Celebrating Cesar Chavez Day with POST-Protected Farms

This Cesar Chavez Day, we’re celebrating all the farmers and farm workers that work so hard to make California’s agricultural output the nation’s largest.

The San Francisco Peninsula was historically largely agricultural, thanks to its rich, fertile soils, and was actually the world’s largest fruit-production and packing region until the 1960s. Silicon Valley was originally referred to as the Valley of Heart’s Delight, thanks to the bountiful apricot and prune orchards that blanketed the Peninsula before the digital revolution switched trees for tech.

Though much of that agricultural land has been lost to development, a significant amount remains, and working to preserve that farmland and the livelihoods of those who farm it is a vital part of POST’s mission. Making sure this farmland is protected in perpetuity gives Bay Area residents access to a wealth of healthy, local food choices, boosts the local economy, while protecting scenic landscapes, water resources, and wildlife habitat. POST support sustainable, local food production by protecting farmland and selling and leasing land to local farmers and ranchers.

Fertile farmland on the San Mateo Coast (c) William Matthias 2005

Fertile farmland on the San Mateo Coast (c) William Matthias 2005

POST has protected a wide variety of farms and ranches on the San Francisco Peninsula. Blue House FarmPie Ranch, and Root Down Farm are just a few examples of innovative young farmers committed to sustainably feeding their local communities. Each of these farms offers a unique combination of vegetables, fruits, flowers, meat, and dry goods for sale, and all three are located on POST-protected land in Pescadero.

You can learn more about these farms, and other farms POST has protected here.

A beautiful Chiogga beet destined for Blue House Farm’s CSA boxes © Paolo Vescia 2008

A beautiful Chiogga beet destined for Blue House Farm’s CSA boxes © Paolo Vescia 2008

Pie Ranch educates students on how their food is grown.  © Paolo Vescia 2012

Working farm Pie Ranch gets students out on the land and educates them on how their food is grown. © Paolo Vescia 2012

Root Down Farm’s farmers welcome a new batch of baby chicks © Ann Duwe 2014

Root Down Farm’s farmers welcome a new batch of certified organic baby chicks © Ann Duwe 2014

You can help POST keep local farms in production as a consumer, too! Get your fill of tasty local fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meats at local farmers markets and through Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.

And today, take a minute to think about where your food comes from and give thanks for the hard work of the people who make it all happen.

Happy Cesar Chavez Day!

5 Reasons Why Redwoods Are (Ecologically) the Coolest

POST recently met its $50 million fundraising goal for the Heart of the Redwoods campaign six months ahead of schedule, and it’s not hard to see why our supporters are so excited about saving the redwoods: as one of the most iconic California species, the trees speak for themselves. But it’s not just their inspirational qualities that make redwoods so important to protect – redwoods are utterly essential to California’s coastal forest ecosystems. In celebration of the Heart of the Redwoods campaign, and the 20,000 acres of redwoods it will help protect, here are five of the coolest facts about redwoods:

(c) William Matthias 2011

1) They Make Their Own Rain

Huge redwoods require massive amounts of water to survive, and it’s extremely difficult to transport groundwater all the way to leaves in their upper canopies. Solution? Redwoods make their own rain – getting 15 to 45% of their water directly from coastal fog, which they are able to pull straight out of the air thanks to specially shaped leaves. The remaining fog drips down to nourish the redwood’s roots and the plant communities below.

2) They Grow Their Own Defenses

One reason redwoods are so long-lived (some trees have been alive since the age of the Roman Empire!) is (c) POST 2015that their bark is like armor, thanks to built-in physical and chemical protection. It is tough, spongy, and so thick that it allows the trees to survive wildfires, but it also has high levels of toxic tannins that protect thetrees from fungus and insect infestations. In fact, redwoods are so resilient that they are rarely felled by disease or predation, instead only falling to human logging or competition with other redwoods for sunlight.

