Let’s Hear It For the Santa Cruz County Land Trust! (http://www.landtrustsantacruz.org) Really performing “Right Actions” here in our county, saving thousands of acres of land from development. Here are some photos of a sneak peek I was privileged to enjoy visiting our newest acquisition, pristine 1,200 acre Star Creek Ranch in the heart of the Pajaro Hills near Watsonville.
The Board of the Santa Cruz County Land Trust and my friend and neighbor Cindy Rubin, former President of the Land Trust, invited us to join Stephen Slade, Deputy Director and Lisa Larson, Finance and Administrative Director, on a picnic and Four Wheel Drive tour of the ranch. We agreed in a nanosecond, and I wanted to share the inspiring and heads up story of what the Land Trust is doing in our county, in hopes that any of you in other counties will take action in your own back yards. It seems to me, there is no greater legacy we can leave the next generations than open and wild spaces. They create a habitat for animals and a breathing space for humans seeking regeneration and respite from the congestion of modern cities.
At its core, Santa Cruz County Land Trust is pioneering forward thinking conservation planning non profit. SCCLT has developed a “master plan” or Conservation Blueprint identifying those places in our county where conservation could deliver the most benefits for the least dollars. They were, essentially, looking for places that had it all. The Pajaro Hills fit the bill and Star Creek Ranch is at the heart of those hills: the single property that links other large properties and is, therefore, the place to begin the protection of a whole new region.Star Creek is such an exciting acquisition. Wildlife habitat, check. Fish habitat, check. Water quality, check. Recreational opportunities, check. Biodiversity, check. Connections to other large habitats, check. Potential revenue to fund stewardship,
You can follow the 2.5 miles of Pescadero Creek as we did, bumping along in Steve’s 4WD SUVor look down on the canyon it forms from the hills above and you can’t help but see the appeal of this property for a wide variety of wildlife. Deer, bobcats, wild turkeys, mountain lions, hawks, eagles, steelhead, and even threatened species like the Southwestern pond turtle have all been seen on the ranch. The endangered California Red-legged frog is there, too – and we can enhance their environment once we own the property.
As exciting as what is on the land is what can pass through it. The Conservation Blueprint identified the Pajaro Hills as a critical link between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Gabilan Range to the south. Linking such large habitats is a high priority for the long-term health of such wide-ranging species as the Mountain lion and badger.
Pescadero Creek drains a watershed as big as the Aptos Creek watershed. It runs year-round and already serves as a critical steelhead spawning and rearing habitat. We anticipate that restoration and stewardship work will increase the steelhead population. The creek flows into the Pajaro River and the property has numerous streams and springs – all of which contribute to the flow of quality water into the Pajaro Valley and its overdrafted aquifer.
Star Creek Ranch has 24 miles of unpaved roads and trails, which can provide the basis for a wide range of recreational opportunities in the future. Because the ranch borders all the large neighboring ranches in these hills, it is the critical link in providing connections to other lands as they are protected – as well as to currently protected lands, including Clark Canyon Ranch (owned by Peninsula Open Space Trust), Castro Valley Ranch (where there is a trail easement already) and Mt. Madonna County Park.
The 1,200 acres includes 360 acres of redwood forest that has been logged in the past. The Land Trust will reduce timber harvests and follow the model it has used in the Byrne-Milliron Forest to create a healthy, unevenly-aged forest that will both enhance wildlife habitat and provide revenue for stewardship and restoration of the ranch. As in the Byrne-Milliron Forest, our practices on Star Creek Ranch will demonstrate the compatibility of forestry with habitat and water quality protection.
Our day at Star Creek Ranch was way more than a picnic–it was a day of spiritual replenishment, inspiration and wild beauty.