Helping Our Peninsula's Environment
Status of Native Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata) Ecosystems, and

The First Monterey Pine Forest Ecosystem Conservation Plan

(c) Copyright 1995 - 2004 David Dilworth 

Updated July 1, 1999 & Feb - May 2004 

Present Distribution

Present distribution of native Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) populations is limited to approximately 9,000 - 11,000 acres in three (3) locations on the Pacific Coast of North America. There are only three small remaining California locations. By far the largest is in its namesake - Monterey. The other populations are at Ano Nuevo (north of Santa Cruz), Cambria (north of San Luis Obisbo). In 1908 the tree species inhabited two California islands, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz, but those are apparently now extirpated. 

Two tiny populations of a 2-needle variant occur on Mexican islands - Cedros and Guadalupe off the coast of Baja California. 

Radiata does not typically occur naturally more than about 7 miles from the Pacific coast or more than about 300 meters (1,000 feet) above sea level. The generally accepted explanation is the inland and altitude reach of summer fog - which can drip more than a half an inch of water per week.. The only places Monterey pine is found growing naturally above 800 feet ASL is where sea breezes ascend a coastal ridge causing fog to form. 

  1. Planted Trees



    Monterey pine or Pinus radiata grows worldwide on a minimum of 7 million planted acres of tree farms. This amount grows almost entirely in Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Spain and South Africa. Radiata at present takes up about 3% of the international trade in wood and wood products, and that is likely to double in the middle distant future. It is the leading exotic plantation species in New Zealand, Spain, Chile, and Australia. It is of lesser but still significant importance in S. Africa, Kenya, Argentina and Uruguay. Except for Christmas trees it is almost unknown as a farmed species in the U.S. Radiata is widely planted in temperate climates as an attractive, fast growing tree. 

    Radiata grown in tree farms are almost without exception hybrids, in most cases extreme hybrid clones originating from a single tree. In these tree farms all three types of diversity - genetic, species and community diversity is measurable and essentially non-existent. 

    The remainder of this article discusses only native radiata forest ecosystem habitat.

  3. Native Populations
The native population of Monterey pine and its habitat is a very different story. All three types of diversity - genetic, species and community diversity in these native forest ecosystems is very rich in all three measures. This rare forest supports some 19 other officially imperiled plant species. 

An analogy of the importance of native forest as opposed to a tree farm is described by Monterey Herald Columnist Bruce Cowan "In recent decades disease hit the domesticated tomato and corn crops in the U.S. and threatened to devastate our agriculture. Fortunately, wild tomato plants still existed in Peru, and the wild ancestor of corn in Mexico. Genes were found in these wild populations that proved resistant to the diseases.

    1. Monterey Peninsula (Monterey County 4500 - 6900 acres) 



      Jeffers Forest (~450 acres) is possibly the largest native Monterey pine forest in "good" health with the least contamination by hybrids. The Jacks Peak Park area has large core area stands surrounding it, but is known to have been genetically contaminated by extensive plantings of hybrid radiata on its tallest central ridge in the 1950's and 1960's. 

    3. Cambria (San Luis Obisbo County ~2300 acres) 



      None of the stands in Cambria are rated any better than "Fair" health by a forester. They are under severe stress with a high incidence of dwarf mistletoe, gall rust and have extensive infestations of bark beetle, and as of 2004 pitch canker. 

    5. Ano Nuevo (Santa Cruz County ~1500 acres)



      Ano Nuevo has been logged in the past and has some hybrid contamination. Those areas with genetic contamination are the healthy stands. The uncontaminated native stands with the exception of two stands totaling 44 acres, are not rated any better than "Fair" health by a forester. 

    7. Mexican Islands (Mexico ~450 acres)
The population on Guadalupe Island may have been lost. It had been rapidly declining and only 45 trees and no seedlings existed the last time a census was taken in 1988.    The pines on Cedros Island appear to have a stable population but "have been considered more closely related to the Bishop pine."    3. Changes in Historic Distribution
  One estimate suggests that in 1850, the total worldwide occupied habitat for Monterey pine was around 16,000 healthy, genetically diverse acres.  4. Healthy Remaining Habitat There is a significant difference between ecological health and health of a forest for timber purposes. Unfortunately, the only fairly complete native Monterey pine forest survey was done be a forester - who is not trained in forest ecology. His data had errors obvious even to a lay person. 