3) They Create Their Own Ecosystems

Because they are so large and live so long, a single redwood tree can act as an apartment complex for a vast array of other organisms. Over many years, leaf litter and dust from the highest redwood branches float down and land on lower branches, creating mats of nutrient-rich soil far above the actual forest floor. These ecosystems, called epiphyte communities have been observed to host up to 282 species of plants, fungi, and animals – including new redwood trees – all within a single tree. One old-growth redwood tree boasted 148 resprouted trunks growing from its own limbs, the largest of which was itself over 40 meters tall.

4) They’re Worth Their Weight in Gold (Er, Carbon)

Redwoods continue to grow throughout their lives, adding up to 1.6 cubic meters of girth every year. Because trees are composed of about 50% carbon by weight, each redwood sequesters an incredible amount of carbon from the atmosphere – and that’s not even counting the extensive underground root systems! Studies estimate that coastal redwood forests sequester triple the aboveground carbon of any other type of forest, which means that redwoods are a key player in mitigating climate change.

5) They May Be Dying Off

Scarily enough, a recent study showed half of California’s large redwoods have died in the past 90 years, and it’s highly unlikely that the next generation of trees will grow t(c) Paolo Vescia 2014o be as tall as our current stands are. Though we don’t know exactly why the trees are dying, likely culprits include climate change, logging, and overzealous fire suppression (which has resulted in more small trees that much vie for fewer resources). It’s a sobering fact, and one that may have global consequences in light of redwood forests’ outsized role in carbon sequestration. All the more reason to protect our remaining redwood forests!

Vivian Underhill, Conservation Landscape Assistant

Learn more about redwood ecology with these links:

http://openspacetrust.org/whatwesave/redwoods.html

http://www.savetheredwoods.org/blog/forest/top-5-fascinating-redwoods-facts/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/14/redwood-trees-climate-change_n_3756564.html

http://www.ecology.info/redwood.htm

http://sempervirens.org/discover-redwoods/redwoods-climate/

http://grist.org/news/future-forests-to-be-smaller-less-majestic/

Reflections from Walter

Water T. Moore, POST President

Water T. Moore, President

POST supporters and advocates make our work possible. Whether making a donation, leading a hike, telling a friend about our work, or liking us on Facebook, we have many people cheering us on. We often say, “The results are all around you.” And it’s true. Today I am thrilled to announce that we have reached our $50M financing goal for our Heart of the Redwoods Campaign – six months ahead of schedule. To date, the campaign has protected 9,875 acres of local redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and this financing makes it possible to continue our work to protect over 10,000 more.

We could not have done it without our donors and conservation partners. During the campaign, we felt it was extremely powerful to get out into the redwoods. We did that with over 100 POST-led outings including hiking, biking, spelunking and even horseback riding. We hosted hiking groups, book clubs, Millennials, kids and donors who’ve been supporting us since our founding in 1977. Spending time among these natural giants is amazing and clearly moved all of us to take action.

Click image for a slideshow of redwood lands saved through the Heart of the Redwoods Campaign.

San Vicente Redwoods, click for a slideshow of redwood lands protected through the Heart of the Redwoods Campaign.

Like our donors, the entire POST staff has been deeply committed to the preservation of these forests for wildlife habitat, human enjoyment, the ecological benefits they provide, and their ability to link four state parks into 100,000 square acres of protected open space. Everyone from our land staff, to our advancement and administrative teams, played a role. It has been a broad and far-reaching campaign and our staff pursued it with intensity, creativity, graciousness and professionalism. It has been wonderful to see POST staff connect with POST donors and partners over the last three years to make this vision a reality.

There is so much to celebrate about this important milestone. We now have the financial capacity to protect the next 10,000 acres and are ready to go to work. I hope the next time you look out at the rolling hills, open coast side or mighty redwoods, you are proud of what we’ve accomplished together.

