The Santa Clara River and its tributaries drain over 1,600 square miles of land (watershed) and is one of the last free-flowing, natural riparian systems left in southern California. Protection of the River and its tributaries is key to protecting the plants and animals that live in the watershed.
Reaching from its headwaters in desert mountains and emptying in the Pacific Ocean, the River’s watershed includes twenty-seven native plant communities – from mixed conifer forests to oak woodlands to coastal scrubs and saline emergent wetland plants. This phenomenal diversity of plant communities also sustains numerous rare plants and animals. Fourteen very rare plant species are found throughout the watershed and three very rare invertebrates including Monarch butterflies also live and reproduce along the river or in unique plant communities.
Five rare and protected native fish rely on the Santa Clara River and its tributaries for their very existence, including steelhead and the very rare unarmored three-spine stickleback. Six rare and protected amphibians also rely on the River and its tributaries for successful reproduction and persistence, including the red-legged frog and arroyo toad. Nine rare and protected reptiles live in the watershed, too, including coast horned lizards, pond turtles and legless lizards!
The Sespe Condor Sanctuary lies wholly within the boundaries of the watershed making the River and its watershed key for California condor recovery. In additional twenty-six rare and endangered birds rely on the different habitats along the River and within the watershed. The riparian vegetation along the River and tributaries are key breeding areas for migratory birds including the rare southwestern willow flycatcher and western yellow-billed cuckoo.
At least twelve rare mammals including five bats species badgers and chipmunks call the Santa Clara River and other areas in the watershed home. Parts of the watershed particularly in the Angeles and Los Padres National Forests are still remote and wild and support healthy populations of deer, bear and mountain lions.
Ten threatened or endangered plants and animals have federally designated Critical Habitat in the Santa Clara River watershed making it a key area for these rare and declining species.
For more information check out the Wildlands of the Santa Clara River Watershed.