Connecting people, nature, and culture in Southern California

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The California Science Center near downtown Los Angeles has an "L.A. Zone" in its Ecosystems gallery, as well as this underwater exhibit on the kelp beds found off the region's coast. [CSC]

Although its urban core contains relatively few conventional or natural parks, greater Los Angeles is framed by protected areas. [Todd Jones, CC 2.0- generic]

Connecting people, nature, and culture in Southern California

Malibu Lagoon State Beach protects an estuary rich in bird life, as well as a prime surfing venue. It is within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. [National Park Service]

The San Gabriel Mountains include forests such as this stand of lodgepole pine on Mt. Baden-Powell in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, created in 2014 in part of the Angeles National Forest.  [Mitch Barrie CC-2.0]

At the invitation of InterEnvironment Institute and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, 20 organizations agreed to serve on an advisory committee to form an alliance called Natural Neighbors Southern California, with the objectives listed on the home page. See Participants & projects for a list of these organizations and photos from Natural Neighbors Southern California's first workshop.  

Initially, the geographic scope of the alliance will be Los Angeles County; this may be expanded as activities are developed.


Southern California: Extraordinary nature, extraordinary growth

Greater Los Angeles ranks ninth in population size among the world’s urban agglomerations and second in the United States, after New York. The speed and size of its population growth, and the extent of its spatial growth, are unparalleled in the industrialized world. Population grew from 250,000 in 1900 to 11 million in 1980, and 18 million in 2012.  People born elsewhere are in the majority: those born outside the U.S. make up 31 percent of the population; those born in other U.S. states make up another 20 percent. The urbanized area stretches 125 miles (200 kilometers) along the Pacific Ocean and up to 60 miles (100 kilometers) inland.

Los Angeles is located in the California Floristic Province, one of five areas of the world with Mediterranean-type climates characterized by mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers (the others are the Mediterranean Basin itself, the Cape region of South Africa, and parts of Australia and Chile. 

Within the California Floristic Province, a scientific designation that covers most of the state of California and small adjoining areas, 40 percent of the 5,500 native plant species and subspecies are endemic to the region, i.e., they occur naturally nowhere else in the world. There are also many endemic animals. As with other Mediterranean-type ecosystems, California’s are especially vulnerable to invasive alien species  and to the effects of fire.

The predominant vegetation is chaparral, a dense growth of various species of evergreen, hard-leaved shrubs. Chaparral has a natural fire regime of infrequent crown fires. However, fires set by people along the wildland-urban interface, whether accidental or deliberate, can be very destructive of human life and property. Climate change is causing hotter, drier and windier weather in this region, and more frequent and more intense fires are expected. Native animals and plants that are unable to adapt to the effects of climate change will require migration corridors to survive.

Although its urban core contains relatively few conventional or natural parks, greater Los Angeles is framed by protected areas. These include the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a cooperative effort of the federal and state governments; mountainous national forests that include the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument; and state and local parklands along the foothills and the coast.

Many residents of Southern California have a poor understanding of this environment, especially those who have come from very different climates. Working together more closely, conservation agencies and the region's natural history and history museums, botanic gardens, zoos, aquariums, and science centers can increase the public's appreciation of their natural surroundings, as well as the region's and California's history and culture.  

An alliance of conservation agencies, museums, zoos, aquariums, and botanic gardens working to introduce urban people to their region's natural and cultural heritage

One of Southern California's leading institutions devoted to nature education and research is the 86-acre (35-hectare) Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, which displays some 2,000 kinds of California native plants. [RSABG]

Adobe Flores in South Pasadena (much as it is today, although this photo was taken in 1936). After the final California battle of the Mexican-American War, in 1847, Mexican military met here to discuss a cease-fire. Southern California has many landmarks from the Spanish and Mexican periods. [Library of Congress]