From the short-grass plains of the Panoche and Peachtree Valleys to the rich waters of the Monterey Submarine Canyon, our home is both spectacular and biologically diverse. Where else, in a single day, can visitors witness the high peaks of the Santa Lucia Mountains, luminous at dawn, under the wings of a California Condor and by afternoon enjoy the spectacle of Blue Whales lunge-feeding on krill beneath teeming flocks of Black-footed Albatross and Ashy Storm-Petrels? But as is sadly so often the case, this richness and beauty is under threat on many fronts. Monterey Audubon has been engaged in the struggle to preserve the Monterey Region’s biodiversity for seventy-five years. The following are some of the critical issues we are confronting.

SALINAS RIVER WATERSHED. Once an expansive freshwater wilderness, replete with enormous Sandhill Crane flocks, elk herds, condors and golden bears, the biological productivity of the Salinas Valley has been almost entirely harnessed by agribusiness over the past one hundred years. Surface and ground water has been diverted to sustain the “salad bowl of the world.” Native vegetation has been cleared to guard against flooding. And, what instream flow remains is compromised by runoff and pollution. Yet, the riparian habitat and freshwater that remains, even in its reduced state, is essential to wild bird populations. Upriver sycamore-cottonwood forest comprises critical breeding and foraging habitat for songbirds. Downriver, the Salinas River mouth is a crucial staging, resting and foraging site for an impressive array for waterbirds, from terns and gulls to sandpipers and ducks. Monterey Audubon continues to be engaged along with other concerned NGOs to try and guard what remains of the Salinas’ biodiversity and restore what once was.

See: DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT (DEIR): SALINAS RIVER STREAM MAINTENANCE PROGRAM:                                     (Monterey Audubon comments) ; Monterey Audubon Presentation (to water board) by President Blake Matheson:  SALINAS RIVER IBAs

SNOWY PLOVER ADVOCACY. The sandy shores of Monterey Bay are Federally Designated Critical Habitat for the endangered Western Snowy Plover. From Del Monte Beach to the Pajaro Dunes, these inconspicuous but charming shorebirds have bred and endured on our bay shore for countless generations. Now oceanfront developers seek to convert parts of the coast to luxury condominiums and resorts atop the birds' age-old nesting grounds. Monterey Audubon and its partners at the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club have opposed the project for decades, though at least one developer remains determined to build.

See: Los Angeles Times Coverage; MAS/Center for Biodiversity Press Release

LAGUNA GRANDE REGIONAL PARK. Laguna Grande park is one of Monterey County’s most beloved and productive birding “hotspots.” A wetland and willow forest that rests in a swath of concrete and sprawl, the Park has now been adversely impacted by crime, illegal encampments and unpredictable municipal management policies for several years. Beginning in 2013, Monterey Audubon began an effort to improve city management policies, enhance habitat and secure the property’s safety for visiting birders. 

See: MAS Press Release Re Laguna Grande Park; Monterey Weekly Coverage

SEABIRD SEAWATCH. Monterey Bay, often characterized as the Planet’s “marine Serengeti,” is as essential to seabirds as it is to marine mammals. The Bay’s astonishing productivity is driven, in part, by Earth’s most inshore submarine canyon and its rich upwellings that rise from thousands of feet below the surface. The granite promontory of the Monterey Peninsula juts out into the Pacific, providing observers an ideal vantage to view the numbers and diversity of birds migrating south and those visiting the Bay from the far corners of the Pacific as a destination to feed. For two consecutive seasons Monterey Audubon, now in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management, has conducted round-the-clock, dawn-to-dusk, surveys of all birds passing Point Pinos, the Peninsula’s extreme northwesterly tip. The count coincides with peak migration time of Pacific Loons and Surf Scoters, and provides a unique opportunity to gauge the health and shifting survival strategies of those species and several others.

See: 2016 Season Launch; Monterey Weekly Coverage

GRASSLANDS CONSERVATION. Few suites of bird species are as threatened throughout North America as those ecologically dependent on native grassland ecosystems. This is especially true in Monterey and San Benito Counties where the bulk of our valley floors have been converted to agriculture, and increasingly energy production, both conventional and alternative. Rangelands throughout Central California, especially east of the Salinas Valley, in the Gabilan Ranges, comprise vast tracts of grasslands and oak savannahs that hold important populations of open country species, from Golden Eagles to Grasshopper Sparrows. But as ranchers turn to crops and energy production to improve their economic outlook, our birds are running out of places to go. Monterey Audubon has fought alongside our partners in recent years to try and ensure the conversion of rangeland to energy production is sited responsibly and without jeopardizing the existence of regional wildlife populations.

See: Herald Coverage of California Flats Settlement; Defenders of Wildlife Panoche Valley Blog

All photos herein copyright Blake Matheson. Birds from top to Bottom: Caspian Tern, Western Snowy Plover, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pink-footed Shearwater, Golden Eagle. 

OMonterey Audubon Society, P.O Box 5656, Carmel, CA 93921                                                    © Monterey Audubon 2012