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ESHAs Restoration Plan

Pajaro Valley High School in Watsonville is surrounded by an 80 acre wildlife reserve which is an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, or ESHA. An ESHA is a California Coastal Commission Designation for protected lands, granted by the California Coastal Act (1976). These lands are currently under intensive ecological restoration by the Pajaro Valley Unified School District and Watsonville Wetlands Watch.

Within the ESHAs are found remnant coastal prairie, the seasonally flooded upper portion of West Branch Struve Slough, the upper most portion and drainage of Hanson Slough, slope wetlands, seeps, springs, and willow scrub. Through the restoration of the property we are in the process of restoring 30 acres of native coastal prairie, stands of oak woodland, and densely planted riparian woodland, where elderberry, sycamore, wild rose, mugwort, oak, coffee berry, and willow have been planted.

Vernal PondVernal Pond
A vernal pond found on the northern end of the ESHA
Coyote seen on ESHA in 2012. Also see photo atop page. Coyote photos: Efren Adalem
Pajaro Valley High School’s ESHAs were farmed for the last two centuries in various ways, including dairy production, row crops, and, as recently as 2001, strawberry production. Throughout the last century, these 80 acres on California’s coast and the surrounding landscape has contained a mixture of agricultural fields, emergent and deep water wetlands, wet meadows, coastal prairie, vernal ponds, woodlands, and scrubland. Wetlands transition into prairie and meadow, then into fields of produce, seamlessly across ecological boundaries and through time.
Photo of strawberry field
Former strawberry field planted with natives
In 2005, what was once a strawberry field was planted with 1350 native trees, plants, and shrubs.

Like the landscape which surrounds it, the ESHAs provide habitat for a great many threatened, endangered, and special status animal species. Short-eared owls, Burrowing Owls, Red-legged frogs, White tailed kites, Merlin, Coopers Hawk, Meadow Lark, and Song Sparrows to name a few, depend on this habitat for their livelihoods. Garter snakes and Gopher snakes are found throughout the grassland and marshes. Coyote, Weasel, and an occasional deer walk with voles, mice, and ground squirrels under foot.

The ESHAs are a habitat in process and provide a grounds for students to learn first-hand about natural science in the local environment, the history of the Pajaro Valley, and the ways in which environmental restoration can transform a landscape for the benefit of all.