Biosphere Reserves

In 1970, the United Nations created the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program to provide a framework for global cooperation in finding solutions to environmental problems. Under the auspices of the U.S. MAB Program, a site that is representative of a biogeographic province may be designated a biosphere reserve if several additional criteria are met. Biosphere reserves are dedicated to research on the function and management of ecosystems and on ways to support sustainable, integrated development.

Six NRS sites have been designated within five biosphere reserves. Each biosphere reserve represents a distinct habitat type, and encompasses protected lands administered by the federal government, the state of California, land trusts, universities, and others.


Big Creek Reserve/Image credit: Chirstopher Woodcock  

California Coast Ranges Biosphere Reserve
Protecting the mountain ranges parallel to California's northern and central Pacific coast, habitats include mixed woodlands of oak, madrone, and bay; temperate conifer forest; chaparral; grasslands; and freshwater and marine ecosystems. Human populations around the San Francisco Bay Area exert intense ecological pressures in the form of agriculture, fisheries, transportation, manufacturing, and tourism. The California Coast Ranges Biosphere Reserve encompasses two NRS reserve, Angelo Coast Range Reserve and Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve. Other natural areas within this biosphere reserve include Redwood National and State Parks; Jackson Demonstration State Forest; Redwood Experimental Forest and the western slopes of Cone Peak in Big Sur.


Santa Cruz Island Reserve/Image credit: Lyndal Laughrin  
Channel Islands Biosphere Reserve
The eight California Channel Islands offer some of the least-spoiled examples of southern California coastal habitats. Although invasive species, grazing, and fishing have altered these ecosystems to some extent, habitat management and fishing regulations are returning this biosphere reserve to a more natural state. Terrestrial habitats include evergreen sclerophyllous woodlands and coastal sage scrub. Offshore waters are bathed in warm and cool currents supporting a phenomenal variety of species. Giant kelp, rockfish, and marine invertebrates flourish here, attracting seabirds, pinnipeds, and protected species such as southern sea otters and blue whales. The NRS's Santa Cruz Island Reserve maintains a field station and facilitates research on an island formerly used as a cattle ranch. The entire biosphere reserve is now protected as a National Park and National Marine Sanctuary.


Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve
The lands within the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve offer recreation access, education, and other ecosystem services for over 7 million residents of the San Francisco Bay Area. Ecosystems are dominated by evergreen sclerophyllous woodland, but include coastal prairie, chaparral, coastal dunes, tidepools, and marshes. The NRS's Bodega Marine Reserve encapsulates many of these habitats at a site featuring one of the largest marine laboratories on the West Coast. The NRS is among 13 partners that administer protected areas within this biosphere reserve, which range from water districts to land trusts, state and federal parks, universities and non-profit organizations.


Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center/Image credit: Chirstopher Woodcock  
Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve
The hottest, driest, and lowest locations in North America are part of this biosphere reserve, which features sand dunes, creosote scrub, Joshua tree woodlands. These protected areas also straddle three types of warm deserts: the Sonoran; its lower elevation sub-region, the Colorado; and the higher elevation Mojave. Among the least densely populated areas of California, human influences here center on tourism, off-road vehicle use, and trespass grazing. The NRS's Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center and Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center provide field station facilities in areas where amenities are few and far between. Other units within this biosphere reserve include Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains national monuments.


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