat grass

Danthonia californica

Purple needlegrass

Nassella pulchra

Brown-headed rush

Juncus phaeocephalus

Tufted hairgrass

Deschampsia cespitosa

Blue wildrye

Elymus glaucus

Toad rush

Juncus bufonius

Nodding needlegrass

Nassella cernua

Meadow barley

Hordeum brachyantherum

California brome

Bromus carinatus

Salt grass

Distichlis spicata

Creeping wildrye

Leymus triticoides

Foothill needlegrass

Nassella lepida

Native Coastal Prairie Forbs and Shrubs

Coyote brush

Baccharis pilularis

California plantain

Plantago erecta

Small tarweed

Madia exigua


Ranunculus californicus

Johnny jump-up

Viola pedunculata

Checker mallow

Sidalcea malviflora

Sun cup

Camissonia ovata

California acaena

Acaena pinnatifida californica

Coastal eryngo

Eryngium armatum

Soap plant

Chlorogalum pomeridianum


Gnaphalium purpureum

American carrot

Daucus pusillus

Blue-eyed grass

Sisyrinchium bellum

Most of the coastal prairie that once existed in the lower Salinas Valley and in northern Monterey County has been converted to agricultural fields, although some has been urbanized as well. Much of the remaining prairie has been impacted by large-scale community shifts from indigenous grasses and forbs to exotic, mostly European, species. This transformation, beginning in the 1700s, coincided with the loss of native herbivores and Native American burning regimes, as well as the concurrent introduction of highly-competitive exotic plants and over-grazing by domestic livestock. The role that each factor played in the conversion remains uncertain.

Regardless of the mechanisms, these losses have obscured the past distribution and composition of historical prairie. The earliest explorers to the Monterey region visited the area in late fall, and they described local grasslands in only the broadest terms. They found 1) that large areas of the lower Salinas Valley grasslands were home to “vast numbers of [pronghorn] antelopes” and were burned by Native Americans, 2) “swampy plains,” and tule elk between the Elkhorn Slough-Moro Cojo-Tembladero Slough estuarine wetlands, 3) “good grasses” on knolls east of previously wide-spread freshwater wetlands, and 4) “hills of pure earth and grass, with some live oaks,” in a valley just east of today’s Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (Elkhorn Slough NERR) (Brown 2002, Palou 1930). Early naturalists in the late 1700s collected native annual and tufted hairgrass, giant wildrye, buttercup, yarrow, several rushes, and hairy wood-sorrel in the Monterey Bay area; but did not otherwise describe local grasslands (Eastwood 1924, Presl 1830). Detailed accounts of Monterey area grasslands did not appear until the mid-1800s, and by this period many changes had taken place. Several European exotic forbs were common throughout the central California coast, and cattle were abundant (Hooker 1841, Hartweg 1846). Nonetheless, many native wildflowers were evident during springtime. In 1846, John Fremont (Jackson and Spense 1973) wrote:
“Over the face of the country between Santa Cruz and Monterey, and around the plains of San Juan, the grass which had been eaten down by the large herds of cattle, was now everywhere springing up and flowers began to show their bloom. In the valleys of the mountains bordering the Salinas plains wild oats [non-native Avena sp.] were three feet high and well headed. . .”
Today, even the best prairie assemblages are highly invaded, and non-native grasses and exotic forbs often dominate remnant native patches (Stromberg et al. 2001).
Unfortunately, changes to historical coastal scrub in north Monterey County are not well documented. Early explorers in the region did not describe shrubs in detail, and did not clearly distinguish between coastal scrub and chaparral. Botanists’ records only hint at the past distribution and composition of coastal scrub assemblages. In the early 1790s, a Scottish naturalist described scattered pockets of “Pasture & Thickets of Brush-wood” near Point Pinos, which included various shrubs that he could not identify, several species of Artemisia, and “a great variety” of birds. In 1854, the U.S. Surveyor General described “oak scrub and sage” near the eastern reaches of Long Valley, and mapped patches of unnamed bushes (apparently distinct from chaparral) in Hidden Valley (Freeman 1854). Today, many of these areas appear to have been replaced by oak or eucalyptus woodland. In 1906, the Los Angeles Times reported that the hills of the Empire Gun Club, today part of the Elkhorn Slough NERR, were “covered with scrub” where “quail multiply and thrive” (Los Angeles Times 1906). Aerials from the 1930’s suggest that this scrub was later cleared for agriculture; but today, coyote brush and other associated scrub species have returned naturally to at least some of these slopes. However, many of these patches appear to be threatened by encroaching fennel, poison hemlock, and jubata grass.
Despite dramatic losses locally and statewide, some remnant coastal prairie and intact coastal scrub persists in the Elkhorn Slough watershed and on the Elkhorn Slough NERR. The Reserve will give priority to identifying and preventing the establishment of new invasive exotic plants in these areas on the Reserve.
The Elkhorn Slough NERR will also work to restore degraded grassland and scrub assemblages. Using historical ecology, we will identify areas best-suited for grassland and scrub restoration, and develop a target mosaic of the two related habitats. In areas deemed best for coastal scrub, we will reduce non-native plant cover, and where necessary, replant native scrub species. In areas best-suited for prairie, we will test the effectiveness of potential grassland restoration strategies. Coastal prairie restoration is an evolving science, and research is still needed. Grasslands with cattle grazing have been shown to have higher native annual forb richness and cover relative to ungrazed sites (Hayes and Holl 2003a), and the removal of cattle from prairie has been shown to lead to decreases in native California oat grass (Hatch et al. 1999). Grazing can also prevent the conversion of grasslands to coastal scrub. This argues against the removal of cattle from currently grazed prairies, but it is still unknown if the reintroduction of cattle to currently ungrazed, degraded grasslands can restore native grasses and forbs. Reintroducing clipping alone has been unsuccessful at restoring forbs at three coastal prairie sites (Hayes and Holl 2003b). This and other recent research suggests that the reintroduction of native grassland seeds or seedlings may also be necessary to help restore populations of native grassland species in areas that are currently dominated by exotic species (Corbin and D’Antonio 2004, Seabloom et al. 2003), but, again, more research is needed. We will implement a well-replicated experiment, comparing alternative strategies (grazing, mowing, and seed additions) in a robust design. The Reserve will monitor appropriate indicators, ideally with collaboration from academic researchers. The eventual result will be a published manuscript that will help guide the Reserve’s own work and help coastal prairie managers elsewhere better manage their lands.
Finally the Reserve will work other decision-makers and land managers to build support for regional grassland and scrub management and restoration, both through education and collaborative management efforts.

