‘Slow Coast’ May Get a National Monument

by Kaitlyn Kraybill-Voth on February 16, 2015

Chaparral is California’s most extensive, native plant community. Photo: Mike Kahn/Sempervirens Fund
Chaparral is California’s most extensive, native plant community. Photo: Mike Kahn/Sempervirens Fund

The Coast Dairies property, which spans the so-called “Slow Coast” north of Santa Cruz, has fallen into limbo since it gained protection in 2006.

Funding shortfalls at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is in charge of the 5,848-acre property, has stalled public access to the former dairy ranch, once the third-largest privately held piece of the California coast from San Francisco to the Mexican border.

For more than a century the land has been closed off to the public. But conservation groups are hoping to speed up public access and species protections on the site by granting it a new designation as national monument.

Supporters hope that putting Coast Dairies — which would be renamed the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument — on par with Muir Woods and Natural Bridges could turn on the spigot for federal funding and private donations. Supporters launched their campaign last week with an event in Santa Cruz that featured former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo.

The Coast Dairies property contains a 6-river watershed system that provides important habitats for native organisms and recharges coastal aquifers. Photo: Mike Khan/Sempervirens Fund

The Coast Dairies property contains a 6-river watershed system that provides important habitats for native organisms and recharges coastal aquifers. Photo: Mike Khan/Sempervirens Fund

“Without monument status, the property may take much longer to open. With it, new trails, invasive species removal, interpretative signage, picnic sites, and increased ranger resources will enhance the property’s natural attractiveness” says Steve Reed, campaign manager of Friends of the Santa Cruz Redwoods group.

Reed is a Santa Cruz port commissioner and former campaign manager for Santa Cruz county supervisor Bruce McPherson. He’s leading the Friends of the Santa Cruz Redwoods group, which was seeded with a $50,000 donation from Sempervirens Fund, to gather support for the monument.

Coast Dairies spans stream-carved canyons, wide grasslands, steep tree covered hillsides, verdant forests, and rocky seaside bluffs. In 1998, the land was on the verge of being developed into a 139-home luxury subdivision. This prompted Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, to negotiate an alternate purchase.

The Coast Dairies property was then transferred to the nonprofit, Trust for Public Land, which donated about 400 acres of beach from the property to the California state parks department and passed the rest of the land to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Valued at $40 million, it stands as the second most valuable property ever gifted to the U.S. government.

The BLM has plans to eventually open wide parcels to the public, and a few months ago began giving guided tours. However, in recent years budget shortfalls have slowed deployment of wider public access plans, although the agency has requested funds for Coast Dairies in the federal 2015 budget.

The Coast Dairies boundary hosts a number of charismatic species, including the largest native frog in the western United States (the California red-legged frog); a rat that builds structures 5 feet tall and 8 feet wide (the San Francisco woodrat); a puffin-like seabird bearing a distinct horn on its orange beak (the rhinoceros auklet); a bristly yellow flower that weathers merciless drought and smells of tangerine (the Santa Cruz tarweed); and a critically endangered fish quivering on the brink of oblivion (the coho salmon).

But invasive species — pampas grass, french broom, purple and yellow star thistle, cape ivory, hemlock, and fennel — are also taking a toll on the land’s ecosystems. As a national monument, the property would be eligible for federal funding to eradicate non native species. Monument status would also pave the way for specially designed trails for mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding.

“These improvements may be costly, and could exceed BLM budgets” says Reed.

Redwoods along the Santa Cruz coast can grow up to 300 feet or more. Photo: Mike Khan/Sempervirens Fund

Redwoods along the Santa Cruz coast can grow up to 300 feet or more. Photo: Mike Khan/Sempervirens Fund

Friends of the Santa Cruz Redwoods has raised money through donations and grants for such improvements, but national recognition usually brings about a certain cache. If President Obama grants the status, this would be the fourth national monument designated in California in the last three years, following the 2014 establishment of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and 2012-designees, Fort Ord and Cesar Chavez National Monuments.

To date, Obama has designated 13 such monuments around the U.S., protecting a total of 260 million acres of land. Despite GOP opposition, Obama recently proclaimed:  “We are looking at additional opportunities to preserve federal lands and waters and I will continue to do so especially where communities are speaking up.”

Speaking up is what the property’s rural neighbors are doing, although they have their own take on the matter. Ted Benhari, chairman of the Rural Bonny Doon Association said his group is not opposed to a national monument on its doorstep, but an increase in visitors to the area must be met with resources to cover the extra work of local fire departments, law enforcement and trash collection.

