The "Real" California (The Cistmontane Lowlands)

The “real” California—the cismontane lowlands—is an island stuck to the edge of the continent.  It is the pleasant, liveable, life-sustaining part of California, the part that early pioneers struggled through the other parts—the baking deserts and the snow-bound mountains—in order to reach.  With few exceptions, it is the part of California with the farms, the cities, the people.  It is also the part that has the most endemic plants and animals and, thanks to us, the most endangered plants and animals, the part that now looks least like the way it looked before we got here in our meddlesome beavering multitudes.

And if this is the pleasant, liveable part of California, the most pleasant and most liveable part, the pleasant of the pleasant and the liveable of the liveable is, big surprise, the uttermost edge of it, the coast.  We have voted with our feet.

No doubt the main reason is the soft climate—pleasantly cool in summer when the valleys are baking, pleasantly warm in winter when the mountains are freezing.  People also like diversity, different worlds conveniently at hand.  The ecological term for the edge between different environments is called an ecotone—the edge between the forest and a meadow for example.  The coastline is the Ultimate Ecotone, the sharpest, boldest, most dramatic ecotone there is, except for the one we take for granted—between land and sky—an ecotone so popular that every living thing on terra firma lives on it.

In any case, people love beaches.  But it isn’t only people that gravitate to the Ultimate Ecotone—a great many species of plants and animals not only like the coast, but need it.  They evolved there and now survive nowhere else.  We who like but don’t need the coast are making life very difficult for those other creatures—especially plants—that do need it.  Trapped between an ever-narrowing thin strip between the coast highway, agricultural fields, towns, golf courses, luxury homes on the inland side, and ever-eroding bluffs on the coastal side, a major chunk of California’s biodiversity is biding its time until the day it drops into the heartless surf.  Before the highway and the condos, there was always room to retreat, inch by inch, millennium after millennium.