The History of Hastings

A Member of the University of California Natural Reserve System 1970

The mission of the Natural Reserve System is to contribute to the understanding and wise management of the Earth and its natural systems by supporting university-level  teaching, research, and public service  at protected natural areas throughout  California.

Historically a cattle ranch, the Hastings Natural History Reservation became a Museum of Vertebrate Zoology biological field station in 1937 and joined the University of California Natural Reserve System at its formation in 1970. The land, along with many buildings built between the 1860s and 1950s, was donated by its namesake, the Hastings family. 

This 2,500-acre plot enjoys a moderate California climate with late summer temperatures reaching over 100°F and the occasional winter snowfall. South-facing slope at Hastings are steep and covered in chaparral, while the more gentle southeast and southwest-facing side provide a home for a mix of blue oak and native savanna. North-facing slopes support a dense mixed woodlands of live oak, poison oak, madrone, cherry, and buckeye trees. This hilly terrain creates a steady home for riparian forests, where you will find valley oaks, live oaks, willows and sycamores. Deep into the recesses of the wetter lowlands you can find alder and maple trees. The more gentle slopes of this land were cultivated from 1860 to 1937 and have become the home of widespread, non-native grasses and filaree.

Hastings includes 950 ha (ca. 2,500 ac.) and has been a biological field station of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ), University of California Berkeley, since 1937. Hastings Reserve joined the UC Natural Reserve System (NRS) at its formation in 1970. Originally a cattle ranch, much of the land was donated by the Hastings family. Most of the present buildings still in use were built between the 1860s and 1950s. Level fields are rare and small. Steep south-facing slopes are covered by hard chaparral (Adenostoma spp.). More gentle southeast and southwest-facing aspects support a mix of blue oak (Quercus douglasii) and scattered native savanna (Nassella pulchra / Q. douglasii). North-facing ridges support dense mixed woodlands of live oak (Q. agrifolia), poison oak (Toxicodendron), madrone (Arbutus), cherry (Prunus) and buckeye (Aesculus californica). Riparian forests are dominated by valley oak (Q. lobata), live oak (Q. agrifolia) and willow (Salix) with sycamore (Platanus). Alder and maple trees (AlnusAcer) occur in riparian stands in deep, shady recesses. Old fields that occur on Hastings’ gentle slopes were cultivated from 1860 to1937 and are now dominated by widespread, non-native, annual grasses (BromusAvenaVulpia) and filaree (Erodium spp.) with scattered valley oaks. Additional land is available for research and teaching in Carmel Valley (6,000 ha) on private lands through use agreements.

Uniqueness of the Site

Hastings is located in the Sierra de Salinas, on the most northerly end of the Santa Lucia Range that makes up the Big Sur wilderness of central, coastal California. Located about 26 river miles upstream of the Pacific Ocean on the Carmel River watershed, Hastings includes the confluence of three seasonal creeks that feed into Finch Creek, and then the Carmel River. Immediately adjacent to Hastings are a complex of vernal pools and springs that support the endangered California Red-legged Frog (Rana draytonii) and one of the few coastal populations of the federally listed, endemic California Tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) that have not hybridized with non-native tiger salamanders introduced from Texas and other western states to much of the Sierra de Salinas. Most of Hastings has not been grazed for 70 years, and the reserve is home to several rare, unplowed native perennial grasslands. All this lends high conservation interest and value to the reserve. Within driving distance are redwood forests, coastal terrace grasslands, central valley foothills, some of the most productive farmland in the world, stands of endemic pine and cypress, and diverse, endemic shrub communities.

Hastings is unique in California in that it has over 70 years of intensive observation and collection effort in an area that has been carefully protected to reduce human impacts. Complete collections of invertebrates, plants, and vertebrates are curated at Hastings or in nearby institutions. Over 30 long-term ecological data sets have been compiled on plants and animals at Hastings. Many other ecological data sets are also available. Its archives are cataloged at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and finding aids are posted on the Online Archive of California.

