Lake Earl Wildlife Area

The Lake Earl Wildlife Area has been identified as one of California’s nineteen most productive wetlands. Located approximately seven miles north of Crescent City, in Del Norte County, the Lake Earl Wildlife Area lies in the Smith River plain. Though called “lakes,” the Lake Earl/Tolowa complex is actually an estuarine lagoon that is fed by heavy winter rains, several creeks in the coastal plain, and extensive groundwater sources, and is periodically open to the ocean. A large sandbar separates the lagoon from the Pacific Ocean, which periodically breaches, either naturally or mechanically, opening the lagoon to the ocean. The sand then builds back up over time, and the lagoon closes.

This lagoon and its surrounding wetlands were identified as a DFW acquisition priority in 1975. It provides habitat for at least 14 federally listed, California Species of Special Concern, or rare and endemic species, including bald eagle, peregrine falcon, western snowy plover, marbled murrelet, sand dune phacelia, Oregon silverspot butterfly, seaside hoary elfin and greenish blue butterflies, tidewater goby, green sturgeon, coho salmon, steelhead, and coastal cutthroat trout. The California Species of Special Concern list includes 40 bird species found at Lake Earl. In addition to the listed species, other species recorded at Lake Earl include over 300 bird species, 21 species of fish and at least 40 species of mammals. The area also lies within the Del Norte Coast Important Bird Area, which the Audubon Society has identified as one of the most ornithologically significant coastal bird areas in the State.

These sensitive habitat and recreational lands are protected through the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Lake Earl Wildlife Area, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s Tolowa Dunes State Park. Beginning in 1977, a series of State acquisitions were completed to preserve and protect sensitive habitat land. However, the complexity of negotiating with over 1,000 individual lot owners in the undeveloped Pacific Shores subdivision and continuing controversy over development proposals, the Pacific Shores lots remained largely in private ownership until 2007.

The Smith River Alliance, in cooperation with the Coastal Conservancy, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Wildlife Conservation Board, restarted the program to assess the feasibility of purchasing additional lots in the Pacific Shores subdivision from willing sellers in early 2020. The Pacific Shores subdivision consists largely of sensitive dune and wetland habitat, which was subdivided in the 1960’s into approximately half-acre lots and sold to individual lot owners. However, because of the sensitive habitat, natural hazards, water quality concerns, and difficulty in siting development and infrastructure such as sewage and water systems, the Coastal Commission has not certified the subdivision, and it remains undeveloped.

The Lake Earl Wildlife Area has been identified as one of California’s nineteen most productive wetlands. Located approximately seven miles north of Crescent City, in Del Norte County, the Lake Earl Wildlife Area lies in the Smith River plain. Though called “lakes,” the Lake Earl/Tolowa complex is actually an estuarine lagoon that is fed by heavy winter rains, several creeks in the coastal plain, and extensive groundwater sources, and is periodically open to the ocean. A large sandbar separates the lagoon from the Pacific Ocean, which periodically breaches, either naturally or mechanically, opening the lagoon to the ocean. The sand then builds back up over time, and the lagoon closes.

This lagoon and its surrounding wetlands were identified as a DFW acquisition priority in 1975. It provides habitat for at least 14 federally listed, California Species of Special Concern, or rare and endemic species, including bald eagle, peregrine falcon, western snowy plover, marbled murrelet, sand dune phacelia, Oregon silverspot butterfly, seaside hoary elfin and greenish blue butterflies, tidewater goby, green sturgeon, coho salmon, steelhead, and coastal cutthroat trout. The California Species of Special Concern list includes 40 bird species found at Lake Earl. In addition to the listed species, other species recorded at Lake Earl include over 300 bird species, 21 species of fish and at least 40 species of mammals. The area also lies within the Del Norte Coast Important Bird Area, which the Audubon Society has identified as one of the most ornithologically significant coastal bird areas in the State.

These sensitive habitat and recreational lands are protected through the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Lake Earl Wildlife Area, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s Tolowa Dunes State Park. Beginning in 1977, a series of State acquisitions were completed to preserve and protect sensitive habitat land. However, the complexity of negotiating with over 1,000 individual lot owners in the undeveloped Pacific Shores subdivision and continuing controversy over development proposals, the Pacific Shores lots remained largely in private ownership until 2007.

The Smith River Alliance, in cooperation with the Coastal Conservancy, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Wildlife Conservation Board, restarted the program to assess the feasibility of purchasing additional lots in the Pacific Shores subdivision from willing sellers in early 2020. The Pacific Shores subdivision consists largely of sensitive dune and wetland habitat, which was subdivided in the 1960’s into approximately half-acre lots and sold to individual lot owners. However, because of the sensitive habitat, natural hazards, water quality concerns, and difficulty in siting development and infrastructure such as sewage and water systems, the Coastal Commission has not certified the subdivision, and it remains undeveloped.

History

The land around Lake Earl has been a conservation priority since 1975.

Plants

The land is alive with over 500 plant species.

Why is it Important?

Learn more about the new effort to complete the Lake Earl Wildlife Area.

For Landowners

Do you own land in or near the Pacific Shores Subdivision?

Birds

The Lake Earl Wildlife Area is visited by over 300 bird species.