History of the NRS
The Natural Reserve System website is a gateway to the 36 reserves that encompass approximately 135,000 acres of protected natural land available for university-level instruction, research, and public outreach. Potential reserve users can search our online database of research projects and courses, and “travel” from one reserve to the next, gathering data relevant to their areas of interest. Most reserve pages feature site specs, habitat descriptions, a bibliography of current research and publications, a list of university courses, regional and trail maps, and descriptions of the K-12 outreach programs offered at each reserve. Finally, visitors can complete their “survey trip” by downloading an application for future use of a particular reserve.
Nearly Forty-five years ago, the University of California Natural Reserve System (NRS) began to assemble, for scientific study, a system of protected sites that would broadly represent California’s rich ecological diversity. By creating this system of outdoor classrooms and laboratories and making it available specifically for long-term study, the NRS supports a variety of disciplines that require fieldwork in wildland ecosystems.
The NRS makes relatively undisturbed samples of the state’s natural ecosystems and the facilities needed to support teaching and research available not only to students, teachers, and researchers from the University of California, but to any qualified user from any institution, public or private, throughout the world. While other colleges and universities may have one or more sites for fieldwork, none can match the size, scope, and ecological diversity of the NRS. The NRS is the largest university-operated system of natural reserves in the world.
By the late 1950s, disruption and loss of wildland field sites in California had already become a significant problem for university researchers and educators in the natural sciences. The state’s population was increasing rapidly, and development had accelerated to such a pace that few places remained safe from disruption, even on protected public lands. As a growing proportion of California’s natural landscapes became unusable for wildland or natural ecosystem research and teaching, University faculty began asking for natural areas managed specifically for academic use.What they needed were samples of natural ecosystems where they could undertake long-term projects with confidence that their teaching and research sites would remain undisturbed.
Accordingly, in January of 1965, The Regents of the University of California established the Natural Land and Water Reserves System (as the Natural Reserve System was first known) and designated seven University-owned sites as its first reserves. Today the NRS’s manages 36 reserves encompass more than 135,000 acres across twelve ecological regions in one of the most physiographically diverse regions in the U.S.
The reserves vary in size, remoteness, degree of human impact, and ability to support use. Fourteen of 36 sites currently are, or are envisioned as, full-facility reserves, possessing the facilities, equipment, and professional staff necessary to support long-term research projects and multi-week field courses remote from campus services. Nine sites have or will have partial facilities and professional staff. The remaining sites lack improvements other than possible restrooms or trails; they typically share the facilities of a nearby campus or full-servicereserve.