As of 2004, less than 2,500 acres are in good "lumber" health (as determined by the Pebble Beach Company paid forester - not an ecologist). When considering stands of good ecological health (especially biodiversity) there are possibly only as few as 600 total acres of native Monterey pine forest remaining in good ecological health. 

Extinction Threats - Historical and Present

Native Monterey pine ecosystems have been greatly lost to development, remain threatened by further cumulative development, overreliance on impermanent protection, invasive disease, genetic diversity loss from hybrid tree planting and active mismanagement by introduction of non-natural fires.

1. Historical Development

Since roughly the beginning of western human settlement in about 1850, development, by far, has been the main reason for the loss and fragmentation of radiata habitat area. The development of the cities of Pacific Grove, Monterey and Carmel and the unincorporated Pebble Beach area have destroyed more Monterey pine forest than all other threats combined. This has led to the decline in health for the majority of the remaining stands.  2. Proposed and Future Development Of the six remaining stands recognized as high quality native radiata forest, the largest in best health (Jeffers Forest owned by Pebble Beach Company) remains under immediate threat of development. As of April 2004 there is an active application to convert it into a golf course and mansions. The largest stand (Aguajito Property also owned by Pebble Beach Company) has plans drawn up for development in the next decade.  3. Impermanent Protection  - Permanent - Isn't.  Potential Loss of Areas Mistakenly Considered Protected. When Huffman (Pebble Beach Company Consultant) reports "the 25 natural and urban forest stands that are permanently protected within the County..." they define permanent far too strongly. 
  1. County Parks aren't Permanent. 



    The largest "permanently protected" stand described referred to by the report is Jacks Peak (630 acres) owned by Monterey County Parks. This is the very same agency which proposed in Nov 1994 to sell off a nearby "permanently protected" park near Mount Toro to build a golf course. Public outrage caused this proposal to be withdrawn. 

  3. California State Parks aren't Permanent 



    The third largest area Huffman described as "permanently protected" is Pt Lobos, sometimes referred to as the "Crown Jewel" in the California State Park system. Nevertheless during the California budget problems of 1991 the State seriously considered selling several state parks. 

    Federal Wilderness areas may be the strongest and longest lasting protection by designation of governmental agency, but still isn't necessarily permanent. A land swap of federal wilderness occurred in Carmel Valley - only some 6 miles from native radiata forests. This was intended to allow a for-profit dam to be built on land that is currently designated wilderness. 

  5. Deed Restrictions Can be Removed - Reversion Clauses Cannot.
Since Pebble Beach Company Land Use Lawyer Anthony Lombardo admits (brags) that he "removes deed restrictions all the time." The only method which appears permanently legally solid is a deed reversion clause.  4. Disease Monterey pines are harmed and killed be a wide variety of native and invasive pests including the red turpentine beetles, dwarf mistletoe and western gall rust. None of these poses a catastrophic threat. The largest current disease threat is a fungus called Pitch Canker.  Pitch Canker Fungus (Fusarium subglutanins f. sp. Pini, or Fusarium circinatum)
  1. History 



    The fungus was common in the southeastern United States previous to 1986. It was first detected in California and in pinus Radiata (Monterey pine) in 1986. In 1992 Carmel began a survey of infected trees, finding only one. By November 1993, 132 infected trees were found which began to awaken governmental and public concern. By 1996 the number of infected trees in Carmel had risen to 586. 

  3. Symptoms



    In certain observational plots, up to 85% of the Monterey Pine trees have become symptomatic. That is not to say the other 15 percent won't get the disease. Trees can have the disease at a cellular level without exhibiting human scale symptoms. 

  5. Mortality vs. Symptoms  



    In 1986 there was little data on the percent of symptomatic trees that die from the disease. Some symptomatic Monterey Pine trees have survived eight (8) years, others have died within two (2) years. While it may take up to a decade for the tree to die exclusively from the disease, trees weakened by fusarium are then susceptible to quick death from attack by bark beetles. As of 2004 some recent research estimates mortality up to 30%. 

  7. Susceptibility v. Resistance 



    There is some evidence that new growth has a higher rate of infection than mature tissue. Young trees appear to have a higher number of infections than mature trees. Planted trees seem to have a very high rate of infection. Trees in high humidity (near the ocean) seem to have higher rate of infection than trees in lower humidity (farther from ocean or higher in altitude). 

