The Kern River Preserve was purchased in 1979 by
The Nature Conservancy. Prior to becoming a
preserve, the land was locally known as the A.
Brown Ranch. The land had been operated as a
cattle ranch since the mid-1800s.
Rick Hewett, the first preserve
manager, was loved by the Kern Valley Community. He had a membership
organization to support the preserve and published the Riparian Rag newsletter.
John Ridenour had Rick on his radio station, KVLI, weekly for Nature Notes, a
5-minute nature program for children. Under Rick's management the preserve
opened up to the community and everyone pitched in to build fences and plant
trees. Soon the forest became thicker and the populations of native animals
In 1986, Dr. Bert Anderson was hired to begin large scale revegetation of native
tree species on cleared agricultural fields. The first site was the 25 acre Dump
Site. The nature trail encircles this site which now blends in to the old
Reed Tollefson arrived for the
second year of planting trees with Dr. Anderson. Reed has either assisted or led
the planting of 7 revegetation sites on the preserve.
In 1988, Rick Hewett and his family
moved to Bakersfield to run The Nature Conservancy's San Joaquin office. Ron
Tiller was hired as the new preserve manager. Ron came to the Kern with a
history in habitat restoration. He worked with Dr. Anderson in 1989 to plant the
Prince Site and in 1990 he directed The Nature Conservancy's first in-house
restoration effort on the Kern River Preserve.
Reed now had 3 year's experience of
restoration on the Kern River Preserve and The Nature Conservancy hired him as
assistant manager to Ron. A month after Reed moved in, he hired Lynn Overtree as
one of the 3 interns to help plant the Palmer Site.
In 1992, The Nature Conservancy
stole Ron away from the Kern River Preserve to take over the management and
restoration of the challenging Stony Creek Preserve. Reed became preserve
manager of the Kern River Preserve and Lynn was hired as the assistant manager.
The last site available to plant was the Colt
Site, behind the headquarters. It was planted in
1993. After the growing season of 1994, there
were no more large-scale revegetation projects
on the Kern River Preserve. The assistant
manager position was ended at the end of that
fiscal year and Lynn was rehired as the
transition coordinator. Her job was to find an
organization that could manage the Kern River
Preserve as well or better than The Nature
Eight organizations and agencies were
interviewed and Audubon-California was the
strongest candidate. Negotiations were finalized
at the end of 1996 and by February 1997,
Audubon-California began managing the Kern River
Meanwhile, Reed had
continued his outstanding job managing the preserve as an active part of the
Kern Valley community. In March 1997, he transferred to Audubon-California, a
loss to The Nature Conservancy, but a gain for the Kern River Preserve.
Audubon-California fully funds, and manages the Kern River Preserve with Reed
Tollefson continuing as preserve manager.
GLOBALLY IMPORTANT BIRD AREA TRANSFERRED TO
The deed to the 1136-acre Kern River
Preserve, located along the South Fork of the Kern River east of Isabella Reservoir, was
transferred from The Nature Conservancy to the National Audubon Society on November 25,
The Kern River Preserve is the core of one of
the first ten Globally Important Bird Areas to be designated in the United States. It is
Globally Important for its protection of Fremont cottonwood and red willow habitat and
major populations of migrating Turkey Vultures and nesting Western Yellow-billed Cuckoos,
Southwestern Willow Flycatchers, Summer Tanagers, and Kern Red-winged Blackbirds.
"As the preeminent private bird
conservation organization in the United States it is wholly appropriate that the National
Audubon Society through Audubon-California, its state branch, take title to the Kern River
Preserve. The preserve is at the heart of the South Fork Kern River watershed which hosts
an unparalleled two hundred species of native nesting birds," states Bob Barnes,
Audubon-California's State Director of Bird Conservation.
Dan Taylor, Executive Director of
Audubon-California, passed along the news of the transfer to staff at the Kern River
Preserve with a message for Kern County residents, "On behalf of the entire Audubon
family, we are delighted to complete the transfer of the Kern River Preserve. In two short
years, the Kern Preserve has become one of the crown jewels of our sanctuary system. We
look forward to many years of restoration and conservation of this remarkable place in
partnership with the local community."
Upon hearing the news Reed Tollefson, Kern
River Preserve Manager, reflected "I am looking forward to continue working with our
neighboring landowners in the Kern River Valley to promote the protection and good
stewardship of the valuable riparian, wetland and agricultural lands that are so important
to wildlife and people."
On March 31, 2005 another historic milestone was achieved.
Audubon California and the California Dept. of Fish & Game took ownership of
4358 acres of the Sprague Ranch along the South Fork Kern River and up
Fay Canyon. This purchase was in part to mitigate for the flooding of the South
Fork Wildlife area during high water years and loss of 1400-acres of Willow
Flycatcher habitat. Audubon took ownership of 1640-acres which more than doubled
the size of the preserve.
On January 31, 2006, after a fast and furious negotiation in
just two weeks by Reed Tollefson and Laurie Robinson, Audubon closed on the
purchase of the 105-acre Alexander Ranch directly on the South Fork Kern River.
This was accomplished with a private grant. The ranch occupies land along Fay
Ranch Road and along Hwy 178. This acquisition increased Audubon's holdings of
contiguous property in Weldon to 2884-acres.
Then on August 27, 2009, we added an additional 26-acres
along Fay Ranch Road, with the purchase of the Vig property. This piece
is adjacent to the Kern River Preserve's Alexander Ranch
addition and the South Fork Elementary School.
On November 20, 2009, the final tract of land along the South
Fork Kern River between Fay Ranch Road and Sierra Way closed escrow. After years
of negotiations with the Alexander/Vig/Heflin families, Reed Tollefson closed
the loop and brought this amazing piece of property under permanent protection.
This purchase brought the total acreage of Audubon California's contiguous
acreage for the Kern River Preserve to 2,987 acres.
In Christmas eve in 2009, the final piece of land closed escrow on
a long-term project to protect the Kelso Valley Watershed. The 602-acres was
transferred to the BLM and included into the Bright Star Wilderness in March
In January 2012, Audubon facilitated the purchase of 1400
acres in Sage and Horse Canyons by the Mojave Desert Land Trust to be
transferred into the Kiavah Wilderness for protection in perpetuity.
The Kern River Preserve is, also, one of four
Flagship Projects of the California Riparian Habitat Joint Venture, a coalition of private
and public organizations working to restore and enhance the Golden State's riverside
forests. The preserve is open to the public every day of the year, including holidays,
from dawn until dusk.
The success we have enjoyed is a result of
Audubon California's generous members. Our continued support will depend on the
Audubon Kern River Preserve's ability to attract a similar level of support from
people like you. Please consider becoming part of our history by joining
Audubon Kern River Preserve. Thank you.