$2 Million Endowment Helps Preserve 6,500-Acre Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve

According to the California Academy of Sciences, over 90% of the state's vernal pool habitats have been lost. Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that are home to plants, like the succulent owl's clover, and animals, like the tiger salamander. A recent University of California Board of Regents vote solidified the protection of 6,500 acres near University of California Merced.

The interest from Hewlett Foundation's $2 million endowment and money from the UC Merced campus will fund the newly-protected reserve. (Read William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: Bay Area Grants).

This reserve is home to songbirds, birds of prey, coyotes, and many other animals throughout the year. Fairy shrimp lay eggs in the area's dry ground until they are stimulated by water, and salamanders utilize ground-squirrel burrows as shelters until the rains come. Faculty members at UC Merced hope that professors and students will come study the million-year-old soils, grasslands, endangered species, and vernal pools at the reserve. Co-director, Christopher Swarth commented, “We have an opportunity to expose people, to educate people about rare and unusual animals that have interesting life cycles.”

Although this is a preserved habitat, it will still be open to the public. There have been talks of building an interpretative center to allow people to learn about the unique habitat without destroying it.

Hewlett's $2 million gift has been helping to strengthen this habitat and maintain the land since 2001. A sizable portion of the foundation's environmental program budget goes to conservation of wildlife in Western United States and Canada and addressing environmental problems that affect disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. The foundation currently accepts letters of inquiry in these two focus areas, and you can learn more about the process on its Environmental Program Grantseekers page.