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Southern Montane Forests Project

A Climate-Informed Conservation Strategy

Project Background

Southern California’s montane forests are unique and fundamental to the region.

Montane forests (forests >5,000 ft elevation) are restricted to "sky islands" of mountain habitat found in the Peninsular and Transverse Ranges of Southern California, with most of the montane forest area found in the San Jacinto, San Bernardino, and San Gabriel Mountains and extending to smaller areas on mountains further north and south. As in the Sierra Nevada, southern California montane forests are dominated by a mix of conifers (mostly pines, firs, and incense cedar) and hardwood (mostly oak) species.

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Map depicting extent of hardwood (light green) and coniferous forest (dark green) in southern California in relation to National Forest boundaries.

​Montane forests protect the upper watersheds of all of the region's major rivers and provide important ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration, soil conservation, erosion and sedimentation reduction, plant and wildlife habitat and migration corridors, shading and cooling of surface waters, recreational opportunities, and aesthetic and spiritual connections. These watersheds also provide about 40% of the water used for human, agricultural, and industrial purposes in Southern California.

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Carbon
Sequestration
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Erosion & Sedimentation Reduction
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Shading & Cooling of Surface Waters
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Aesthetic and Spiritual Connections
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Soil
Conservation
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Plant/Wildlife Habitat & Migration Corridors
Recreational
Opportunities
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Watershed
Protection

These forests are under threat from a suite of rapidly intensifying stressors and disturbances, including many that have strong climate connections.

The region is characterized by high habitat diversity, strong ecological and climatic gradients, and a suite of active processes such as wildfires, earthquakes, mountain uplift, floods, and debris flows. In addition, the region supports a large and growing human population (25 million people, nearly 8% of the US total) which poses a threat to one of the country’s most biodiverse regions, affecting plants and animal populations, their habitats, and the ecosystem services they provide. Sensitive, threatened, and endangered state and federal species number in the hundreds. Specific threats include the most rapid climate warming in the US; one of the most variable precipitation regimes in the US; persistent, long-term droughts; the highest ozone pollution levels in the nation; increasingly large and severe wildfires; massive levels of habitat loss due to urban and suburban expansion; and an expanding list of damaging invasive species.

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Rapid
Warming
Image by Brian Yurasits
Variable
Precipitation Regimes
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Persistent,
Long-Term Droughts
Image by Dimitry Anikin
Ozone
Pollution
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Increasingly Large
& Severe Wildfires
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Habitat
Loss
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Invasive
Species

Since the turn of the century, the status of montane forests in southern California has markedly declined. Climate warming has accelerated; ozone pollution has continued to exceed national standards; two major drought periods and associated bark beetle outbreaks have killed tens-of-millions of trees; large and severe wildfires have burned large areas of forest; and new invasive species are posing new threats (e.g. the Gold-Spotted Oak Borer).

This project looks to overcome a major obstacle to the sustainability of montane forests in Southern California by creating a coordinated strategic conservation plan across agencies and stakeholders that addresses these threats.

Project Partners and Sponsors

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Safeguarding natural and human communities in the face of a changing climate.

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The Climate Science Alliance Team acknowledges the Indigenous peoples on whose traditional territory we work. We honor the continued presence and resilience of Indigenous communities and nations today, and thank those we work with for your friendship and your good will in our efforts to collaborate.

 

The Climate Science Alliance is fiscally sponsored by the California Wildlife Foundation (Tax ID: 68-0234744).

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