Habitat, Habitat, Have to Have a Habitat…

Story and Photos By Susan Rothrock Deo

Here is one of my favorite ecology songs. Once you hear it, you can’t stop singing it!

Every living thing needs a habitat, a home. A habitat is “the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organism.” Habitats have a combination of conditions that help the plants and animals living there thrive: the right amount of sun and precipitation, the comfortable variation of temperature throughout the year, the correct type of soil and prevailing winds, etc. We have several different habitats in our area, both terrestrial and marine. There are kelp forests and rocky shores, coastal bluff scrub and riparian habitats.

A special habitat stands out as crucial to the survival of many local organisms: coastal sage scrub. Coastal sage scrub is one of the most threatened habitats in the country. As Allan Schoenherr said in A Natural History of California (1992), “This brightly flowering, odorous community is now nearly gone as a result of overgrazing, agriculture, and urban sprawl.” It is estimated that a century ago there were 2.5 million acres of coastal sage scrub in Southern California, from Ventura all the way to the Mexican border. Only 250,000 acres are left. That’s just 10% of the original acreage. If coastal sage scrub disappears, so do many of the special plants and animals that call this habitat home.

What happened? Agriculture and urbanization happened. We want to live and work on the same lands that once included plant species like Artemisia californica, black sage, California buckwheat, California sunflower and native perennial grasses. Many animals that live in the coastal sage scrub habitat are considered rare, including the coastal California gnatcatcher, the cactus wren, and the El Segundo blue and the Palos Verdes blue butterflies. There are also scorpions, lizards, spiders, many native bees and reptiles that call this habitat home. And fungi and bacteria hidden in the soil.

  • mixture of native coastal sage scrub plants

Fortunately, we humans have recognized we must help preserve what’s left of the coastal sage scrub habitat and the species who depend on it.  Through a Natural Communities Conservation Plan that was finalized in 2019, the City of Rancho Palos Verdes and the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy and many local residents have been working together to restore coastal sage scrub and other native habitats on preserved lands here in Palos Verdes.

What is habitat “restoration”? It is the process of re-establishing or enhancing the original biological functions and values of degraded habitats. It involves removing invasive plants, planting appropriate native plants and caring for them until they are well established. As the plants grow and thrive, the other organisms that call these habitats home thrive also. Our Natural Communities Conservation Plan requires that five acres of habitat be restored every year that the plan is in place.

If you’d like to help restore coastal sage scrub and other local habitats, contact the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy or other local nonprofit organizations like the Audubon Society and sign up as a volunteer.

For adults and family volunteers: https://pvplc.org/volunteer/

For young volunteers: https://pvsb-audubon.org/yes-program/   

See more coastal sage scrub plants (many with labels) at the native plant garden on the bluff side of the Point Vicente Interpretive Center. 

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