Elephant Hill Community Nature Celebration and Habitat Survey
Written by Lila Higgins
Reviewed by Sam Tayag, Elva Yanez
Relatively unknown to outsiders, Elephant Hill is a 110-acre plot of land sitting in the north-western corner of the El Sereno neighborhood. It is a beautiful open space with hilltops that offer amazing views of Downtown Los Angeles and nearby mountains, local topography, and surrounding neighborhoods. It is cherished by locals for its accessibility and for its wildlife. So far, 20-acres of Elephant Hill have been protected from development through grassroots community action, however, it is relatively understudied and unprotected. This is changing thanks to the efforts of community members.
Why Elephant Hill?
Elephant Hill is an unusual name for a place thousands of miles from the nearest wild elephant. The story goes that it got its name from police helicopters flying overhead and officers thought the area looked like the outline of an elephant. Some locals prefer to call the place ‘The Heavens’. As you stand on top of the hills with the breeze blowing in your face looking down on the houses and streets below, it is easy to understand why. Whatever it is called, the place is very special to many people who live in the neighboring communities.
The Community Bands Together
Over the years community members have joined together to help clean up and protect these hills with groups like Save Elephant Hill and Heroes of Elephant Hill. Nearly 20 years ago, Elva Yañez, a long-time community organizer and resident who lives next door to the space, teamed up with Hugo Garcia and others to form Save Elephant Hill. Their mission is to protect and preserve the entire hillside open space and ensure that it is accessible to the public. Since their efforts began, Save Elephant Hill waged a successful land-use battle to stop a dangerous development, commissioned biological surveys of the land, and worked to curb dumping and destructive illegal offroading. The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) bought five of the 20-acres of land on Elephant Hill acquired by the City of LA through a legal settlement to ensure public access and creation of a trail on their properties. Save Elephant Hill is working with MRCA as it makes the Elephant Hill Open Space Area accessible to the public through safe, walkable trails and other amenities, and native plant restoration**, which will help both the community and wildlife flourish.
A novel way to help protect Elephant Hill involves community members using their smartphones and digital cameras to document wildlife living on the land. By taking photos or recording sounds of the animal, plant, or fungus neighbors, then uploading them to the Elephant Hill project on iNaturalist, they become valuable evidence. The data is all open source, so anyone can browse what has been found, and even download the data to help ask and answer questions about nature in LA. In 2022 Save Elephant Hill joined the Takaape’ Waashut Northeast Los Angeles Black Walnut Day Committee. This coalition of community-powered organizations work tirelessly to protect the land and neighborhoods in Northeast Los Angeles. The group is specifically interested in collecting data on California black walnuts, also known as Takaape’ Waashut in Tongva, the name and language of the original caretakers of this land. The hope is that the data on these protected trees and all other species can help community members further protect Elephant Hill.
Learn more about community science.
Join the Nature Celebration
Community Science staff from Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County have partnered with community based organizations including Save Elephant Hill, Coyotl + Macehualli, North East LA Black Walnut Day Coalition, and Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory School, to host the Elephant Hill Nature Celebration and Habitat Survey that occurred on October 14 on the land Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority owns.
You can continue to support and celebrate nature by participating in the iNaturalist project. Read more from Lila Higgins and discover even more ways you can explore nature in and around Los Angeles!
** Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority just received a $1.2 million restoration grant from the CA Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division to work towards eliminating illegal OHV activity and restoring native plant habitat on Elephant Hill as well as another MRCA site.