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Land Trust of Santa Cruz County finalizes conservation plan

Jason Hoppin, Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ -- The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County has released an ambitious report offering a detailed catalog of the county's environmental assets, and in doing so outlined a new direction for conservation amid an era of dwindling resources.

The report, a draft of which was released in February, is a culmination of two years of work documenting and analyzing the region's biodiversity, water resources, recreational options and open spaces. It is billed as offering "real-world solutions" at a time when the economy is punishing philanthropic giving and government revenues, two key pieces of the equation nonprofits use to protect land from development.

Terry Corwin, the trust's executive director, said the funding decline has forced conservationists to look to new partnerships with landowners to help steward fields and forests alike. Without cash, the option of turning them into parks is fading.

"Let's get smart about how we want Santa Cruz to look in the future as we pass it on to next generation," Corwin said.

The "Conservation Blueprint" will guide the trust's work over the next 25 years, but it is also intended as a resource for community groups, city and county governments, landowners, and other groups focused on land-use issues. The trust plays a key role in debates about the county's natural assets, having spearheaded the $13 million the preservation of hundreds of acres in the Watsonville Slough area, and working on a $1.2 million campaign to preserve the Zayante Sandhills.

Instead of focusing on converting private lands into public parks, the trust has shifted to preserving land from development by inking conservation agreements with ranchers and growers, which so far has led to the preservation of more than 2,000 acres. The trust even owns 402 acres of working timberlands -- Corralitos' Byrne-Milliron Forest -- that are open to the public.

"Like a lot of things the economy is forcing us to be more creative and more innovative, and I think the long-term approach is going to be very positive," Corwin said.

Part of the blueprint includes a recommendation to focus conservation efforts on eight areas best-suited for meeting the trust's goals of preserving biodiversity, water resources, working lands and recreational opportunities.

The include the upper San Lorenzo River area, as suitable for hiking as it is for sustainable timber harvesting, and the North Coast, with its mix of coastal ranch lands, wildlife habitat and ecological diversity.

But several areas are in South County, with the trust identifying them as playing a key role in everything from recharging groundwater to preserving wildlife corridors. They include upper Corralitos, Interlaken, Larkin Valley, the Watsonville Slough area and, particularly, the Pajaro Hills.

"That is an important area to protect so that species can actually migrate through a series of protected lands while adapting to climate change," Corwin said.

In addition to outlining a shift in policy thinking among conservationists, the blueprint also includes an exhaustive computer documentation of county resources, everything from agricultural land uses to underground water supplies.

"There's amazing data on vegetation in the county. There's information on all sorts of biodiversity," Corwin said.


WHAT: Summary of Land Trust of Santa Cruz County's 'Conservation Blueprint'
WHEN: 5:30-7:30 p.m. June 2.
WHERE: Simpkins Family Swim Center, 979 17th Ave., Live Oak

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