The San Joaquin Valley Bioregion -- An Overview

The San Joaquin Valley Bioregion in the heart of California is the state's top agricultural producing region, sometimes called “the nation's salad bowl” for the great array of fruits and vegetables grown in its fertile soil. The bioregion is bordered on the west by the coastal mountain ranges. Its eastern boundary joins the southern two-thirds of the Sierra bioregion, which features Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks.

Location, Cities, People
Eight counties comprise the San Joaquin Valley bioregion, including all of Kings County, most of Fresno, Kern, Merced, and Stanislaus counties, and portions of Madera, San Luis Obispo, Tulare counties. This growing bioregion, the third most populous out of ten, has an estimated 2 million people, according to 1990 census data. The largest cities are Fresno, Bakersfield, Modesto, and Stockton. Some of California's poorest cities are in Fresno, Kern, and Tulare counties. At its northern end, the San Joaquin Valley bioregion borders the southen end of the Sacramento Valley bioregion. To the west, south, and east, the bioregion extends to the edges of the valley floor. Native people of the bioregion include the Mono and Yokut Indians. Native lands include the Tule River Indian Reservation in Tulare County, Cold Springs Rancheria, and Table Mountain and Big Sandy Reservations in Fresno County, and Santa Rosa Rancheria in Kings County.

Interstate 5 and State Highway 99 are the major north-south roads that run the entire length of the bioregion. Other main routes include State Highways 33, 41, 43, 65, 132, 140, 178, 180, and 198.

Tourist Attractions, Industries
Peaches, pears, and plums
Summer fruit
The San Joaquin Valley is California's leading agricultural producing bioregion, and five of its counties -- Fresno, Kern, Tulare, Merced, and Stanislaus-- rank among the state's top 10 counties in farm production value. Oil and gas also are important industries in the San Joaquin bioregion. The deepest wells and about half of the largest oil fields are found in Kern County, as is the Elkhorn Hills Naval Petroleum Reserve. Lemoore Naval Air Station west of Visalia also is in this bioregion.

Climate and Geography
Well-suited for farming, the bioregion is hot and dry in summer with long, sunny days. Winters are moist and often blanketed with heavy fog. The broad, flat valley is ringed by the Diablo and Coast Ranges on the west and the Sierra Nevada foothills on the east. Habitat includes vernal pools, valley sink scrub and saltbush, freshwater marsh, grasslands, arid plains, orchards, and oak savannah. The growth of agriculture in the Central Valley has converted much of the historic native grassland, woodland, and wetland to farmland.

The major river is the San Joaquin, with tributaries of the lower Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced, and Fresno rivers. The California Aqueduct extends the entire length of the bioregion. The southern portion of the bioregion includes the Kings, Kaweah, and Kern rivers, which drain into closed interior basins. No significant rivers or creeks drain into the valley from the Coast Range.

Plants and Wildlife
Historically, millions of acres of wetlands flourished in the bioregion, but stream diversions for irrigation dried all but about 5 percent. Precious remnants of this vanishing habitat are protected in the San Joaquin Valley bioregion in publicly owned parks, reserves, and wildlife areas. Seasonal wetlands are found at the Kern National Wildlife Refuge west of Delano, owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It attracts a variety of ducks, shorebirds, and song birds, as well as peregrine falcons.

Red Tailed Hawk

The Tule Elk State Reserve west of Bakersfield, owned by the state Department of Parks and Recreation, features the habitat of the tule elk -- natural grassland with ponds and marshes. The reserve sustains four endangered species -- the San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, San Joaquin antelope squirrel, and Tipton kangaroo rat -- the threatened plant Hoover's woolystar, and other rare species, such as western pond turtles, tricolored blackbird, and northern harrier. Endangered species of the bioregion also include the California tiger salamander, Swainson's hawk, and giant and Fresno kangaroo rat. Other rare species include the western yellow-billed cuckoo and valley elderberry longhorn beetle.

About one-fifth of the state's remaining cottonwood and willow riparian forests are found along the Kern River in the South Fork Wildlife Area. Great blue herons, beavers, coyotes, black bears, mountain lions, red-shouldered hawks, and mule deer can be seen in the wildlife area. Other wildlife viewing sites are Millerton Lake State Recreation Area west of Madera, Little Panoche Wildlife Area near Los Banos, and the Valley Grasslands of Merced County, which attract 500,000 to 1 million birds each winter to lands owned by the state Departments of Fish and Game and Parks and Recreation, Fish and Wildlife Service, and privately. The San Luis Dam and Reservoir area, jointly operated by the state Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, draws wintering bald eagles, abundant ducks, gopher snakes, San Joaquin kit foxes, and black-tailed deer.

Rare plants in the bioregion include Mason's lilaeopsis, San Joaquin woollythreads, and California hibiscus.

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