Walter T. Moore
POST President

Dealing with Drought: Farmers on the Coast

“It’s down there,” José Ramirez, long-term tenant of POST-protected Butano Farms, tells me as he points down through the blackberry brambles, shrubs, and vines towards the creekbed. He’s referring to the Pescadero Creek. I’m confused as I look down and can barely make out a small puddle of water through all the vegetation. José offers me a hand as we scramble down the bank, and my confusion turns to disbelief. I know California is in a drought (a record-breaking one, at that), I know farmers across the state have had to remove thousands of acres of cropland from production because of the severe water shortage, and I even know José has had trouble irrigating his fields for the last two months. But I somehow still never expected this: all that remains of this section of Pescadero Creek is two puddles of water and ground not even muddy enough to dirty my shoes. José’s irrigation pump reaches meagerly into the smaller, murkier puddle, the end of the hose sticking out of the water as if gasping for air.BUF_1_2014

This scene is so far removed from the urban or suburban comfort in which many Californians reside. For many of us, the worst immediate effect of the drought is letting our lawns go yellow or facing a $500 fine for watering a driveway. Nonetheless, 58 percent of California is now in an “exceptional” drought, the most severe drought classification according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report. This 58 percent includes the entire San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties and much of the agriculturally rich Central Valley. Amongst news of unprecedented water regulations and several San Mateo campgrounds closing, we need to think of our farmers, whose livelihood is so closely dictated by nature’s will and especially tied to water. The direct costs of California’s drought to agriculture total $1.5 billion, with over 400,000 acres of irrigated cropland going out of production and many farmers relying entirely on groundwater pumping to maintain the remaining acres.

BUF_5_2014POST farmer José Ramirez, for example, hasn’t irrigated his 12 acres of rosemary, olallieberry, and kabocha squash fields in over a month because Pescadero Creek, the local shared water resource from which he has pumped water to irrigate his fields for the past 7 years, has run completely dry. He fears his below-average yield at Butano Farms won’t bring in enough capital to sustain his operation, and says his dream of running a U-Pick operation in which visitors could pick strawberries, olallieberries, and raspberries right on the outskirts of the town of Pescadero may be in jeopardy.

“You can’t control Mother Nature,” he says. “You wait for the rain — what else do you do?”

In response to the drought, he will soon install a drip irrigation system on his fields — an initiative he estimates will reduce his water consumption by 75% when he is once again able to pump from the creek. In addition, POST is working with the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District and Trout Unlimited to construct a small off-stream regulating reservoir on Butano Farms.

“A reservoir would increase José’s flexibility in irrigation, reducing the impacts on creek habitat and surrounding farms and protecting José from future water shortages,” Dan Olstein, POST’s Director of Land Stewardship, says.

Further up the watershed from José, tenants Dede Boies and David Evershed manage 62-acre Root Down Farm on POST-protected Cloverdale Coastal Ranches. The drought has forced them to postpone a long-term plan of planting water-thirsty crops on the farm as they wait for the water level in local Little Butano Creek to return to a sustainable level.

DSC_0143-b“The dream would be to build a mixed veggie, flower, and fruit tree farm,” David Evershed says. “But that has gone to the wayside now because of water issues.”

Instead, they currently raise heritage-breed pigs, chickens and turkeys, which require a total daily intake of 60 gallons of drinking water — a small amount compared to the thousands of gallons of water certain crops would need. Nonetheless, Dede and David plan to sell off their last batch of chicks before they reach slaughtering age in order to avoid the additional water consumption involved with scalding and plucking chickens during harvest.

“We also have not been taking showers,” David says with a laugh.

P1040451Also on Cloverdale Coastal Ranches, the Markegard family of Markegard Family Grass-Fed has had to sell of some of their cattle herd as water sources — stock ponds and creeks — become more and more scarce. They also have had to supplement grazing with hay, as feed is running out on the land that still has water.

“This is happening to a lot of ranchers,” Dan says.

POST has offered the Markegard family temporary relief by granting them permission to graze near a bigger pond on an area outside of their lease.