  9. Trees in deep core areas of a natural Monterey pine forest - away from human impacts appear significantly less affected than trees standing alone or those more exposed to human impacts by edge effect.
5. Genetic Bottlenecks by Hybrids Native forests lose genetic diversity when crowded out by Monterey pine hybrids and clones which are planted extensively worldwide. Monterey pine hybrids are known to have been widely planted on Jack's Peak Park's western ridge in Monterey and at Ano' Nuevo. Some local residents claim that much of Point Lobos State park was planted prior to the 1960s.    6. Active Mis-management with Artificial Fires
Even though there is zero direct evidence of Monterey pine forest ecosystems requiring fire for ecological health, some, presumably well intentioned, people have advocated and recently even started fires in the few remaining native Monterey pine forest ecosystems. 
Forest fires, of course, can easily get out of control and do widespread ecosystem and property damage. Worse, developers and loggers are known to have claimed "the burned forest is ruined, so let us log or develop there."
Imperiled Status

1. International

In 1986, before Pine Pitch Canker was found in California, the United Nations Department of Food and Agriculture, which analyzes and sets international policy for forest protection and sustainability, recognized the situation on a global scale and declared Monterey pine an Endangered Species. 2. National - United States In 1988(?) US-Fish & Wildlife Service added Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata) as a Federal Category 2 Candidate for Endangered Species Act protection where existing information indicates it may warrant listing.  3. National - New Zealand In 1994 New Zealand's Minister of Forestry, John Falloon, wrote an official letter to Monterey County expressing serious concern about the potential loss of genetic diversity in native Monterey pine forests.  4. State of California
    1. ESHA: The California Coastal Commission considers native Monterey pine forest ecosystems "Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area" which some consider more substantial protection than provided by endangered species laws. In 1984 they considered the loss of only nine acres a "substantial long-term impact."
    2. In 1993 the California Department of Fish and Game put Monterey pine on its "Special plants list."
    3. Sensitive: In 1999 the Monterey County General Plan Update staff considered Monterey pine a "Sensitive Resource" when they list it first, ahead of the live Oak, in the Slide show presentation - which is on their Web Site. 
5. Non-Governmental Expert Imperilment Opinions
  1. Rare: The Jepson Manual, a catalog of books considered the definitive encyclopedia for California plants and trees, states that Monterey pine is "rare.
  2. Endangered: In 1994 without knowing of the United Nation's declaration, the legislatively recognized California Native Plant Society strengthened its concern of Monterey Pine by rating it "1B". Their only stronger rating is "1A" which means extinct - gone forever - like the Mammoth. 
  3. Endangered: The April 6, 1994 Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Pebble Beach Lot program expressed concern that the project could cause "endangerment to the Monterey pine species itself.
Monterey Pine Imperiled before Pine Pitch Canker - remains Imperiled even if Pine Pitch Canker were zero threat - which it is not.

Pebble Beach Company has paid biologists (notably not ecologists) to claim that Monterey pine forests' imperilment is overstated. In 2004 Zander claimed that because the pitch canker threat is not as large as it was once estimated, that Monterey pines are now safe. 

This claim's fatal flaw is that all the respected agencies and experts found Monterey pine to be imperiled prior to 1994, before the threat of pitch canker emerged. In April 1994 the Pebble Beach Company Lot Program Draft EIR even stated "It is too early to evaluate the effects of this pathogen ..." 

Note 1. Pebble Beach Company (PBC) has bitterly fought all governmental protection for imperiled species on their property including the California ESA Listing for Monterey pine and the Federal ESA Listing of Yadon's Rein Orchid. 

The only so-called "experts" who have disputed the imperiled status of the Monterey Pine Forest ecosystems are those directly paid by PBC (Hoffman, Zander) or their research projects are directly funded by PBC (Storer and Wood). Huffman's conclusions are easily and entirely refuted and none of Pebble Beach Company consultants are trained Forest Ecologists. 

