“When I first came here, the emphasis was on planting trees,” says Reed Tollefson, who has been the manager of the Audubon Kern River Preserve for the last 17 years, through ownership by The Nature Conservancy and Audubon California. “Now it’s protecting all this land around us.” Tollefson’s experience at the Preserve is an education on how habitats are interconnected–by water, by wildlife corridors, by human activity. Tollefson and others quickly realized that while land stewardship was vital to protecting the native cottonwood-willow forest habitat along the Kern River, it wouldn’t be enough. (photo by Alison Sheehey)
We would have to find ways to keep the river beyond the Preserve clean and flowing at current levels, and make sure that important adjacent habitat wasn’t degraded or lost to development.
Accomplishing this has required the protection of more than 24,000 acres outside the original Preserve. Some of this has been purchased outright and added to the Preserve, while in other cases we have worked with partners to either put the properties in public hands or under conservation easements. It’s an ongoing process.
The result is the protection of a magnificent stretch of a Sierra Nevada river and adjacent habitat. The Kern River Preserve sits at the heart of a Globally Significant Important Bird Area–a stronghold for Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, and numerous other birds that favor river habitats.
“We’re also increasingly understanding that this area is a pivotal part of a massive corridor that runs through the Sierra Nevada toward the desert and coastal ranges,” says Tollefson. “It’s well worth all the effort we’ve put into protecting it, and all the effort we’re going to keep putting into it.”