Mountain lions, black bears, golden eagles, California condors and dozens of other sensitive species thriving together in dense coniferous forests — it may seem like a scene from a Disney movie. But it’s the real-life overview of what a new nature preserve would allow for wildlife, just two hours away from Los Angeles County.
The Frank and Joan Randall Tehachapi Preserve has been created in a sprawling and breathtaking 72,000-acre area in the Tehachapi Mountains and Southern Sierra Nevada. The wildlife corridor will offer a much-needed shelter for animals that are still learning to adapt to climate change, according to Cara Lacey, director of Wildlife Corridors and Crossings at the Nature Conservancy.
“[Animals] are shifting their ranges mainly as the climate warms. You have animals that may just be moving through like mountain lions or black bears. But you also have animals that need to live here and have a longer time period that they go through to shift with the climate.”
It’s not just the animals. Trees and plants are also in desperate need of a natural sanctuary as they are also moving to look for cooler spots. They may not be literally walking like Treebeard from “The Lord of the Rings” or Baby Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” But as the lower elevations are becoming inhospitable, Lacey says species like blue oaks are changing their locations by moving their acorns.
“Wind, squirrels, chipmunks or animals move acorns to other locations, and if that location seems [to have] a better climate, [trees] start to root down there. That enables the tree to grow in that location and other species to be able to move, as well as species that use that tree for food or for resources.”
The preserve is located at a point where four diverse ecological regions come together — the South Coast, the Mojave Desert, the Central Valley, and the Sierra Nevada. As part of a bigger network of open space that stretches from Canada all the way down to Baja, it will also serve as a critical linkage between mountain ranges of the West, according to Lacey.
“The preserve fills this huge gap between the Castaic or the Transverse Ranges. … Protecting it forever allows us to be able to say that this corridor can span not just California, but the entire West Coast.”
The new preserve boasts its beauty and size as it is five times bigger than the island of Manhattan. Among all the awe-inspiring spots, Lacey picks Bear Mountain as her favorite, which is south of Highway 58.
“You can go through multiple species of different plants, from chaparral all the way up to coniferous forests. It has different elevations. And it is one of the most beautiful places to just sit and experience the entire preserve and to be able to look out onto the preserve as well.”
The Frank and Joan Randall Tehachapi Preserve isn't open to the public yet. The Nature Conservancy is looking at various options, like docent-led tours.