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 badly needed 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.
A buildout reshaped a former social club in Borrego Springs into a premier desert science center
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.
Proposition 84 funds enabled Angelo Coast Range Reserve to exchange a drafty old house for new, comfortable, and easy to maintain visitor accommodations.
Blue Oak Ranch Reserve went from having a single habitable building—a barn—to becoming one of the NRS’s most sought-after reserves.