The official website of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
Elkhorn Slough Habitats: Agricultural and Residential

The farmlands surrounding Elkhorn Slough are unique in California. Approximately 24% of the Elkhorn watershed is in cultivated agriculture. The combination of deep, well drained, sandy soils and a warm Mediterranean climate tempered by summer fog, allows for year-round production of crops like strawberries, raspberries, cut flowers and artichokes. The largest, most productive farms are concentrated in Springfield Terrace and Moro Cojo Slough areas, along Highway 1. Smaller farms are scattered within the Carneros Creek and Elkhorn Highlands areas. Elkhorn Slough’s farms are a vital component of the local and County economy, but they are also the major cause of sedimentation, a chief stress to marsh habitats. One of the challenges in the watershed is to balance both agriculture and resource protection. Fortunately, protection strategies for the two are often complementary. The Elkhorn Slough Foundation works closely with local growers to ensure that productive agriculture can exist without taking a toll on surrounding habitats.

Much of the Elkhorn Highlands were converted to cultivated agricultural use in the early 1980’s. Farms here are often found in hillside areas with steep slopes. These hills are comprised of ancient sand dunes that are highly susceptible to erosion, and drain either directly into the Slough, or into the creeks that feed into it. ESF has acquired portions of this area, and has worked hard to reduce the negative effects that agriculture can have on the estuary. Some land has been taken out of production entirely, while other areas are now being farmed with better management practices. Farmers here have learned how to remain economically viable with minimal side-effects. Unlike the large, flat agricultural grounds along Highway 1, the farmland of the Elkhorn Highlands is generally surrounded by wildlands that host many assorted plants and animals.

There are also some small-scale livestock operations, including approximately 250 acres of holistically-grazed cattle on ESF-managed grasslands. The careful oversight of the cattle helps the Coastal Prairie habitat thrive as a healthy, biologically diverse landscape.

Approximately 10% of the watershed consists of residential areas with lots under 5 acres in size. Most of these are clustered in the communities of Las Lomas, Prunedale, the southern portion of Aromas, and the Oak Hills subdivision along Highway 156. Five, ten and twenty acre lots are interspersed with larger agricultural parcels in the Elkhorn Highlands and Carneros Creek areas. Here, the historic development pattern has been modest homes built in valley bottoms near existing roads. More recently, scattered development of larger, more expensive homes has occurred on south-facing hillsides and ridge tops.

We are currently featuring the following species from this habitat:




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This site is maintained by the Elkhorn Slough Foundation in partnership with the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve