By Kathleen Wong, UC Natural Reserve System
For the past dozen years, the reserves of the UC Natural Reserve System have been experiencing a mini construction boom. Potholed roads are being fixed, rotting buildings replaced, and labs and meeting rooms built from scratch. Rusted out fences have been erected afresh, while new solar, water recycling, and heat pump systems are making operations greener. The projects have breathed new life into reserves while supporting a surge in NRS use that now exceeds more than 100,000 visitors per year.
All of these projects were made possible by California’s Proposition 84. Passed in 2006, the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act made $20 million in state bond funding available for land acquisition and facilities projects. Matched by an equivalent amount of university and donor funding, the measure fueled a total of $40 million in improvements at 16 NRS reserves.
For the NRS, the availability of Proposition 84 funds has been nothing short of miraculous. “NRS reserves have long operated on budgets that cannot keep up with both maintenance demands and the need to expand facilities for increasing numbers of users,” says NRS executive director Peggy Fiedler. “Proposition 84 funding not only helped us tackle decades of deferred maintenance, but in some cases has transformed barely adequate facilities into some of the most high-functioning field stations in the country. Together, these state-funded projects have enabled the NRS to make sorely needed improvements that let our reserves better serve the people of California.”
The state Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) administered the bond funds. The WCB reviewed and approved each project proposal, visited reserves periodically to ensure projects were proceeding as planned, and reimbursed the University for funds spent on approved costs. To qualify, reserve and campus staff had to identify sources of financial support equivalent to the amount of bond funding requested for each project.
With the last of the Proposition 84 projects wrapping up this year, NRS reserves are now applying for a second round of state funding. Proposition 68, passed in 2019, made $10 million more available to the NRS for facilities improvements. Many reserves that missed out on Proposition 84 funds will be able to replace ancient housing, repair decrepit office trailers, and generally bring their facilities up to the standard expected for California’s premier public university system.
Originally geared toward hosting research scientists, one of the NRS’s first reserves rolls out the welcome mat to groups with a classroom, a second campground with dorm cabins, and an access road with refreshed paving.
A reserve relying on buildings from the homestead era can rebuild to modern standards, add an administrative building, and bolster a limited water supply with Prop. 84 funding.
To function as a reserve, this timeworn cattle ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley needed major work ranging from replumbing sewers to raising entirely new buildings. After more than a decade of major renovations, it has blossomed into a full-featured field station popular among students and researchers as well as the local community.
Inundation from ocean tides is fundamental to maintaining the wetland habitat of Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve. Prop. 84 bonds enabled culvert repairs critical to keep the marsh connected to Pacific waters.
As one of UC’s first field stations, Hastings Natural History Reservation is replete with buildings constructed during the early parts of the twentieth century. Prop. 84 provided the funds needed to make Hastings accommodations safe and comfortable for a new century.
A patchwork of inholdings made reserve management a challenge. Prop. 84 helped consolidate reserve boundaries, increasing safety and enabling the reserve to attract more funding for facilities.
State bond funds renew the ability to manipulate experimental stream reaches, fund road repaving, and support a new, net zero energy meeting hall.
The generosity of longtime supporters, combined with Prop. 84 bond funding, doubled reserve beds, added a classroom, and nurtured the visitor interactions that bring a field station to life.
Adding a visitor center and a staff residence with state bond fund support enables more users to stay near the site of their beach and stream studies, provides presentation facilities to classes, and gives staff long-overdue office space.
A firestorm in the 1990s destroyed the former field station at Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve. It took 20 years and Prop. 84 bond funds to raise new reserve buildings from the ashes.
Former mine buildings provided a framework for McLaughlin Natural Reserve. Prop. 84 funding revamped the industrial facilities into a field station that worked well for both reserve staff and visitors.
Blue Oak Ranch Reserve went from having a single habitable building—a barn—to becoming one of the NRS’s most sought-after reserves.
Having long made due with working from an uninsulated shed, the reserve can now provide exhibits for the public, meetings with partners, and a lab for students and researchers in a new nature center.
Proposition 84 funds enabled Angelo Coast Range Reserve to exchange a drafty old house for new, comfortable, and easy to maintain visitor accommodations.
Marine air and years of deferred maintenance left Bodega Marine Reserve’s facilities beset by leaks, rust, and vermin. Prop. 84 bonds funded critical repairs.
A buildout reshaped a former social club in Borrego Springs into a premier desert science center