State, Federal and International Agency Plans and Actions

1. Agency Plans

There are no known management plans from state or federal agencies. The Management Plan at the end of the review is the first Monterey Pine Forest Ecosystem Conservation Plan 2. Federal & State Protection Actions. None. Other than research there are no state or federal protection efforts. There is no native radiata on any federal property including BLM land, Wilderness areas or U.S. National Forest land. California's Point Lobos State Park contains somewhat less than 400 acres. Unfortunately there is some evidence that this population was heavily planted with hybrid (genetically uniform or contaminated) seed by the U.S. military during World War II.  3. Research There are dozens of studies on radiata.  There is current genetic research to identify a radiata strain that would be resistant to the Pitch Canker. 

However even if successful, a resistant clone or strain can never replace, supplant or recreate the existing natural radiata forest ecosystems' genetic diversity or genetic adaptability. 

Protection Needed

1. The population dynamics of Monterey pine remain mostly unknown. 

No one knows exactly how much Monterey pine forest ecosystem habitat must be protected from development to ensure its permanent healthy self-sustainable survival. We do know the central principles of Conservation Biology.  For a natural habitat to be self-sustaining these rules apply: 
  • Bigger areas are better,  
  • Untouched habitat is better than human managed habitat,  
  • A single large habitat is better than several small ones of same total area,  
  • Connected habitat is better than fragmented habitat,  
  • Large native animals are better than none.  
  • Overprotection is far safer than underprotection.  
Overprotection can be easily reversed, underprotection often cannot be reversed at all. Even when underprotection can be reversed it is often magnitudes more expensive than if the original natural phenomena was purchased for protection outright. 2. Turning these principles into quantitative values -  We also know the smallest native Monterey pine forest stand found to be in at least "Good" health (by a forester - not an ecologist) is a 36 acre parcel which is a subset of a 56 acre stand. This stand is surrounded by recent development so it can not yet be concluded that a 56 acre stand can remain perpetually healthy and self-sustaining. 

The next smallest healthy stand is some 105 acres. This stand has had less development induced fragmentation and edge effects. However, a highly traveled road was paved through it in 1985. As of 2004 the forest is suffering from the impacts of vehicles, dog walkers and children. Sustainability cannot be insured for this 105 acre area if any significant population dynamic "cycle" exceeds 100 or even 20 years, which is highly likely since the lifespan of the dominant species is 80 - 180 years. If so, larger areas with more insulation from man-made impacts may be needed. Notably, this 105 acre stand has had very low seedling regeneration for the past 20-25 years. 

Losing just nine acres of native Monterey pine forest is a Substantial ... Long-Term impact In 1984 The California Coastal Commission recognized how important just a few acres of native Monterey Pine ecosystem are to its protection and recovery. "The approximately 9 acres of native Monterey pine forest to be cleared for the golf course represents a substantial long-term impact." - Spanish Bay Project Final approval 1984 pg 25.  3. Summary
  • So - all native Monterey pine forest stands of 36 acres or more should be permanently protected, and  
  • No more than nine acres should be cumulatively removed.  
Conservative caution requires us to not cumulatively lose even one more acre of native Monterey pine forest ecosystem. 


  This means we must protect --
  • All remaining Native Monterey pine forest ecosystem habitat. 
  1. The highest priorities should be the forests with the largest diameter core areas, the largest areas farthest from edge effects - Jeffers Forest in Pebble Beach and the areas surrounding Jack's Peak. 
  2. Next in priority are those other areas described in the otherwise discredited Huffman (PBC Consultant) Report as: "Remaining native Radiata habitat in Good Health." 
  3. Preserving these areas will allow the best defense to combat both loss of habitat from development and retain maximum genetic diversity for resisting the current threat from Pitch Canker, and future attacks by other diseases. 
  4. Additionally, it would be wise to similarly protect those adjacent areas of the next highest heath rating, "Fair." Contiguousness provides a buffer from man-made insults and insurance where we have underestimated either the threats or overestimated our conservation acts. 
Legal Mechanisms to Protect - 
    1. Downzoning - All Native Monterey Pine Forest must be rezoned as permanent Conservation land.
    2. Purchase
    3. Reversion Clause in Deed Restriction - This would return ownership to a different person, agency or non-profit entity anytime the current owner either made an application for development or cumulatively damaged any ecosystem values. This is used extensively by the Pebble Beach Company.
Feedback - Info(at)
831 / 624-6500 P.O. Box 1495, Carmel, CA 93921

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This Page Last Updated May 12, 2004
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