History of Mather Field

Vernal pools were once common in the grasslands around Sacramento, especially in the vicinity of Mather Field. The vast majority of pools have since disappeared under the plow or in the wake of expanding urban development. Experts estimate that we now see fewer than 10 percent of the vernal pools that existed in California in John Sutter’s time.

As late as 1869, when John Muir began writing his glowing essays on California, he had this to say:

The Great Central Plain of California, during the months of March, April, and May, was one smooth, continuous bed of honey-bloom, so marvelously rich that, in walking from one end of it to the other, a distance of more than 400 miles, your foot would press about a hundred flowers at ever step… The radiant honey-full corollas, touching and overlapping, and rising above one another, glowed in the living light like a sunset sky – one sheet of purple and gold.

A portion of the Mather Field vernal pools escaped destruction and stand as a testimony to the truth of his words. Throughout most of the 20th century they were protected from encroaching urban development by the fences of the Air Force Base.  Although many acres of vernal pools were destroyed during 80 years of Air Force occupation, those that remain constitute over ten percent of all the vernal pools left within the Sacramento County Urban Services Boundary.

This repository of vernal pools at Mather is made all the more valuable because of the continuing loss of vernal pools all around it. As Sacramento sprawls further to the south and east, the number of pools grows smaller every year. Despite environmental laws designed to preserve wetlands, thousands of acres of Sacramento County’s vernal pool grassland have been converted to vineyards, subdivisions, roads, and gravel mines in the last few years and more losses are anticipated.

These mounting losses place an increasingly high priority on establishing a large, sustainable preserve at Mather Field for the benefit of the hundreds of species it supports, as well as the children who flock to Mather Field for a chance to step off the pavement and into the wild.