Report: California a “Conservation Hotspot”

A report pinpoints critical areas in California for protecting critters

The North American pika like the protection and cool refuge of high-elevation talus slopes. (Photo: US Forest Service)

California is one of five places on earth with a Mediterranean climate. It has enough endemic plant species to be its own “floristic province.” It’s also what biologists refer to as a biodiversity hotspot. So it’s not surprising that a report by the Endangered Species Coalition includes three places either completely or partially within California in its list of ten of the most important locations to protect endangered species.

The report highlights areas across the U.S. that are most threatened, such as the Everglades, and places that provide home to the greatest number of endangered species, like Hawaii.

California locations include the Sonora Desert, the Sierra Nevada, and the Bay Delta. The coalition, an activist group which aims to stem the tide of species loss, says the gravest threats in these California places — no surprise here, either — revolve around water: not enough, too much, or badly timed.

In the Sonora Desert, drought threatens species like the desert tortoise. The Sierra and the Delta are linked, since the former provides water for the latter. Species face different challenges depending on where they are along that watershed. Down in the Bay Area, trout, salmon, and the Delta smelt are losing habitat to development and losing water to irrigation canals. Up in the Sierra, the report explains that yellow-legged frogs and pika are confronted with thinner snowpack and warmer temperatures.

About those pika: The Endangered Species Coalition doesn’t list any supporting literature, and favors messaging over nuance in this report. There is an ongoing debate over pika colonies in California and Nevada. The Center for Biological Diversity, a coalition member, has petitioned both state and the federal wildlife agencies to list the pika as endangered. That listing has so far been denied, and for good reason, according to Forest Service ecologist Connie Millar, who says that in California, pika are “extremely abundant.”

Millar is concerned that all the attention focused on pika draws away from other species in the Sierra that may indeed be in climate change-induced trouble, like Belding’s ground squirrels and yellow-bellied marmots.

  • http://ebmgh.com/blog Matthew Heberger

    I fear that the title of this post is slightly misleading. Shouldn’t it call California an “Extinction Hotspot”?

    We often forgot that more extinctions have occurred in California than any other state.

    Ref: Carle, David. 2003. Water and the California Dream: Choices for the New Millennium. Sierra Club Books.

    • Craig Miller

      I think it’s one of those “half-empty v. half-full” questions.
      The report is a call to action and uses both terms, as well as others such as “preserving” and “restoring.” From the introduction: “Many of the conservation measures that we must take are ones that we’ve already implemented on smaller scales, such as eradicating invasive species, setting aside open space, creating wildlife corridors, and restoring wild lands.”
      Also, the report takes an ecosystem approach, calling for conservation of those.

      • Chales B

        Already implemented? Invasive species in the Delta an many other places are out of control or barely manageable; yes, wildlife corridors are being implemented but through new vineyards, development, etc; open space is working thanks to non-profits like TNC and Ducks Unlimited, and others, but will it be enough?

      • Molly Samuel

        I agree that it’s a matter of language. Any place with a high number of endemic species is likely to be both worthy of conservation and at greater risk of losing those species. While the state has some famous extinctions–the Xerces Blue and the California Grizzly both come to mind–there have also been serious conservation efforts, starting back with the redwoods and the sequoias.

        At any rate, the message of the report is that these are places that should be protected, rather than places that have already been successfully protected.

  • Chales B

    I agree “Extinction Hotspots” might be more accurate. With our market-driven system being controlled by industry money and that keeps pushing growth, it’s hard to imagine the health of the environment improving. Also, the article doesn’t mention that globally, California probably doesn’t make a top-10 list. Nevertheless, still an important issue!

  • George Hollister

    How about, “Environmentalist Hotspot?” There is a correlation between where lots of Environmentalists live and where lots of critters face extinction. Not much said about Siberia, or Nigeria, or Oklahoma City. Of course correlation does not mean causation.

    • Molly Samuel

      Hey, there’s no reason to knock Oklahoma City.

  • Dallas

    If the Enviro crowd has their way all of California would be turned into a “nature” preserv” to “care for” the little critters. What they fail to realize is, “they” are what is causing the greatest extinction across this formally great state. The EXTINCTION of jobs!!! With all their eco this & eco that gobbly gook they are driving companies & the jobs those companies provide out of the state. All in the name of “saving the planet”; (Ahem!) When will the yahoos at the bill mill WAKE UP?? Hoefully before the state completely implodes economically!!

  • http://www.stopextinction.org Dr. Mark Rockwell

    As the State Representative of the Endangered Species Coalition I’d like to chime in and say that our report provides a scientifically supported group of ecological locations important to survival of our states endangerd fish and wildlife. One thing that makes California such a great place is the diversity of landscapes and wildlife we have. That said, we’ve lost more than 90% of our wetlands, and much of the open space is now fragmented and less useable by wildlife. With climate change comes additional stress on already vulnerable species. The team of scientists that picked our top 10 areas needing protection recognized the importance of the Delta, Sierra and Deserts to species survival, and recognized that if we act now to protect these areas we will have a positive and lasting impact. Much of California and its resources are developed, and contribute to our economic and cultural success. That said, the diversity of life is part of that which makes us all happy we live here, and is what we’d all like to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Let’s all work together in the next few years to protect that which we love and cherish in California. Fish, birds, flowers and animals all make California a wonderful place to live. Lets protect it for future generations.

    • http://ebmgh.com/blog Matthew G Heberger

      Well put, thanks for the reply. Your organization is doing great work to increase focus on species and environments that deserve protecting. Thanks!