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Ben Lomond Wallflower
Ben Lomond Wallflower

Mount Hermon June Beetle
Mount Hermon June Beetle

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Silverleaf Manzanita

Band-winged Grasshopper
Band-winged Grasshopper

Ben Lomond Spineflower
Ben Lomond Spineflower

Ben Lomond buckwheat
Ben Lomond buckwheat
Zayante Sandhills Conservation Bank

November 11, 2007 (Front Page Article)

Swath of rare sandhills slated for protection

By Kurtis Alexander
Sentinel Staff Writer

The effort to keep developers out of the Santa Cruz Mountains' unique sandhills took a step forward this month.

The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County announced its intention to buy 189 acres off Mount Hermon Road that contain the rare sandy-bottom forest and scrub that was once ocean floor and is now home to seven plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.

The planned purchase, whose price has not been disclosed, would prevent 14 homes from being built on the property -- a plan that the current owners have drawn up.

"To not protect what is in our backyard would be a travesty," said Terry Corwin, executive director of the land trust, whose mission is to safeguard natural lands in Santa Cruz County. "This particular property is one that rated at the top [for protection]."

The land trust counts about 700 acres of sandhills currently in private hands -- all of which it hopes to some day protect. The total sandhills habitat is about 3,600 acres, which sits in clusters between Bonny Doon and Scotts Valley and is distinguished by tall ponderosa pine and stark white soil along such places as Graham Hill Road or Mount Hermon Road. Less than a third of the total area is protected.

Sand mining, residential and commercial development and the planting of orchards and grape vines has reduced the range of the sandhills some 40 percent and more is threatened, according to local ecologist Jodi McGraw.

"These rare species exist on less than 4,000 acres and some much less," McGraw said. "If we lose much more [of the sandhills], they could be lost."

The 189 acres slated for purchase sit north of Mount Hermon Road and run between the old Hanson Quarry and Geyer Road. Although long-term plans for the property are pending, the land trust hopes to make the land available for research and education after the purchase.

The property is now owned by PCO Inc., a private mitigation bank that says it has surplus property to unload and would prefer not to move ahead with development plans at this time.

Both parties expect the sale to take place in June. The date hinges on the land trust raising the remainder of the $5.6 million it says it needs to buy and initially manage the property. The land trust would not say how much of the $5.6 million would pay for the sale, just that a quarter million more dollars is needed for the purchase and stewardship.

So far, the land trust has lined up or is in the process of lining up nearly $1 million from private donors, $2 million from the state Wildlife Conservation Board and $2.3 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

"If we don't show local support for this, it's going to be hard for us to get outside funding now and in the future," said Robert Stephens, chairman of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation board, who is heading up the Save the Sandhills Campaign.

In a separate deal, 307 acres of sandhills in Felton was acquired by Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park earlier this year.

The endemic species that evolved from this habitat's unique sandy soil and moist climate are the Mount Hermon June beetle, Zayante band-winged grasshopper, Santa Cruz kangaroo rat, Ben Lomond spineflower, Santa Cruz wallflower, silverleaf manzanita and Ben Lomond buckwheat.

Contact Kurtis Alexander at kalexander@santacruzsentinel.com or 706-3267.

Geyer Quarry

Site Assessment Qualified Biologists:

Entomological Consulting Services, Ltd.
104 Mountain View Court
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523-2188
Richard A. Arnold, Ph.D.
Phone: 925-825-3784

Jodi M. McGraw, Ph.D.
Population and Community Ecologist
PO Box 883
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Phone: (831) 338-1990

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