California's golden land sweeps down some 1,100 miles of our western coast. Its vast, diverse landscape, encompassing misty forests, shimmering beaches, deserts, mountains and valleys seems generous enough to embrace all comers, but sprawling developments and agribusiness are putting a strain on California's natural resources—and threatening to extinguish some of its wildlife.
IMPORTANT WILDLIFE AREAS
REDWOOD FORESTS: Suffusing California's North Coast with a silent magic, the mist-enshrouded redwood forests seem almost immortal. These are nature's tallest living creatures, towering up to 365 feet above the forest floor—some have borne witness to a thousand years of history. The cool and shady forests shelter a host of reclusive creatures, including frogs, salamanders, spotted owls and black bears.
BIG SUR: Giant redwoods and Douglas firs hug the foggy central California coast, where the Pacific hurls itself at the cliffs of Big Sur. Blue whales and humpbacks feed on the abundant krill in these waters. Elephant seals breed on the beaches, and underwater kelp forests are important sea otter habitat. Mountain lions can sometimes be spotted in the craggy forests.
THE SIERRA NEVADA: Stretching down 400 miles of eastern California, the Sierra Nevada rises up slowly from the Central Valley to the west and falls off sharply into the Great Basin to the east. Glaciers carved out magnificent, U-shaped canyons throughout the range, including the iconic Yosemite Valley. Beneath the Sierra Nevada's spectacular crags, alpine meadows are strewn with wildflowers in the summer; groves of giant sequoias grace the flanks of the southern reaches of the range. The forests, rivers and rocky escarpments support a range of wildlife, including black bears, cutthroat trout, bighorn sheep and bald eagles.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DESERTS: This seemingly inhospitable moonscape actually encompasses important wildlife habitat. Migratory birds stop for much-needed rest around the Salton Sea and other desert wetlands, and there's no place the desert tortoise would rather be. More than 700 species of plants, including the unusual Joshua tree, thrive here.
CHANNEL ISLANDS: One hundred and forty-five plant and animal species on these islands off the coast of southern California are found nowhere else in the world. Despite the archipelago's proximity to Los Angeles, the Channel Islands are almost totally undeveloped. Migrating blue and gray whales swing by here, and in spring, the islands explode with wildflowers.
RELATED NRDC PAGES
California's Channel Islands
Photos: Muir Woods © National Park Service; coastal California gnatcatcher © Arnold Small, USFWS; Sierra Nevada bighorn © CA Dept. Fish & Game; California condor © Scott Frier/Nikon, USFWS; southern sea otter © NOAA/Dept. of Commerce
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