With its spectacular panoramas, vast grasslands, woodland habitats and vibrant vernal pools, the Carrizo Plain north of Los Padres National Forest is often called California’s Serengeti because of its incredible diversity of species and its ecologically important migration pathways for wildlife. Fifteen of the state’s threatened and endangered wildlife and plants depend on it, including San Joaquin kit foxes, pronghorn and tule elk—North America’s smallest elk species and found only in California.

Now, a substantial piece of it is permanently protected thanks to Defenders. 

The California Fish and Game Commission recently voted to set aside 20 square miles of land—doubling the amount that state and federal agencies required—in the inner coastal ranges of eastern San Luis Obispo County on the northern Carrizo Plain to offset environmental impacts from two nearby, large-scale solar power developments.

“The flat, high-elevation landscape in a sunny location combined with inexpensive real estate and an existing transmission line made this a solar developer’s dream,” says Pamela Flick, Defenders’ California program director. “But this development would also have created a significant barrier to habitat connectivity to grassland habitats north of Carrizo Plain National Monument.”

Additional solar projects also might have been built in the future, which would have effectively cut off all functional wildlife migration corridors. The lands that make up the new reserve were specifically targeted to ensure that future development could not occur in North Carrizo.

“Defenders and our conservation partners worked with the solar developers to conserve about 50% more land than state and federal agencies required,” adds Flick. “We are extremely proud to have played a key role in protecting this sensitive habitat to assure this ecologically important migration corridor is protected in perpetuity.”

One of Defenders top priorities is to ensure that wildlife can survive and thrive alongside responsible renewable energy development, especially as climate change disrupts nature.

“We believe it is imperative that we accelerate toward a cleaner energy future and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Joy Page, Defenders’ director of renewable energy. “However, projects need to be done in a manner that protects wildlife and ecosystems. We can have robust, large-scale renewable energy development in this country while conserving our wildlife heritage. In fact, the future depends on it.” 

Smart from the Start

Defenders works to ensure that renewable energy facilities are built in places that minimize impact on wildlife and habitat as part of its “Smart from the Start” program, encouraging early planning to identify areas of low conflict for development.


Photo credit: Carrizo Plain © Bill Bouton

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