In the end, though, whether the drought has caused them to go into day-to-day survival mode, like José, or to reconsider the long-term plan for their farming operation, like Dede and David, the fate of these ranchers and farmers is extremely dependent on the arrival of the next rains. As José says, the drought reminds us that we can’t control Mother Nature, and farmers understand that best.

Manon von Kaenel
Former POST Communications Intern

Learn more about how POST protects and preserves local farms and ranches  at http://www.openspacetrust.org/whatwesave/farms.html.

To see more from David Evershed and José Ramirez, watch this POST-produced video:

dealingwithdrought

It’s True: Open Space is Medicine for the Mind

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” — John Muir

 Muir’s observation from 1901 still rings true. Today’s “plugged-in” lifestyle and competitive, fast-paced society has left us stressed and exhausted. We are still “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized,” just as Muir said.

The idea that nature is “home” and a “fountain of life” resonates with me on a profound level. Hiking through a moss-covered forest, smelling the salty ocean waves, or hearing the gurgling of a creek helps clear my mind and reenergizes me, and I’m sure many of you can relate. I always thought that these feelings towards nature could be attributed to theorist Edward O. Wilson’s concept of biophilia — the idea that there is an instinctive and primitive bond between humans and nature — but studies have shown that they are in fact strongly rooted in biology.

As it turns out, there is a growing body of research demonstrating that spending time outdoors can make us healthier; not just physically, but mentally as well. Here are a few ways how:

Open space can reduce stress

This view of Pescadero creek and redwood trees in Memorial Park can help reduce stress. / Photo credit Paolo Vescia

This view of Pescadero Creek and redwood trees in Memorial Park can help reduce stress. / Photo credit Paolo Vescia

Nature’s role as a stress reducer has been widely studied: spending time in natural environments consistently decreases levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol and tends to decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension at a faster rate than urban environments. Even a view of a forest from an office window can reduce work stress and improve job satisfaction. It gets even more basic than that: just looking at the color green has been shown to reduce stress levels. These studies highlight the importance of urban green space as a site of reflection and psychological relief.

Open space can improve cognitive functioning and foster creativity and concentration

The Djerassi Resident Artists Program, on POST-protected land, is an example of the way nature can spark creativity

The Djerassi Resident Artists Program on POST-protected land is an example of the way nature can spark creativity

One study has found that, after four technology-free days in nature, participants demonstrated 50 percent higher scores on a creativity test, scientifically backing artists’ longstanding affinity for nature. It’s not just creativity that nature can enhance: a simple wander through a forest can improve short-term memory by 20%, according to a study from the University of Michigan. Researchers have also found that children with ADHD concentrate better after a simple walk in the park. It seems like nature is just the thing to keep our brains sharp during work and school hours.

Open space can make you happier and nicer

Nature can make you happy - like these two smiling individuals at POST-protected Pie Ranch. / Photo credit Paolo Vescia

Nature can make you happy – like these two at POST-protected Pie Ranch. / Photo credit Paolo Vescia

Exposure to nature can also improve mental health by making you more optimistic about your future, improving self-esteem, battling depression (with the mood-enhancing ions found in and around water, for example), and increasing feelings of meditation. One study has shown that people exposed to natural environments tend to value intrinsic and pro-social aspirations over self-centered, extrinsic aspirations… meaning that, yes, nature can even make you nicer and more caring.

These and other scientifically recognized health benefits of nature  — both physical and psychological  — have very important implications when it comes to public initiatives and individual health choices. A fascinating article by Outside magazine discusses the long-standing Japanese tradition of shinrin-yoku, or forest therapy, which is viewed as a form of natural aromatherapy and widely used to combat all sorts of afflictions. In the U.S., the concept that nature is beneficial to health has been getting more and more traction: the National Park Service launched its Healthy Parks, Healthy People initiative in 2011 to raise awareness about the health benefits of nature, and some doctors are now even prescribing hikes to overweight children.

