Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve has been protected one way or another since 1899 and is located adjacent to ‘one of the premier municipal golf courses in the US‘. The nature reserve is accessed by a network of paths from a car park on the crest of the hill.
The reserve protects coastal sage scrub and the endemic Pinus torreyana; it hosts a range of rare species mostly because the entire habitat resource is now a few remnant patches squeezed between highways, housing estates and golf courses. One such is the California gnatcatcher; it has a range entirely restricted to coastal sage scrub in southern California and the Baja peninsula. This inconspicuous, little blue bird, supported by the strength of the Endangered Species Act on which it is listed as Threatened, has helped to save the last remnants of coastal sage scrub; it remains quite a fight to do so.
On a weekday visit, the place is full of visitors. When such places, that are so clearly enjoyed by so many people, are subject to an ecosystem services assessment, their value as a recreational resource is often extremely high. Having seen the ramblers, the joggers, the power walkers and the beachgoers, it is likely that, when totted up, these visitors would be ‘willing to pay’ many millions of dollars to maintain and possibly expand the coastal habitats at Torrey Pines.
A big reason for the popularity of the place is that the olive-green, coastal sage scrub, the deeply incised, soft-rock cliffs and wide sea views, all enjoyed under a clear blue sky with a fresh, onshore breeze of Pacific air, is a stunning experience.
One patch of habitat where there is no argument about development is the Marine Corps training area at Camp Pendleton; 126,000 acres of lowland habitats in a largely untouched succession from the coast to the hills. This is a green buffer between the San Diego and Los Angeles conurbations. As in so many countries, military training grounds and ranges located in areas of high development pressure are important places for the conservation of rare habitats and species.