California

Little Sur River

Conserving a prime steelhead stream in the heart of Big Sur by returning ancestral lands to the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County

Lupines bloom on a hillside on the ranch that WRC conserved in partnership with the Esselen Tribe. Pico Blanco stands tall in the background, with the Little Sur River canyon below.
Lupines bloom on a hillside on the ranch that WRC conserved in partnership with the Esselen Tribe. Pico Blanco stands tall in the background, with the Little Sur River canyon below.
Photography | Doug Steakley
The Esselen Tribe of Monterey County’s first ceremony in 250 years on reclaimed ancestral homelands. WRC worked in partnership with the tribe to conserve the 1,199-acre Adler ranch along the Little Sur River.
The Esselen Tribe of Monterey County’s first ceremony in 250 years on reclaimed ancestral homelands. WRC worked in partnership with the tribe to conserve the 1,199-acre Adler ranch along the Little Sur River.
Photography | Matthew Pendergast
The Little Sur River is considered one of Central California's most important streams for threatened South-Central Coast steelhead.
The Little Sur River is considered one of Central California's most important streams for threatened South-Central Coast steelhead.
Photography | Doug Steakley
The property that WRC and the Esselen Tribe conserved is home to large madrones (pictured), extensive chaparral shrublands, beautiful old oak trees and old growth redwoods.
The property that WRC and the Esselen Tribe conserved is home to large madrones (pictured), extensive chaparral shrublands, beautiful old oak trees and old growth redwoods.
Photography | Kodiak Greenwod
The Little Sur River was identified as key part of the Big Sur Stronghold for threatened South-Central California Coast steelhead, which migrate each year from the Pacific Ocean into the Little Sur. Conservation of the river is critical to the protection of this imperiled fish.
The Little Sur River was identified as key part of the Big Sur Stronghold for threatened South-Central California Coast steelhead, which migrate each year from the Pacific Ocean into the Little Sur. Conservation of the river is critical to the protection of this imperiled fish.
Photography | Pat Clayton
Overlooking the Little Sur River canyon on the property that WRC conveyed to the Esselen Tribe.
Overlooking the Little Sur River canyon on the property that WRC conveyed to the Esselen Tribe.
Photography | Kodiak Greenwood
The Little Sur River
The Little Sur River
Photography | Doug Steakley
Looking west to the Pacific Ocean from the former Adler Ranch, now in the hands of the Esselen Tribe, the new caretakers of these lands.
Looking west to the Pacific Ocean from the former Adler Ranch, now in the hands of the Esselen Tribe, the new caretakers of these lands.
Photography | Kodiak Greenwood
Surveying the Little Sur River.
Surveying the Little Sur River.
Photography | Doug Steakley

Amidst the world's southernmost naturally occurring redwoods and within earshot of the waves of the Big Sur coastline, Western Rivers Conservancy has worked in partnership with the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County to conserve a 1,199-acre ranch along the Little Sur River. This important central California stream flows just over 25 miles from its headwaters in the Santa Lucia Mountains, within the Ventana Wilderness, down into a deep, redwood-shaded valley and into the Pacific, just north of Andrew Molera State Park.

The Little Sur winds through an area that provides excellent habitat for imperiled wildlife, including California spotted owl, endangered California condor and threatened California red-legged frog, as well as a wealth of other animals. The river is considered the Central Coast’s most important and pristine spawning stream for threatened south-central coast steelhead, which once returned to this stretch of the California coast by the tens of thousands. Today, it is likely that fewer than 100 fish return to the Little Sur River each year, making our efforts to conserve the stream vitally important.

Our focus is an undeveloped ranch at the edge of the Los Padres National Forest, 20 miles south of Monterey. By conserving the property, WRC has protected roughly a mile of the Little Sur River and majestic stands of old-growth redwood trees. Our efforts preserve important upland grasslands, oak woodlands and chaparral and madrone forest and ensure permanent habitat connectivity between the ocean and the crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains, all in an area of critical importance to coastal wildlife.

Thanks to funding from the California Natural Resources Agency, WRC conveyed the lands to the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, whose ancestors have lived in this area since time immemorial. The lands are sacred to the Esselen People and will be available to tribal members for traditional ceremonies, native plant gathering and repatriation of tribal members. In addition to managing the lands for the sake of fish, wildlife and conservation, the tribe plans to offer docent-led tours and activities for school children and the general public. For the Esselen People, for the area’s fish and wildlife, for the redwoods and oaks, and for the Little Sur River itself, this is a landmark conservation success on the Big Sur Coast.

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