Then there’s the issue with the name.

“We think that the name, Santa Cruz Redwoods, is misleading and designed solely to further the effort to declare it a national monument,” said Benhari. “The property has relatively few redwoods — only about 10 percent of its acreage. Visitors expecting that will be disappointed. Most of it is coastal chaparral.”

In fact, the property will need to undergo what can be a lengthy process of environmental review and traffic impact assessments before the public steps foot on the land. The public needs to get involved to make this happen, said Steve Reed.

“The campaign will need volunteers to gather petitions, advocates to talk face to face with neighbors, and parents to help organize school events,” he said. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed that working together with BLM and the community will keep this momentum going.”

Reed believes this process will generate heightened consciousness and appreciation for the monument in the Santa Cruz community in the years to come.

“The next generation of conservationists will have an increased sense of commitment and a special relationship with the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument because they were asked to support it before it became federally protected and publicly accessible.” Reed says. “Kids will learn how important community activism is.”

Equipped with woody stems and waxy, hairy, or hard leaves, chaparral plants are extremely drought and fire tolerant. Some groups even require fire to complete their life cycles. Photo: Mike Khan/Sempervirens Fund

Equipped with woody stems and waxy, hairy, or hard leaves, chaparral plants are extremely drought and fire tolerant. Some groups even require fire to complete their life cycles. Photo: Mike Khan/Sempervirens Fund

Kaitlyn Kraybill-Voth is a Bay Nature editorial intern.

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11 comments:

Ben Pease on February 16th, 2015 at 10:26 pm

Name is a problem, given the small percentage of redwoods, and it implies big trees which most of these redwoods are not. Coastal terrace geology is the real star here. Perhaps in a nod to the coastal side of Hwy 1, there should be a National Brussels Sprout Interpretive Center.

Luis Arturo on February 20th, 2015 at 3:18 am

Me parece que este lugar debería ser considerado un parque a escala natural o nacional,y el cual debería protejerse y protejerle de posibles amenazas humanas.

Darlene Ward on February 20th, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Maybe a good name would be Santa Cruz Coastal National Monument, or Santa Cruz Chaparral National Monument. If the name Santa Cruz isn’t included, maybe Coastal Wonders National Monument would attract interest. As mentioned by others, I read about the proposed name and instantly thought, “I didn’t know there were big trees there.” The proposed name is definitely misleading.

Jim Littlefield on February 20th, 2015 at 6:36 pm

I don’t think Redwoods are a main feature of this proposed national monument, either. Let’s work on the formal name, please.

Eric Johnson on February 21st, 2015 at 12:34 am

I had questions about the name until I toured the place. It feels like a gateway from the coast to the redwoods of the Santa Crus Mountains, and the hundreds of acres of untouched second-growth redwoods are a pretty significant feature. And yes, the coastal terraces are impressive too.

Gordon Countryman on February 21st, 2015 at 9:06 am

I must agree the name should not reflect redwoods, as there are not that many in the area. My other concern is in regard to us sportsmen and women as a national Monument will the area be off limits to us or will hunting be permitted, few National Monuments permit this however most do not. I feel the area should be open for all uses.

Mary on February 27th, 2015 at 7:44 am

“We think that the name, Santa Cruz Redwoods, is misleading and designed solely to further the effort to declare it a national monument,” said Benhari. “The property has relatively few redwoods — only about 10 percent of its acreage. Visitors expecting that will be disappointed. Most of it is coastal chaparral.”

Peter Brastow on February 27th, 2015 at 10:04 am

I like “Santa Cruz Coast National Monument”

George Neavoll on March 17th, 2015 at 12:50 pm

What about: Where-the-Redwoods-Meet-the-Sea National Monument?

Marjorie Schulz on April 1st, 2015 at 10:47 am

I’d like to propose the name Marine Terrace National monument. This site has excellent examples of marine terraces like those in Jughandle State Reserve but larger. These terraces are a little known but major feature of the California coastline.

ella on July 11th, 2015 at 1:30 pm

I think this is a place that should remain unmolested by humans. No real estate development, no trails, just chaparell and big redwoods and swainson’s thrush which I hear at this time of year in the vicinity. Enough with the human intrusions. Let it be a place where wild life and wild trees can just be.

Also, just what demands on water tables is this huge influx of visitors going to make?

And what traffic and parking impacts?

How about a shuttle and train from parking that already exists? and parking by reservation only with anytime permits for current residents.

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