We are still a long way away from nationwide, federally-mandated, monthly employee hikes to improve work satisfaction and productivity, but one thing is for sure: a growing body of research has begun to prove what Muir noted over a century ago. So, next time you feel stressed or “tired, nerve-shaken, and over-civilized,” look to your open spaces. There’s a “fountain of life” out there, and that’s science.

Start taking advantage of this fountain of life and health by visiting our local open spaces: check out these hikes on POST-protected lands for some inspiration.

Manon von Kaenel
Communications Intern

POST’s Favorite Hikes

The health benefits of outdoor recreation are varied and numerous, the beauty of our open spaces unparalleled, the local wildlife diversity incredible, and the local weather nearly always sunny and pleasant — there’s really no reason not to go on a hike this weekend. We could spend days and days hiking our incredible POST-protected open spaces, and want to share that experience with you! To help you navigate the miles of trails out there, the staff has collected five of our favorite POST hikes here. Let us know in the comments: what are some of your favorite local hikes?

 

Hamms Gulch-Spring Ridge Loop at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

The short Anniversary Trail brings you to the very top of Windy Hill / Photo credit Karl Kroeber

The short Anniversary Trail brings you to the very top of Windy Hill / Photo credit Karl Kroeber

Trail difficulty: moderate to difficult
Location: in Portola Valley, just west of Skyline Boulevard
Keep your eyes open for: wildflowers, chaparral wildlife, raptors, oak forests

This loop hike, a little over 7 miles long (depending on which trails you take), offers the very best of Windy Hill Open Space Preserve: open grassy ridges, forested valleys, seasonal creeks, and chaparral-covered hills. Head south from the parking lot on Portola Road towards the Hamms Gulch Trail, which leads you up gently towards the iconic Windy Hill and its spectacular views onto the surrounding valley and the Bay. Follow the Lost Trail towards the Spring Ridge Trail, a steep descent popular among bicyclists that will take you back down to your starting point through grassland and the occasional coast live oak. For more of a workout, consider reversing the loop and climbing up to Windy Hill via Spring Ridge and back down through Hamms Gulch.

“Trying to keep up with my 17-year old daughter on that trail causes me to breathe so hard she asks me to not hike right behind her as my panting is so loud it annoys her,” POST President Walter Moore laughs. “I don’t claim to being a fitness buff, but this trail has certainly not hurt my fitness level and has resulted in many great memories hiking with (or near!) my daughter!”

Windy Hill was the very first property POST protected back in 1981, and we later facilitated the protection and addition of two other properties to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District preserve. Most of the dog-friendly reserve is open for both hiking and equestrian uses, and contains a few popular bicycle routes as well. It is open year-round from dawn to dusk.

 

Cowell-Purisima Trail

A man hikes a portion of the Cowell-Purisima trail at the openign ceremony 3 years ago / Photo credit Paolo Vescia

A man hikes a portion of the Cowell-Purisima Trail at the opening ceremony 3 years ago / Photo credit Paolo Vescia

Trail difficulty: easy, one steep section over Purisima Creek
Location: just south of Half Moon Bay
Keep your eyes open for: harbor seals, wildflowers, sea birds

This 3.6-mile section of the California Coastal Trail leads you along the clifftop with surging ocean waves, impressive cliff faces, and picturesque pocket beaches on the western side and productive agricultural fields — many of them with POST-held conservation easements — on the east. Interpretive signs along the way provide information about the cultural and natural history of the region. If you park at the southern trailhead, located about 5 miles south of the intersection between Highway 1 and Route 92, your hike will start at a scenic blufftop overlook and end at the secluded gem that is Cowell State Beach.

The Cowell-Purisima Trail opened in 2011 as the culmination of 25 years of collaborative work from the Coastal Conservancy and POST, and has been a popular favorite amongst our staff ever since. The trail is open to both hikers and bikers, but closed to dogs and horses because of food-safety concerns regarding the neighboring farms. The trail is open on weekends and holidays, 8am to sunset.

