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Natural Areas of California Preface (1982)

By Leslie Hood

It has been said that all of California should have been a national park. Perhaps, but the park system was established more than a hundred years after California was first settled by Europeans. And by then the landscape had been altered but not as radically as would happen in the next century.

Today many of the communities and species are on the brink of disappearing. Some, like the grizzly bear, which is now only the symbol on the state flag, have disappeared from the state. Others, such as the pronghorn antelope, which gave its name to a number of places in the state, is now restricted to a small portion of its original range. The valley grasslands, which were once measured in millions of acres, and coastal salt marshes, once measured in thousands of acres, are now measured in hundreds.

In the past few decades there has been an increasing awareness of the natural landscape and the need to protect it, particularly to preserve examples of the diverse communities and species that compose it. The reasons for preservation may vary, some scientific, some economic, some aesthetic, but perhaps the best reason is that so little is known about the natural landscape.

Recognizing this, in 1969 a group of concerned scientists and laymen, under the leadership of Dr. G. Ledyard Stebbins, formed the organization that was to become the California Natural Areas Coordinating Council. It was the purpose of this group to inventory the natural areas of the state and to seek means of protecting them.

Before a comprehensive protection effort could be undertaken, it was first necessary to determine what there is in the state and what is protected and what is not. Thus, this inventory.

Over 1,500 areas are briefly described in this inventory. They range in size from less than an acre to over one million acres; they range in altitude from several thousand feet below sea level to 14,000 feet above; and they cover the state from the Mexican border to Oregon. Representative examples of widespread communities and abundant species that are seemingly in no danger of extinction are included, as are unique or endangered communities and species, with perhaps a bias toward the latter.

These areas have been selected by several hundred individuals, primarily scientists but also knowledgeable amateurs, who have given freely and generously of their time and expertise to make this inventory possible. They include botanists, zoologists, geologists and paleontologists. 

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Last modified: November 11, 2005