El Monte Project

Cactus scrub is a form of coastal sage scrub, the second most abundant plant community in San Diego County. Cactus scrub occurs when prickly pear cactus or cholla cactus is mixed in with other coastal sage scrub species such as  California sunflower, buckwheat, and sage shrub. Many species rely on cactus scrub habitat, including the coastal cactus wren. The coastal cactus wren population has declined since the 1990s due to habitat loss resulting from development and wildfires. The patchy distribution of cactus scrub and increased habitat fragmentation has reduced the ability of this bird to disperse into suitable unoccupied areas and as a result, the coastal cactus wren is listed as a California Species of Special Concern.

What is Earth Discovery Institute doing?

Earth Discovery Institute is leading the restoration of 15 acres of cactus scrub at the El Monte Preserve, funded by the Wildlife Conservation Board. El Monte Preserve sits between two known coastal cactus wren populations, and the hope is to provide additional habitat for the coastal cactus wren as well as connectivity between habitats. Volunteers play an integral role in our habitat restoration work at El Monte, helping to plant prickly pear cacti and a suite of coastal sage shrub species, as well as weeding, watering, and assisting with our monitoring program. Without this community support, we could not implement conservation efforts of this scale.
Volunteers also helped us plant 188 Coast Live Oaks at El Monte Preserve, funded by the California Wildlife Foundation California Oaks program. This will further enhance the preserve by eventually replacing non-native eucalyptus trees, reducing fire risk, and providing native habitat for many species. We are also building and installing a bat roost structure at El Monte Ecological Preserve with funds provided by SANDAG. This will support both the pallid bat, which is reliant on cactus scrub habitat for foraging, and Townsend’s big-eared bat, both of which are species of special concern. You can read more about this project on our Bat Hotel page.
El Monte Preserve is part of the Multiple Species Conservation Program, which is a regional habitat planning effort that aims to protect suites of plants and animals through a system of preserves in San Diego County. This is a progressive approach to conservation where suites of species are protected instead of single species focus, this supports fully functional and intact ecosystems that will be more resilient to climate change and major disturbances such as fire.
Photo credit: Jerel Reeves. 2023.
Coastal Cactus Wren
The coastal cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) occurs in cactus scrub habitat, where cactus thickets grow at least 3 feet tall from Ventura County south to San Diego County. Since the 1990s, the coastal cactus wren has declined throughout its range due to habitat loss from urbanization, habitat degradation, and wild fires, and in 2008, it was designated a California Species of Special Concern by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  The already patchy distribution of its habitat combined with the more recent habitat losses has resulted in cactus wren populations that are diminished in size and distribution, and occur largely as islands in a matrix of generally unsuitable habitat.

What can you do?

This project would not be successful without volunteers.
Volunteers have contributed hundreds of hours to this project, planting cactus pads and coastal sage scrub plants, weeding, and watering. Thanks to volunteers, we are able to carry out our restoration and biodiversity conservation programs - people like you, who care about our natural environment and are passionate about preserving our wild spaces!
Sign up to be a volunteer and/or check our events page to RSVP and take part in this restoration project!

2022: El Monte prior to restoration planting.


2023: Less than a year after initial planting!

What is the El Monte Preserve?

The El Monte Preserve is a 142-acre former sand mine that is now a nature preserve owned and managed by Endangered Habitat Conservancy (EHC). EHC is a local nonprofit land trust, whose mission is to acquire, manage, monitor, and maintain land in Southern California for habitat protection and restoration. El Monte Preserve supports freshwater marsh, open water, coastal sage shrub, and willow riparian habitats. This provides important foraging, connectivity, and lived-in habitat for many species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, bats, and other mammals.

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