Volunteers plant coastal sage scrub.

Restoring natural characteristics of a Southern California wetland.

Habitat Restoration Projects in San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve

The reserve encompasses a variety of habitats. One thing they all have in common is that they have been impacted in some way by our surrounding communities. Early European settlers farmed the floodplains and terraces, and more modern inhabitants erected roads, trains, and bridges. Conservancy staff work to mitigate the impacts of our built environment by restoring native habitat in numerous reserve locations. Below are some general descriptions of our restoration efforts, with links to more specific information.

Conservancy biologists rely on a variety of resources to accomplish our habitat restoration work. We write grant proposals for funding from public agencies and private foundations, and we develop strategic partnerships with skilled habitat restoration professionals. Importantly, we rely on the community to pitch in and help.

Lagoon Platoon
Conservancy biologists train volunteers in habitat restoration techniques, and then work together to remove unwanted vegetation, plant natives, install protective fencing, and maintain trails to protect sensite habitats. For more information about how you or your business can get involved, please visit our Community Habitat Restoration Lagoon Platoon site.

Restoration Overview

San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is transitioning from open water and mudflat habitats to salt marsh and riparian habitat as a result of urban pressures. Highways, a railroad, and nearby infrastructure all contribute to restricted tidal flushing and degraded water quality in the reserve.

As population expands in Southern California, the ecology of the wetland will continue to be impacted by both historical and future development.

There is a long-range plan under way to restore the lagoon to a more natural state. San Elijo Lagoon is a biodiversity hot spot, one of few remaining wetlands in Southern California. At nearly 1,000-acres the reserve hosts more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, many rare and endangered. Seven miles of trails for hiking, bird watching, and wildlife photography offer people a natural environment for solace and inspiration.

Wetlands are essential to our quality of life. Especially in densely-populated areas, these native habitats provide peaceful places to connect with nature. It is only through experience, and recreation, that we gain a better appreciation for conserving natural history and ecology.


Ford Wildlife Habitat Preserve Restoration Site
This site has been used for a variety of uses in the past including cattle grazing. More recently it became infested with exotic acacia and eucalyptus trees that offer minimal habitat to native animals. The conservancy initiated a riparian restoration project in the Escondido Creek floodplain in September 2012. Biologists with San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy's Habitat Management Program oversee the removal of non-native plant species in the Ford Wildlife Habitat Preserve, which is just upstream of San Elijo Lagoon. This 33-acre preserve (no public access) provides important habit for Great Horned Owls, coyotes, mule deer, and endangered birds, such as Least Bell's Vireo. These animals depend on native riparian vegetation to survive and thrive. Great communities and healthy lagoons depend upon unrestricted waterflow. Most of the watershed drains along Escondido Creek through this property.


Four acres adjacent to Coast Highway 101 
A separate, but interconnected habit restoration project is focused in the four-acre coastal dunes site of San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve. This extremely rare ecosystem is all but nonexistent in Southern California. Public access is restricted because the dunes host sensitive and endangered plant and animal species, such as the Western Snowy Plover, silvery legless lizard, and California Least Tern, among others. For more information, read more about the project here.


Santa Carina and Stonebridge Habitat Restoration Sites
These sites were used by Native Americans to process seafood easily acquired from nearby coastal areas. European settlers transformed them to dry-land farming sites, growing olives and lima beans. The result are areas covered in non-native grasses that do not offer structural habitat important to native avian species. Beginning in 2011, the conservancy has been controlling the spread of invasive grasses and shrubs at the upland habitats of Santa Carina and Stonebridge areas, and revegetating with native plants. The goal at these sites is the reestablishment of high-quality habitat for native wildlife such as California Gnatcatcher and Thrasher.




San Elijo Lagoon Restoration
Restoration Overview

Freshwater Riparian Restoration
Ford Wildlife Habitat Preserve

Coastal Dunes Restoration
Four acres adjacent to Coast Highway 101

Coastal Sage Scrub Restoration
(Page under review)

Lagoon Platoon Community Habitat Restoration
Monthly volunteer habitat restoration


Barry Lindgren, Associate Director
San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy
barry [at] sanelijo [dot] org
(760) 436-3944 x 704


 Southern mule deer