Present Day Facilities

The reservation can house a maximum of 55 people in cabins and ranch houses that vary from rustic to modern. Twenty-five buildings are currently being maintained. Seven are used for research and/or administration year-round (Office, Davis Lab, Museum, Work Shop, Linsdale Library, and Hastings Lab). Nine provide housing for long-term researchers, interns, or class visits (Hastings Cabin, Stucco House, School House, Red Houses 1 & 2, Ranch House, Bunk House Cottage, Fanny’s Cabin and Robertson House). The Lower Barn is used for storage and provides a large, dry workroom for researchers. The Hallisey House provide housing for on-site staff. The Tack Room and Scott Cabin are historic buildings, dating from the 1860’s and continue to be used for storing historic ranch items and field equipment.

70 years of ecological research

From the 1930’s to the 1980’s, housing for researchers consisted of three redwood board/bat summer cabins; the Bunkhouse, the Hastings Cabin and the Red House. All were primitive structures with wood stoves but had running water and septic systems. In 1988, Fanny Arnold began the addition of an area of about 380 ac. to Hasting that included two residential structures, the 5-bedroom Robertson House and single bedroom Fanny’s Cabin. Fanny also provided funds for the replacements of the 3-bedroom Bunk House and Lower Barn, and renovations of the Hastings Cabin, Robertson House, and the historic Scott Barn. These dramatically increased housing for researchers from 1989 to 1993. In 1992, a new water distribution and storage system was installed, including 20,000 gal. of new storage, 4,000 feet of 60 distribution lines, and 6 new fire hydrants and risers. In 2000, the entry road was rebuilt and surfaced, improving the dirt road and ensuring access to the housing from the county road. Support from National Science Foundation allowed construction of a modern building (720 ft. sq) that supports a wet laboratory and DNA fingerprinting facility used primarily by Hastings resident staff. This Hastings Lab provides several facilities for visiting researchers as well, including lab bench space, ultra-cold freezer, computer access, and a hood. Visiting researchers have used the space for a variety of purposes, including the set up of various analytical devices brought in as part of their work, such as gas chromatographs. In 2003, the UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Research and the Arnold family provided funds for a 960 square foot conference room with a kitchen for class and group use. In 2003-2004, a new trail was built along 3.8 miles of Poison Oak Hill that allows research on about 1,000 ac. of oak woodland. Two new modular homes, with accommodations for 8 people, were constructed with the help of Fanny Arnold in 2009 in the location of the former Red House.

Hastings has modern communications, including T1 internet access, with wireless (802.11x) coverage of much of the central reserve. Hastings provides phones, fax, computers, and printers to support research and teaching.

Hastings Administration

Hastings Reserve is administered by the MVZ Director (Michael Nachman), a Faculty Director at MVZ (Eileen Lacey), and a Resident Director who lives at Hastings (Jen Hunter). As part of the UC Natural Reserve System, Hastings follows the management guidelines of the NRS (UCOP). Each campus has an NRS advisory committee to oversee the reserves associated with each campus. To further facilitate coordination and sharing services, the Berkeley Natural History Museums consortium was created to include the six campus natural history museums (Vertebrate Zoology, Paleontology, Entomology, Herbaria, Botanic Garden, Anthropology) and field stations (Hastings Reserve, Angelo Coast Reserve, Central Sierra Snow Lab, Pygmy Forest Reserve, Onion Creek Experimental Forest, Sagehen Creek Field Station, Chickering American River Reserve, and the Gump Biological Research Station in Moorea). Operations at Hastings are the responsibility of the Resident Director. The Director of MVZ hires administrative staff and manages the academic program including the Hastings staff. MVZ also manages the yearly operating budget and capital expenditures. Research and teaching applications are managed on-line with an interactive database.

Research at Hastings

Hastings has about 50 ongoing research projects, including botany, zoology, geology, soils, and physics. Most of the research at Hastings is directly based on long-term studies or plots with data made available over long time intervals. Hastings also attracts researchers investigating regional patterns that depend on Hastings long-term presence to find suitable protected study sites in the area. Most graduate students, from an increasing number of colleges in California, other states, and many countries have sought out Hastings for these reasons. About 500 research publications and 100 ecological data sets have been produced at Hastings. These publications and data sets can be searched online.

Teaching at Hastings

Hastings supports University-level teaching. About 12 courses are taught each year by visiting faculty from UC, CSU and other colleges from across the country. Hastings has participated for many years in K-12 education, including a local family art education through a community college program, K-12 outreach with the local school district funded by UC, and recently a larger program at UCB that involves graduate students and teachers working with the Berkeley Natural History Museums and underserved Bay Area K-12 students.