Preserving California’s Extraordinary Biodiversity: 30x30 | Cal Parks
Published: December 19, 2023

California has extraordinary biodiversity because of its unique geography and climate. Over 6,500 native plant species, 1,000 native vertebrate species, and 30,000 insect species call California home. A significant number of these species are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. However, this rich biodiversity is decreasing at an alarming rate due to habitat loss and, increasingly, climate change.  

To face this crisis, California created its 30x30 initiative, which aims to protect and conserve 30% of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030. However, it is not enough to set land aside for conservation. Lands must also be managed to sustain healthy ecosystems that can support a wide array of wildlife. As the largest state land manager and most biologically diverse state park system in the country, California State Parks has a key role to play — from protecting individual species, to restoring critical ecosystems, to acquiring and restoring new parklands.

Examples of the biodiverse species residing in California, such as, western monarch butterflies, giant sequoia redwoods, northern elephant seals, and the threatened California red-legged frog.

California state parks are home to many of California’s iconic plants and animals, including threatened and endangered species. Giant sequoia redwoods, northern elephant seals, and the threatened California red-legged frog all call state parks home. Therefore, California State Parks helps preserve a wide array of species central to California’s extraordinary biodiversity. California State Parks Foundation has worked to protect critical habitat for the western monarch butterfly — which spends every winter in numerous state parks up and down the California coast — whose population has plummeted in recent decades. Additionally, in 1993, California State Parks established its western snowy plover program after the species was listed as federally threatened. In any given year, up to 60 state parks provide overwintering habitat and up to 30 parks provide nesting habitat for this small ground-nesting shorebird. With ongoing habitat management, limiting human disturbances, forming key partnerships, and engaging volunteers in public education and outreach, California State Parks has helped support numerous threatened species in parks statewide. 

Preserving biodiversity goes beyond protecting individual species and requires restoring and supporting healthy ecosystems. An ecosystem is a community of organisms that interact with each other and their surrounding physical environment — including forests, chaparral, and riparian zones (where land meets aquatic systems like rivers and lakes). With large-scale ecosystem restoration projects, California State Parks can help create healthy, resilient habitats that support a large array of species. Furthermore, by working with partners and surrounding land managers, California State Parks can be the nucleus of restoration work that extends beyond park boundaries to support biodiversity on an even larger scale. 

One such project is Redwoods Rising, a major forest restoration initiative underway in Redwood National and State Parks. This collection of parks protects almost half of the world’s old-growth redwood forests and protects threatened and endangered species like Chinook salmon and marbled murrelet sea birds. However, 80,000 acres of redwood forest are scarred by extensive logging, and hundreds of miles of eroding logging roads and stream crossings are choking streams with sediment and blocking fish migration. These degraded ecosystems are more susceptible to disturbances and less able to support diverse wildlife. To promote and sustain the health and biodiversity of Redwood National and State Parks, California State Parks is partnering with Save the Redwoods League, the National Park Service, and the Yurok Tribe to restore 70,000 acres of forest, remove 300 miles of abandoned roads, and restore aquatic ecosystems damaged by legacy infrastructure. This large-scale restoration project highlights the important role of California State Parks in supporting biodiversity at a landscape level. 

Redwoods National and State Park

California State Parks can also support the 30x30 initiative at the highest level by acquiring and restoring new lands for biodiversity purposes — from creating new parks to adding land to already preserved areas. Strategic land acquisition can protect rare habitat, threatened or endangered species, and/or areas with a particularly high level of biodiversity. New lands can also create large, continuous areas of habitat that are more resilient and facilitate species movement, improving species’ chances of long-term survival and supporting regional biodiversity. Land acquisition can also help parks prepare for climate change by anticipating how it will impact landscapes and acquiring and managing lands to address these threats, such as preparing for shifts in vegetation cover and distribution. 

In the past several years, California State Parks has completed several valuable acquisitions, including Dos Rios Ranch Preserve in 2023, which will become the first new state park in 13 years. Dos Rios Ranch Preserve is a restored floodplain in the Central Valley and is home to multiple imperiled species, including the Central Valley Chinook salmon and the riparian brush rabbit. The new park will preserve critical habitat and conserve land in an under-protected ecological region with few state parks. In 2021, California State Parks partnered with the Anza-Borrego Foundation to add over 17,500 acres of land to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park — the largest land transfer ever between a nonprofit partner and California State Parks. This addition connected the deserts of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to the mountains of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, creating a large and ecologically complex reserve to help sustain biodiversity and allow shifts in habitat range caused by climate change. With increased acquisitions, California State Parks can continue to contribute to the 30x30 initiative’s mission to preserve California’s unique biodiversity. 

It is clear that California’s state parks are central to protect the diverse plants and animals that make California unique. California is one of 36 designated biodiversity hotspots on the planet. However, this title highlights not only the state’s abundance of endemic species, but also that these species are under threat. In other words, many of the species that make California so extraordinary are irreplaceable and protecting them is critical to preserve California’s “tapestry of life.” By championing California state parks, we can help counter the biodiversity crisis, and our support is needed now more than ever.  

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

To learn more about California’s extraordinary biodiversity check out our latest Insider Speakers Series webinar on biodiversity and state parks. You can also visit our website to find out how you can help preserve part of what makes California so special.