B. ESNERR Objectives and Strategies

Staff from the Reserve’s Stewardship, Coastal Training, Education, and Research Programs are involved in the following objectives and strategies
Objective 1: Reduce abundance of selected non-native plant and animal species in Reserve coastal prairie and coastal scrub assemblages.

  1. The Stewardship staff will control prioritized weeds through mechanical and chemical means in grassland and coastal scrub habitats. In order to accomplish this we will:

      1. continue to control the California Invasive Plant Councils “high” priority weeds in Reserve grasslands and scrub habitats. These exotic species have severe ecological impacts on physical processes, plant and animal communities, and vegetation structure. Their reproductive biology and other attributes are conducive to moderate to high rates of dispersal and establishment (Cal-IPC 2006). Target species to remove are iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis), jubata grass (Cortaderia jubata), veldt grass (Ehrharta calycina), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and French broom (Genista monspessulana).

      2. control outlying patches of harding grass (Phalaris aquatica), a Cal-IPC “moderate” priority weed that we have determined to have severe impact on Reserve coastal prairies.

      3. continue to work with school groups and community volunteers to remove non-native poison hemlock and replant with native coastal scrub species in a small-scale restoration project.

  1. The Stewardship staff will establish a Reserve trapping program. Part of this program will include:

      1. trapping feral cats, to decrease the number of native birds and mammals preyed upon in Reserve grasslands. This will protect quail, which are important dispersal agents of native grassland seeds and may be important to restoring the Reserve’s grasslands (Leopold 1985).

Objective 2: Help build support for regional Coastal Prairie and Coastal Scrub projects.

  1. The CTP staff will continue to sponsor and partner with educational efforts to inform regional decision-makers about grassland ecology, restoration, monitoring, and management strategies.

  1. Dependent on the addition of the Community Outreach Coordinator, the Education staff will create a community education plan and use restoration on the Reserve as a model. In order to accomplish this we will:

      1. use restoration projects on the Reserve to educate neighbors about coastal prairie and coastal scrub habitats. This would include opportunities for community members and groups from neighboring schools to assist with the restoration projects as well as educational tours of the sites. This will be part of a larger strategic plan for community outreach in the Elkhorn Slough watershed that will be developed with local partners and community members (see Goal 8, Chapter X for more details).

  1. The Stewardship staff will collaborate on strategies to protect, enhance and restore grasslands in the lower watershed. We will:

      1. build stronger relationships with organizations and stakeholders involved in management of Elkhorn Slough watershed grasslands.

      2. work together to design restoration experiments.

Objective 3: Implement research that informs regional restoration strategies.

  1. The Stewardship staff will create a GIS map of historical and current coastal prairie and coastal scrub in the watershed. This will help prioritize areas for weed control and restoration activities.

  1. The Stewardship and Research staff will test the effectiveness of grazing, mowing, and seed addition in a well-replicated, large-scale coastal prairie experiment.

  1. The Research staff will examine habitat use of native vs. non-native grassland species. We will:

      1. compare arthropod assemblages in native and non-native grass and scrub species to determine how habitat value differs.

C. References

Brown, Alan K. 2002. A Description of Distant Roads: Original Journals of the First Expedition into California, 1769-1770 by Juan Crespí. San Diego State University Press, CA.

