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Help protect the endangered Bakersfield cactus found solely in Kern

Posted at 3:48 AM, Nov 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-19 07:42:48-05

WIND WOLVES, Calif. (KERO) — Recently the California Rangeland Trust announced an agreement to permanently conserve over 14,000 acres on Wind Wolves Preserve here in Kern County. The preserve is a unique ecological region and it’s actually home to a number of different endangered species.

Out of the more than 1,800 known cactus species, about 1/3 of them are considered endangered. One of those species is named for the city it’s found in: the Bakersfield cactus.

With its dry heat and wide-open landscape, the southern borderlands of Kern County make for the perfect ecosystem for the Bakersfield cactus.

“They prefer dry soils, with little grass vegetation around them, so they don't have to compete with other plants,” said Travis Bibee, a ranger at Wind Wolves.

The cactus with its oblong pads is native and special to the Bakersfield and Kern areas. In the spring the cactus sprouts a magenta flower, adding a splash of color to the greenish-grey plant.

With the landscape and weather offering the perfect conditions for this cactus to thrive, why then has it been considered an endangered species for the last 30 years?

“Mainly just because of habitat loss, a lot of farming, a lot of different agricultural uses have removed some of the old sites from the cactus. So they're only found in the bordering foothills of southern Kern County,” Bibee explains. “It’s only found in this region. It's genetically distinct from other cactus from the Mojave desert, and actually, it's a good habitat for other species like kit foxes and burrowing owls. It helps bring diversity to those areas."

The destruction of the cactus habitat has been an ongoing issue since the 1930s. The formerly extensive tracts of Bakersfield cactus near Edison and Lamont were destroyed by the conversion of habitat for row crops.

Nearly 1/3 of the historic population has been eliminated, but you can find some protected at Wind Wolves and near Hart Park. However, the continued destruction of their habitats, use of off-highway vehicles, and trespassing on reserve lands — are only damaging the cactus further

"Humans have caused some of these species to become endangered and we need to be good stewards forward in coming out here, being out in nature, and protecting these species,” said Bibee.