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Mock heather in the Forest

Overview of Conservation in the Forest

The Los Osos/Morro Bay Chapter of SWAP, together with the local community, California State Parks and San Luis Obispo County Government, raised the funds to save this 97 acres of unspoiled mixed biotopes from imminent development. Now it is divided among California State Parks (~49 acres), San Luis Obispo County (~38 acres) and the California State Lands Commission (~10 acres). While on paper the Elfin Forest belongs to these three governmental agencies, part of the purchase agreement included the proviso that the Los Osos/Morro Bay Chapter of Small Wilderness Area Preservation (SWAP) would formally agree to undertake restoration and maintenance of “El Moro Elfin Forest Natural Area”. This is known as an “Adopt-A-Park” agreement. The first 10-year term was from 1994-2004. It was recently renewed and now runs until December 2025.

Saving the Elfin Forest from development was the easy part. Under the terms of the “Adopt-A-Park” agreement the next tasks were (1) restoration of areas degraded by inappropriate use, (2) removal of alien invasive species that threatened to overrun the native flora and fauna, and (3) long-term management to ensure that the Forest would continue to be a valued resource for the community. Each task requires collaboration among the community, the actual owners of the Forest, other Governmental Agencies, and SWAP.

1. RESTORATION. Before the Forest was "saved," equestrians and off-road vehicles had degraded several areas. Several of these areas have been partly restored through erosion control measures and revegetation. The Boardwalk, especially, has proved to be beneficial for controlling erosion and stimulating native plant growth. However, because the native flora re-colonize and grow very slowly, it is necessary to temporarily restrict access to some areas.

2. INVASIVE SPECIES REMOVAL. Europeans introduced several non-native, invasive species in the Central Coast. Particularly troublesome examples are veldt grass, cape ivy, and bridal creeper that were brought in from South Africa. These species have become naturalized in this region and the battle to completely eliminate them can never be totally won. However, they must be controlled in the Elfin Forest, or the battle can truly be lost.

3. LONG TERM MANAGEMENT. Because FEMEF has no paid maintenance staff to care for the Elfin Forest, most restoration and preservation work is done by dedicated volunteers. For projects beyond the capability of the latter, FEMEF applies for grant funds from private foundations or agencies such as the Morro Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP). Contributions from SWAP members and generous donors are available to supplement these funds and also for emergency needs. The California Conservation Corps (CCC) is contracted for large projects such as construction of erosion barriers or boardwalk extensions. The CCC staff is very well experienced and qualified for this kind of project.

The support of the community is of special importance for the long-term survival of the Elfin Forest. FEMEF believes that the long-haul effort will falter or even fail if the wider community does not value and use the Forest. To this end FEMEF provides several educational programs, including docent-led nature walks for elementary school children and adults. The policy of FEMEF is that, as the Elfin Forest recovers from years of abuse, currently off-limits area will be opened.