James K. Herbert and his wife, Carol Sellers Herbert had a vision for their Tulare County ranch, which they affectionately called the “Wilderness.”
They wanted to provide a special place for San Joaquin Valley residents to enjoy while conserving 725 acres of wetland prairie. The Herbert’s contacted Sequoia Riverlands Trust about protecting the property, now called the James K. Herbert Wetland Prairie Preserve, and shared their vision of restoring a seasonal freshwater marsh and valley oak riparian corridor dominated by native species.
New Habitat for Wildlife
With this vision, Sequoia Riverlands Trust (SRT) created a seasonal wetland on an 83-acre portion of the preserve, called ‘Area C,’ to serve as a demonstration of cost-effective, wildlife-friendly floodplain management. Beginning in fall 2002, SRT constructed a network of stream channels, ponds and upland areas similar to what this region may have looked like 150 years ago. Called ‘Sellers Slough’ in honor of Carol Sellers Herbert, the new stream channel and three ponds immediately attracted increased numbers and a greater diversity of water birds, many of which had never been seen on the property before.
Native grasses, sedges, shrubs and trees now dominate much of ‘Area C’. Some native plants, like saltgrass, clover and dwarf popcornflower, grew from the seed bank within the soil. SRT planted others, like alkali sacaton (a perennial bunchgrass) and creeping wildrye to augment native vegetation communities, providing wildlife cover and erosion control in the stream channel. This restored area now offers even more habitat for wetland bird species like red-winged blackbird and black-necked stilt, which began nesting at the preserve once work began.
The Best Forage for Livestock & Wildlife
Today, Sequoia Riverlands Trust manages the preserve with a rigorous scientific research program using livestock grazing and prescribed fire to improve native plant forage for cattle and wildlife. It is an area where agriculture and wildlife coexist. For over a century, grazing livestock shared this prairie with golden eagles, coyotes and a rich array of native plant species. In Tulare County, one of the top agricultural regions in the nation, this site provides valuable pasture for beef cattle in a rotational grazing schedule. In turn, livestock minimize weeds and help maintain native species diversity in vernal pools.
In addition to grazing, most of the preserve’s native plant species depend on a natural disturbance, such as fire, to bring about reproduction, growth or flowering. After more than a century without this disturbance, SRT reintroduced fire at the preserve to help control aggressive non-native plant species, such as Bermuda grass, Johnsongrass, yellow star thistle and milk thistle.
Vernal Pool Prairie: where appearances are deceiving
The James K. Herbert Wetland Prairie Preserve has several naturally occurring vernal pools.
Sauntering in any direction, my feet would brush about a hundred flowers with every step... as if I were wading in liquid gold.
--- John Muir, Spring 1869
Describing the Central Valley
Vernal pools, shallow depressions where small ponds form during the rainy season, appear usually above an impermeable soil layer, like hardpan or heavy clay. In spring, wildflowers bloom in brilliant circles forming a floral kaleidoscope around the pools. By summer, water evaporates leaving the earth dry and cracked. Only plants and animals specially adapted to a harsh wet/dry cycle can survive in this unique environment.
The seeds, eggs or cysts of the next generation of animals and plants survive in the sun-baked mud until the next wet season. Many plant species then begin to grow underwater to get a head start on their reproductive cycle. Frogs, toads, crustaceans and aquatic insects race against the clock to complete their short life cycles in these oases for water-dependent wildlife.
Vernal Pools are considered an important resource in California and worldwide and offer a reservoir of genetic material that could provide natural pharmaceutical products; supply protein-rich invertebrates where water birds feed; collect water, moderate seasonal flooding and maintain water quality by removing contaminants.
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of California Wildlife Conservation Board provided funding for the generous bargain sale purchase of the $1.3 million dollar property, with assistance from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Fish & Game and The Conservation Fund.
The State of California Wildlife Conservation Board, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Habitat Restoration Program and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funded the habitat enhancement of ‘Area C,’ with assistance from the California Department of Fish & Game. Sequoia Riverlands Trust supports local economic prosperity by keeping land owned by the organization on the county tax rolls.
This preserve gives us the chance to pass on a unique part of our San Joaquin Valley heritage to our children and grandchildren. Special tours are offered, please check our calendar of events for more information.