Cal-IPC. 2006. California Invasive Plant Inventory. Cal-IPC Publication 2006-02. California Invasive Plant Council: Berkeley, CA. Available:
CalPIF (California Partners in Flight). 2004. Version 2.0. The Coastal Scrub and Chaparral Bird Conservation Plan: a Strategy for Protecting and Managing Coastal Scrub and Chaparral Habitats and Associated Birds in California (J. Lovio, lead author). PRBO Conservation Science, Stinson Beach, CA.
Corbin, J. D., and C. M. D'Antonio. 2004. Competition between native and exotic annual grasses: implications for an historical invasion. Ecology 85: 1273–1283
De Becker, Sally. 1988. Coastal Scrub. In Mayer, Kenneth E., and William F. Laudenslayer, Jr. (eds.) Coastal A Guide to Wildlife Habitats of California. 1988. State of California, Resources Agency, Department of Fish and Game. Sacramento, CA. 166 pp.
Eastwood, Alice. 1924. Menzies’ California Journal. California Historical Society Quarterly 2(4): 265-340.
Ford, L.D. and G. Hayes. (in press). Coastal prairie and northern coastal scrub. In: Terrestrial Vegetation of California.  Barbour, M. and Keeler-Wolf, T., eds.  Berkeley: University of California Press.
FRAP. 2003. The changing California: forest and range assessment 2003. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Fire and Resource Assessment Program.
FRRAP. 1988. California’s forests and rangelands: growing conflict over changing uses. Forest and Rangeland resources Assessment Program, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Freeman, James E. October 20, 1854. Field Notes of Surveys of Township and Range Lines. U.S. Surveyor General. Copies available from BLM.
Hartweg, Theodore. 1846-1847. Journal of a mission to California in search of plants [in 4 parts]. Journal of the Horticultural Society of London Vols 1, 2, 3.
Hatch, Daphne A., James W. Bartolome, Jeffrey S. Fehmi, and Deborah S. Hillyard. 1999. Effects of burning and grazing on a coastal California grassland. Restoration Ecology 7:376-381.
Hayes, Grey F., and Karen Holl. 2003a. Cattle grazing impacts on annual forbs and vegetation composition of mesic grasslands in California. Conservation Biology 17:1694-1702.
Hayes, Grey F., and Karen Holl. 2003b. Site-specific responses of native and exotic species to disturbances in a mesic grassland community. Journal of Applied Vegetation Science 6: 235-244.
Heady, H. F., J. W. Bartolome, M. D. Pitt, G. D. Savelle, and M. C. Stroud. 1992. California Prairie. Pages 313-335 in R. T. Coupland, editor. Natural grasslands: Introduction and Western Hemisphere. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
Heady, H. F., T. C. Foin, M. M. Hektner, D. W. Taylor, M. G. Barbour, and W. J. Barry. 1988. Valley Grassland. Pages 491-514. in M. G. Barbour and J. Major, editors. Terrestrial Vegetation of California. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
Hobbs, R.J. and H.A. Mooney. 1986. Community changes following shrub invasion of grassland. Oecologia 70:508-513
Hooker, William Jackson. 1841. Botany of Captain Beechey’s Voyage: Comprising an Account of the Plants Collected by Messrs. Lay and Collie and Other Officers of the Expedition, During the Voyage to the Pacific, Years 1825, 26, 27, & 28. H.G. Bolin, London.
Jackson, D., and M. L. Spense, eds. 1973. The Expeditions of John Charles Fremont. Volume 2: The Bear Flag Revolt and the Court-Martial. University of Illinois Press, Chicago.

Leopold, A. S. 1985. The California Quail. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Los Angeles Times. July 29, 1906. Duck hunters on qui vive. Pg III4.
Noss, R. F., LaRoe, E. T., III and Scott, J. M. 1995. Endangered ecosystems of the United States: A preliminary assessment of loss and degradation. 28. National Biological Service, Washington, D.C.
Palou, Francisco. 1930. Palou’s Diary of the Expedition to San Francisco Bay 1774 in Bolton, Herbert E. Anza’s California Expeditions: Volume 2. Opening a Land Route to California: Diaries of Anza, Diaz, Garces, and Palou. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
Presl, C. B. 1830. Reliquiae Haenkeanae 1(4-5): 251. Records available from Missouri Botanical Garden's VAST (
Seabloom, E. W., E. T. Borer, V. L. Boucher, R. S. Burton, K. L. Cottingham, L. Goldwasser, W. K. Gram, B. E. Kendall, and F. Micheli. 2003b. Competition, seed limitation, disturbance, and reestablishment of California native annual forbs. Ecological Applications 13: 575–592.
Stromberg, M. R., P. Kephart, and V. Yadon. 2001. Composition, invasibility, and diversity in coastal California grasslands. Madroño 48:236–252.
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