Hungry Valley Native Grasslands
Large tracts of land throughout the state of California were once dominated by native perennial bunchgrasses, but only about 1% of California’s valley grasslands remain in their original pristine condition. The original California valley grasslands contained such bunchgrasses as purple needlegrass, nodding needlegrass, pine bluegrass, big squirrel-tail grass and wild ryegrass. These native grasslands also contained wildflowers and herbs that produce spectacular displays of color during spring months. This rare and beautiful community of plants still exists in a few small pockets spread across the state. One of these locations is at the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA).
During the formation of Hungry Valley SVRA, an ecologist from California State Parks recognized a unique, six-square-mile area along the northern boundary of the park, which contained the native valley grassland plant community. A 1981 management plan recommended that the entire 4,200 acres be set aside as the “Hungry Valley Native Grasslands Management Area” (NGMA). Vehicular recreation is still allowed in this area; however, vehicles are required to stay on officially designated roads and trails to protect this sensitive plant community.
The NGMA is an area of scenic, windswept beauty and a great place for the plant and wildlife enthusiast to visit. Spectacular displays of California poppies are seen in this area from April through June. Mariposa lilies usually show themselves in May. Orange fiddlenecks, red penstemons and violet lupines can be seen throughout the spring and summer months. The bunchgrasses grow in dense upright tufts, and using moisture from the winter rains, they produce rapid new growth and seed between April and June. During this time, large stands of nodding needlegrass can be seen on the NGMA slopes, waving in the wind. The rolling topography of Hungry Valley’s NGMA not only improves the habitat for the bunchgrasses that prefer slopes, but it also provides breathtaking vistas and panoramic views.
The goal of the Hungry Valley NGMA is to protect, maintain and enhance the native grasses. Now that the area is protected from future agricultural activities and motor vehicle access is tightly controlled, the major remaining threat to this area is that native grasses could be competitively displaced by invasive introduced plants such as yellow star thistle, Dalmatian toadflax, pampas grass, giant cane, and a myriad of annual grasses. A program to remove the star thistle, pampas grass and giant cane has been implemented with great success. However, the invasive Dalmatian toadflax is so widespread that its removal could be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Hungry Valley staff uses an integrated invasive plant management plan to combat the toadflax. All of this work is very labor-intensive and time-consuming. However, by waging a continual battle, we are controlling the spread of this invasive plant species.
The Hungry Valley NGMA is continually monitored for any disturbance or change in the health of the plant community. Revegetation of disturbed areas is done with native bunchgrass seedlings propagated at the park from locally collected seeds. With diligent efforts, we can preserve this rare and beautiful native grassland for future generations to enjoy.