The Center provides a rich, diversified opportunity for natural resources and agricultural research and extension programs, especially on topics pertinent to rangelands of the central and north coast of California. Historically, the educational mission has focused on animal science, rangeland management, wildlife, plant science, entomology, and public health.
A diversity of soils, plant communities, and elevations makes HREC representative of many parts of the Coast Range in northwestern California. Geologically part of the Franciscan formation, soils are mostly sedimentary material and quite variable, with seventeen soil series recognized. Four principal vegetation types (grass, woodland-grass, dense woodland, and chaparral) include more than 800 species and cover 95% of the Center's property. Most of the acreage is rangeland of rugged topography, situated in foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, part of the Coast Range. Only about 25 acres (10 ha) of valley floor are irrigated and suitable for cropland.
The native plants present throughout much of the acreage support many species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians (see animals). The Center's Columbian black-tailed deer represent one of the most intensively-studied deer populations on the West Coast. Other species which have received significant research attention include meadow voles, deer mice, bobcats and coyotes. The study of the ecology and behavior of predators receives continuing emphasis because of their impact on livestock. In addition, insects and other arthropods of medical and veterinary importance have been a main focus of field studies, with particular emphasis on mosquitoes and ticks and their epidemiological roles.
Techniques developed at Hopland for managing North Coast rangelands by introduction of subterranean clover, and fertilization with essential nutrients, have significantly increased forage productivity and quality. Other research has included plant response to grazing, fire, and other management strategies. The role of native hardwoods, especially oaks, has received recent attention, with emphasis on sustainable management of valley oak and blue oak. Plantings of winegrapes and pears provide opportunities for closely-monitored variety trials, studies of plant productivity, and development of strategies for controlling insect pests and plant diseases.