 

Jean Lauer Trail at Pillar Point Bluff

Low tide reveals tidepools beneath the Jean Lauer trail, and a sunset bathes the coast in beautiful light at Pillar Point Bluff / Photo credit Neal Kramer

Low tide reveals tidepools beneath the Jean Lauer trail, and a sunset bathes the coast in beautiful light at Pillar Point Bluff / Photo credit Neal Kramer

Trail difficulty: easy
Location: near Moss Beach off Highway 1
Keep an eye out for: soaring sea birds, local joggers, world-famous Mavericks surf break

This short and easy segment of the California Coastal Trail meanders over the windswept coastal cliff top that is Pillar Point Bluff, offering joggers, hikers and dog-walkers an amazing view of the coastline’s eroding cliffs, sandy beaches, and the Pillar Point Air Force tracking station. The neighboring coastal waters and seasonal wetland — both of which provide important wildlife habitat — are protected with the San Mateo County Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Lift your eyes to see soaring pelicans, cormorants, gulls and hawks.

POST protected Pillar Point Bluff from commercial development in 2004, and later transferred it to San Mateo County Parks. The trails are open from dawn to dusk.

 

Audrey’s Way at Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve

Former POST president Audrey Rust poses at Audrey's Way with stunning views behind her / Photo credit Douglas Peck

Former POST president Audrey Rust poses at Audrey’s Way with stunning views behind her / Photo credit Douglas Peck

Trail difficulty: easy
Location: along Skyline Boulevard between Skyline Ridge OSP and Coal Creek OSP
Keep an eye out for: native wildflowers, raptors, mountain lions, panoramic views

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve is characterized by wide-open views of the Bay and the coast (perfect for admiring a sunset), gently sloping grassy hills, abundant wildlife — including mountain lions — and a spectacular show of native wildflowers in the springtime. Audrey’s Way at Mindego Gateway, a commemorative site dedicated to POST’s former president Audrey Rust and her 24 years of conservation leadership, recently opened to the public and provides tiered viewing platforms for visitors to enjoy the breathtaking panoramic vistas. A lookout point rather than a hike, it is located a very short walk away from the parking located on Alpine Road about 1.2 miles west of the intersection with Skyline Boulevard. Follow the Mindego Hill Trail and Charquin Trail from the parking to connect to an 8-mile network of trails, which do not allow dogs.

Russian Ridge OSP also contains Mindego Hill, protected by POST in its 2007 GoMindego campaign. Public access to the summit of this natural landmark is expected in 2015. In the meantime, Audrey’s Way provides awe-inspiring views and a great connection to the rest of this equestrian-friendly park.

 

Montara Mountain at McNee Ranch State Park

A breathtaking view of McNee Ranch State Park  from POST-protected Rancho Corral de Tierra

A breathtaking view of McNee Ranch State Park from POST-protected Rancho Corral de Tierra

Trail difficulty: difficult
Location: on the San Mateo Coast between Pacifica and Montara
Keep an eye out for: poison oak, spring wildflowers, fog, and panoramic views all the way to Mount Tamalpais in the north

There are a few ways to reach the summit of the 2,000-foot POST-protected Montara Mountain, which offers stunning panoramic views of the coast and the rugged, lush terrain of the northern stretch of the Santa Cruz Mountains on a clear day. To access the summit, follow the Montara Mountain Trail from San Pedro Valley Park to the North Peak Access Road in McNee Ranch State Park. You can also access the summit from the southwest by following the North Access Road — popular with local bikers — from its origin at a small parking lot a few miles south of the city of Pacifica on Highway 1, or from the more accessible parking lot at Gray Whale Cove State Beach. Either way, the hike is about 7 to 8 miles long and takes you along a moderate grade — with very occasional steep bits — through eucalyptus groves, chaparral and cypress and pine forests.

The landmark summit was protected by POST in 2001 as part of the 4,262-acre Rancho Corral de Tierra, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The striking views and varied ecosystems and microclimates you’ll encounter along this trail make this hike a popular destination amongst our staff.

So go ahead, plan your hike today! And don’t forget to share your experiences and photos on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ pages with the #POSThikes hashtag.

