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Forest and Bay


Natural History of the Elfin Forest

At the end of the last ice age 18,000 years ago, the Elfin Forest did not exist. The land upon which it now grows was radically different from what it is today. The sea level at that time was more than 400 feet lower than today. The shoreline was 6 to 7 miles farther to the west, and there was a deep river valley at the Forest’s current location. The climate was also very different. It was cooler and wetter, much like what is now found along the Northern California and Oregon coasts. The plants and animals were about the same as on those coasts now, with the probable addition of grizzly bears, mammoths, giant bearsloths, saber toothed tigers, camels,and other now-extinct animals.

During the next 13,000 years the seas rose close to their current levels. Sometime during that period great sand dunes filled the river valley, and the current topography of Baywood Park/Los Osos came into existence. The sand dunes on which the Elfin Forest now sits are over 300 feet high, and only about one half that height is above the level of the current bay.

As the climate became drier, the rainforest community was replaced by predominately coastal marine chaparral and dune scrub communities. Because of the lack of nutrients and moisture, these plant and animal communities are very fragile and take a long time to recover when disturbed.

The archaeological record indicates that humans were occupying the area during at least the last 9,000 years. Probably from its earliest existence the Forest was used seasonally for hunting and gathering, i.e. there was probably never a time when the Elfin Forest was not at least minimally shaped by human activity. The seasonal use by Native Americans ceased about 500 years ago – a time coinciding with the arrival of diseases that traveled up the coast from the first European contact far to the south.

Two hundred years later the Europeans arrived in this region in person, bringing with them cattle and many plant species. A rapid change took place in the region which clearly shows in the rate of sedimentation of the bay. Part of that sedimentation was caused by the direct impact of cattle grazing.