Wildlife is all around us in Santa Cruz County. We know this because we have a dozen wildlife cameras on our properties and get to see the daily parade of foxes, deer, turkeys, bobcats, and mountain lions – including this pair jumping the gate at Star Creek Ranch. Star Creek Ranch is the heart of the Pajaro Hills, one of the wildest places in our county. The Land Trust protected the first property there in 2012—and it will be open to our members for two days this spring.
The Wildlands of Santa Cruz County
This abundance of wildlife shouldn’t surprise us, since the county is mostly undeveloped—72% of the county is forest or grasslands, and only 11% is developed. This map from our Conservation Blueprint shows how much of our county remains undeveloped (the various shades of green)—in contrast to the gray areas that are urbanized. What it doesn’t show is the great urban area to our north—the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country, right at our doorstep.
The challenge is keeping the wildlands wild and providing connections between them so that wildlife can move freely and safely. Houses and roads break up the wildlands, a process called fragmentation. One of the Land Trust’s goals is to protect the largest intact wildlands and the often narrow corridors that connect them.
The Biggest Wildland— Protected Forever
In 2012, the Land Trust and its partners protected the largest intact wildlife property in the county – the 8,500 San Vicente Redwoods (the former CEMEX property) north of Davenport. Without this protection up to 60 homes could have been built on the land, fragmenting one of the most remote parts of the county, including areas used by mountain lions for denning (having and raising their young).
Trails Avoid Key Wildlife Areas
In 2014, the Land Trust completed a year-long public process to develop a 38-mile trail system for San Vicente Redwoods. Special attention was paid to avoid areas most used by mountain lions, demonstrating that people and wildlife can share the great wild places of Santa Cruz County. In the fall of 2015, the Land Trust completed detailed designs for the trail system and is now seeking the necessary permits—with the goal of opening the property to public access as early as 2017.
Protecting a Place that Didn’t Even Have a Name
In 2011, the Land Trust initiated the protection of the Pajaro Hills—a 24,000-acre region critical to the movement of wildlife (in red on this map). When we protected the 1,200-acre Star Creek Ranch at the heart of this region, it didn’t even have a name (so we gave it one). This map shows its importance as a connector between the Santa Cruz Mountains to the north and the Gabilan and Diablo Ranges to the south and east.
See the Pajaro Hills for Yourself
You can experience the beauty of this region on one of the Land Trust’s Members Only Star Creek Adventure Days, which take place every spring. More than 400 people attended last year’s adventures—and as you can see there was plenty of room for everyone. See a list of upcoming events and sign up at www.landtrustsantacruz.org/events.
See Wildlife for Yourself!
Come on one of our Star Creek Adventures and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see a fox and its young on a trail, as one hiker did last year on Oak Road. You can see a Gallery of other Star Creek Adventure pictures here.
Walk the Trails they Walk
They walk the same trails we walk—just at different times! Our wildlife camera caught pictures of mountain lions on Black Canyon Trail, just an hour after the last hikers took the same trail.
Help the Puma Cross the Road
For wildlife, Highway 17 is the Berlin Wall of Santa Cruz County. Mountain lions and other wildlife are killed every year trying to cross it. In 2014, a mountain lion was killed just 100 yards from where the Land Trust is working to build a wildlife tunnel.
You Can Save Wildlife
In 2014, the Land Trust protected 290 acres on the east side of Highway 17 at Laurel Curve. In the next year we will protect another 170 acres on the west side—and work with Caltrans to build a wildlife tunnel under the highway. You can help by making a donation to protect the last piece of land we need to protect in order for Caltrans to move ahead with plans to build the tunnel.
We Can Live Together
Santa Cruz County is an oasis from the great urban sprawl to our north—for people and for wildlife. Let’s keep Santa Cruz wild for people and wildlife. This deer and fawn are just a few feet from the future wildlife tunnel under Highway 17.