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A partnership for scientific research in the Sierra Nevada foothills

The long-imagined UC Merced/SCICON Field Station was developed as a partnership between the University of California, Merced and the Tulare County Office of Education’s acclaimed outdoor education program as a research site for UC scientists to study the unique ecological issues of the Central Valley. The partnership plans to work with other land management agencies, including the National Park Service and neighboring Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. In addition, the field station will engage students and educators at the primary, secondary, and postsecondary levels in research and career development.


Land Use History

The Yokut—including 30 or more subtribes of the Yokut—and the Mono peoples were the first humans to live in the North Fork Tule River Valley and its surrounding foothills. The Yokut and the Mono peoples shaped and managed the landscape by collecting culturally significant plant species, using fire, and building villages. Signs of historic indigenous land management include bedrock mortars and former encampment sites. Today, the descendants of the Yokut and Mono peoples form the Tule River Indian Tribe of California. These communities continue to manage reservation lands south of Circle-J Norris ranch with goals of increased biodiversity, sustainable livestock grazing, and cultural youth education.

In the 19th century, White settlers arrived in this region and harvested timber from Giant Sequoia Groves in the Sierra Nevada. Settlers also came to an area north of this region to participate in the growing mining industry. In response to the growing mining industry, settlers in the North Fork Tule River Valley began grazing cattle and sheep. The cattle and sheep markets complimented growing mining communities and an increased demand for food and resources.

Since the 19th century, grazing has continued to support livelihoods in this region. Marion and Julia Anderson first  purchased Circle J-Norris Ranch and began keeping cattle with the Circle J brand in the 1920s. In the late 1940s Norman Norris and Cora Anderson Norris moved to the ranch permanently and continued the tradition grazing cattle with the Circle J brand. In 1997, Circle J-Norris Ranch began to serve as an outdoor classroom for Tulare County students. Then, in 2004, Norman and Cora Norris’ daughter Eleanor Norris sold the ranch to the Tulare County Office of Education to act as a secondary campus of nearby SCICON. Students of all ages visit the ranch year-round to conduct research, learn about grazing and blue oak woodland management, and enjoy the natural beauty of this special landscape.

Historically, the Norris and Corzine families have had at least sixty years of managing the Circle J Ranch. Circle J has primarily operated as a cattle ranch, with the exception of raising turkeys in the 1940s and 1950s. As noted in a recent 2019 NRCS grazing plan done in association with a recent EQUIP Contract the ranch will support year round grazing on years with “normal” rainfall with 60 cow/calf pairs, but cattle numbers would have to be lowered in years with inadequate precipitation to leave the necessary residual dry matter of at least 700 lbs per acre.