I followed a gurgling creek into gaping San Emigdio Canyon and its snow-covered mountains. Along the way, black-tailed deer traversed the steep slopes above and a northern harrier swooped overhead, foraging the side canyons for a brush rabbit.
This was my initial step into one of the most uniquely diversified regions in California, a stupendous convergence of topography and habitats supporting a wide range of flora and fauna. At 93,000 acres, Wind Wolves Preserve is the West Coast’s largest nonprofit preserve.
Wind Wolves is part of The Wildlands Conservancy (TWC) and is one of 15 properties throughout California. Wind Wolves is a place where the Transverse Ranges, Coast Ranges, Sierra Nevada, western Mojave Desert, and San Joaquin Valley converge on the Kern and Ventura County borders.
“It’s an extremely diverse and unique ecosystem,” said Landon Peppel, Central Valley and North Coast regional director for TWC and preserve manager at Wind Wolves. “It’s a big preserve that’s influenced by a wide range of habitats.”
On my first morning hiking the preserve, I took the San Emigdio Canyon Trail along the creek to the Canyon de los Osos Wetlands Trail. In the back of the canyon, I was surprised to see a huge herd of sheep grazing the canyon floor. Considering the environmental impacts on such a stunning landscape, I was curious about the purpose of the herbivores.
Peppel explained to me that before Europeans arrived, the canyon and valley floors were carpeted in low-growing plants that benefited what are now endangered and threatened species such as San Joaquin kit foxes, antelope ground squirrels, blunt-nosed leopard lizards, and burrowing owls. Today, those sheep are enhancing a return to a natural balance.
“The goal of the sheep is trying to keep the thick grasses out and keep the wildlife happy,” continued Peppel. “These Mediterranean grasses are super competitive.”
As the sheep continue to eat the thick grasses, native seeds are planted behind them. Wind Wolves has a whopping 550 plant species, and since 2012, approximately 5,000 plants have been put in the ground across the preserve.
With 52 animal species, close to 200 bird species, and 23 reptiles and amphibians on the preserve, there’s a lot to protect at Wind Wolves.
“You have to look at the land,” said Peppel. “You have to pay attention. It’s challenging, but it’s the world we live in.”
For more information, visit wildlandsconservancy.org/preserve_windwolves.html.