Watsonville Slough Farm
Restoring Our Slough
This article originally appeared in our newsletter, Landmarks, Fall 2012
The Watsonville Slough Farm encompasses two rare types of land: the largest freshwater wetlands in the county and farmland in the Mediterranean climate zone, which makes up only 2% of the world’s land. It is the rarity of freshwater wetlands that makes Watsonville Slough so important to a wide variety of species, including five federally-listed species and sixteen state-listed species. And it is the rarity of this type of farmland that makes it so valuable as a source of healthy vegetables and berries – and as a vital component of our local economy.
As the map on the following pages shows, the wetlands lace through the hilly farmland like fingers, making their protection from water runoff and soil erosion a challenging task. It is a challenge we embrace because of our commitment to protecting both rare types of land that make up this 490-acre property.
This summer we completed a ten-year management plan that lays out an extensive list of projects and practices to address this challenge. The plan was developed by a six-member team with extensive input from the growers on the farm and a 17-member Technical Advisory Committee. As the plan was being finalized, Bryan Largay became the Land Trust’s new Conservation Director. His first order of business was to review the plan, develop a budget, and make the first decisions on which of its projects were the highest priorities for the Land Trust.
We plan to spend more than $1.8 million of farm revenue on these projects over the next ten years, and hope to secure additional funds from a variety of grants. And even that much money won’t cover all the projects recommended in the plan. This money will be spent in our community – as will the $30,000 per acre it costs to plant and harvest an acre of strawberries every year. We will also pay around $80,000 per year in property taxes on the farm.
The map on the following pages gives you some idea of how extensive these projects are. A group of 48 Land Trust members got a first-hand look in August at the projects around Hanson Slough. They include taking mostly hilly, marginal farmland out of production and returning it to grassland. The overlap of wetlands, woodlands, and grasslands creates a diverse ecosystem that provides important foraging, dispersal, and breeding habitats for a great array wildlife – which was on fine display on our tour!
The plan also calls for the construction of sediment basins and grass-lined waterways to better manage water runoff during the rainy season. These and other practices will dramatically reduce soil erosion and water use.
These projects will provide a wide variety of research and educational opportunities. We have been working closely with Watsonville Wetlands Watch and the Pajaro Valley High School since we acquired the land and plan to continue and expand the opportunities for hands-on stewardship and learning for students.
We are also participating on the City of Watsonville’s Trails Master Plan Advisory Committee to identify potential trails on the property – so that visitors can learn more about the slough, our restoration efforts, and ecologically sound farming practices.
Some of these projects are already underway. Others are years away – it is a ten-year plan. Some are dependent on the Land Trust getting additional funding. One thing is certain though: we will protect both types of rare lands on the Watsonville Slough Farm.