Manon von Kaenel
Communications Intern

A Lesson in Humility from Condor 597

The photo could very easily be misconstrued as insignificant. There are some green shrubs and some oak trees in the background — this could be any forest, really. The bird in the foreground, with a slightly superior expression on his face and cloaked in what could be a fur-collared coat, almost resembles an English noble smugly surveying his estate, his gaze distant and lips tight and slightly downturned. The only sign of something unusual occurring in this frame is the giant “97” painted on the bird’s black plumage. But this isn’t any bird, and this isn’t any random place in the world: it’s a California condor, right here in San Mateo County.

Condor 597 was spotted near Pescadero by a wildlife camera on a private property.

Condor 597 was spotted near Pescadero by a wildlife camera on a private property

This photo, taken in early June by a wildlife camera on a property near Pescadero, marked the first time this endangered bird had been spotted in San Mateo County in 110 years. The snapshot encapsulates many positive stories and lessons about land conservation and the efforts of dedicated individuals along the California coast, and offers a dose of perspective on the long-term value of open space.

It means that three-year old condor 597, affectionately called Lupine, discovered a route from Pinnacles National Monument to the San Mateo coastline — where POST has already protected thousands of acres of land. The discovery of that route, which must contain topography varied enough to provide condors sufficient lift in flight, represents a key breakthrough because it brings the scavenging condors in contact with a very viable food source: the 10,000 elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve, located just six miles north of the sighting.

“That marine mammal component is why we’re so excited that condor 597 found a route to San Mateo County,” says Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society. The availability of food and nesting sites in redwood trees around Año Nuevo and in the Santa Cruz Mountains makes San Mateo County ready to host a thriving condor population — “we have what they need,” Kelly adds. But there’s a catch.

“There’s enough land, there’s enough nest sites, there’s enough food — but it’s all about the contaminants,” Kelly points out. “Still today, the biggest problem for condors is lead poisoning from eating carcasses of animals shot with lead bullets.”

These seals near the POST-protected Cowell-Purisima trail may one day provide an important food source for a population of condors / Photo credit Paolo Vescia

These seals near the POST-protected Cowell-Purisima Trail may one day provide an important food source for a population of condors / Photo credit Paolo Vescia

In the end, this historic condor sighting, or the comeback stories of the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, gray wolf or another iconic once-endangered species can not be solely credited to the preservation of open space. Ecology is complex and, as Kelly reminds us, there exists a diversity of obstacles and corresponding solutions to every endangered species story. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that the common denominator among what enabled these listed species to make a breakthrough is open space.

Nicely paralleling the San Mateo condor sighting, a wild bald eagle pair just fledged the first chick in Santa Cruz County in decades. The historic moment can be attributed to the reintroduction efforts of the Ventana Wildlife Society as well as the protection of sloughs around Watsonville by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. The Santa Cruz bald eagle chick and the San Mateo condor can both credit their success stories to open space preservation and reintroduction programs.

A bald eagle takes care of its chick / Photo credit Gary Kittleson.

A bald eagle takes care of its chick / Photo credit Gary Kittleson

“POST helped put together the landscape that these birds [condors] need to survive, and it’s exciting that they could survive in a place with such a dense human population,” Kelly says.

Lupine’s venture into San Mateo County reminds me that we are conserving our land for the future, not just for the present. After all, back in 1987, all 27 living California condors were held in captive breeding facilities in Los Angeles and San Diego, and their future didn’t look too bright. Now, there are 131 wild condors living in California — and more in Arizona and Baja California as well as those at various breeding facilities in the West.

It’s easy to get caught up on the immediate recreational or spiritual benefits open space provides or how our stewardship efforts restores habitat for those species that call our landscape home. More easily forgotten, but just as crucial, is the value of open space for species who don’t even live there but might just do so in the future — like the condor along the San Mateo coastline. Who knows what our local wildlife populations will look like in another 110 years?

Manon von Kaenel
Communications Intern

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