Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Santa Lucia Conservancy’s new bi-monthly newsletter. We hope you find stories below that engage, inform, entertain and inspire you! We’d love to hear from you as well. Please share your photos, stories and memories of time spent in nature or communing with wildlife, and we’ll find a place to feature them in future issues.
Spending time in nature, especially close to home, can be uplifting and life-affirming. Memories of these times stay with us through the years and create a bond with the lands we love.
Growing up in Marin County, my greatest delight was hiking up into the hills behind our house, book or homework slung over my shoulder, to explore or simply recharge. Alone or with a friend, these retreats into the rolling grasslands and oak savannas of the old Frietas land grant never failed to restore and inspire me. I was so very lucky, and I knew it.
Of the thousands of acres of interconnected open space surrounding my home, there was one place that was particularly beloved. Perched high above the ever-expanding suburban tract homes stood an ancient ‘kneeling’ oak with a ragged crown and huge limbs that reached to the ground. Surrounding that old friend was an apron of grasses unlike the Mediterranean ‘wild oats’ and foxtails that covered the lion’s share of the hills. These grasses were soft underfoot, green late into summer, and less apt to plant stickers in my socks or ticks on my blue jeans. Growing in tufts and bunches among scattered outcrops of Serpentine, this little oasis always hosted the best wildflowers in spring, the liveliest butterflies through the summer, and the deepest of greens throughout the winter. However far I might roam, I would find my way there. I spent untold hours leaning against that tree, barefoot and at ease.
It wasn’t until many years later than I realized that magical place was a remnant of one of California’s native grasslands, known as coastal prairie. University professors had lectured with great authority that the vast expanses of native grasslands which once graced our coastal hills and valleys were irretrievably lost to the onslaught of annual grasses that tagged along with European livestock in the 1700’s. Gone, and nearly forgotten. And yet, this bleak assessment is proving premature, and perhaps not irrevocable.
Those welcoming green bunch grasses and intricately diverse wildflower fields can still be found, and perhaps nowhere better than the Santa Lucia Preserve. Our 18,000 acres of protected lands support over 500 acres of native coastal prairie, including dense stands of Danthonia, or California Oat Grass, the ‘redwoods’ of the grasslands. A single Danthonia plant may be several hundred years old, with roots that reach more than four feet deep.
These special places still fill me with hope and delight, connecting me to my own past as well as the rich natural history of California. Indicators of the health and resilience of the land, native grasslands provide many benefits for our community. The deep roots and perennial moisture of these grasses maintain soil health and help the rains reach deep into the ground, replenishing our streams and aquifers. Native grasses create less fuel for wildfires and support a broad diversity of some of our most beloved wildlife, from birds and butterflies to bobcats and foxes. Best of all, perhaps, they offer a connection to the history and health of the land, and a sense of hope and excitement for its future.
As we venture into an exciting new Grassland Management Initiative on The Preserve, highlighted in this newsletter, I’m filled with optimism. Working together to care for our grasslands through restorative grazing, vigorous weed management and an integrated fuel management program, we can sustain and even expand these fragile oases of beauty and biodiversity. And perhaps someday, another lucky teen looking for a special place to reconnect or recharge will find it here, among the soft green natives of the Santa Lucia Preserve.
By Christy Fischer
Connections with Our Natural Neighbors
Coyotes, It’s a Family Affair
By Adam White & Christy Wyckofff
One of the joys of living on The Preserve is the fabulous wildlife watching opportunities that exist here, every season of the year. Spring is one of the best times to see our second largest resident predator, the coyote. Right now, coyotes appear bigger, or rather, fluffier, as they are still sporting their thick winter coats but in reality, coyotes in the western US only weigh an average of 25 pounds.
What coyotes lack in size, they make up for in speed, with the ability to run upwards of 40 miles per hour. While coyotes have extremely varied diets, they are primarily rodent hunters. Their superb senses of smell, hearing and sight combine into skilled and effective rodent specialists that serve an integral part of our ecosystem. Read More About the Wild Preserve…
For the Love of California’s Grasslands
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THOSE GRASSLANDS?
By Christy Wyckoff
What is it about those grasslands? Over the last six years I’m sure you have heard the Conservancy talk about how important our grasslands are at least a time or two, or a few dozen more. But you may still be wondering why exactly grasslands are so important. Especially when compared to the visually complex and biodiverse oak woodlands, coastal scrub and chaparral that comprise the remaining 75% of Preserve lands. The answer is both simple, and complex. The simple answer is grasslands are important because of their increasing rarity and disproportionate biodiversity. The complex answer involves more nuanced layers of a legacy of invasion, a history of disturbance and the presence, or more concerning, the absence of keystone species. Have I piqued your interest yet? Read More…
Inspiration from Our Community
Birds in Paradise
By Angela Hains
The first hint that we are on our way to interview a bird lover is the owl sitting atop the home’s sign post. Indications become more prevalent as we park in this Vermont native’s drive and approach her front door. Bird baths and feeders dot the perimeter of the yard, spiral bird tape create rainbow prisms near glass doors and decals decorate windows throughout the house. There’s an enchanted Snow White-esque feel to Kathy and David Siegel’s home. During our recent visit, one stormy January afternoon, it was obvious that animals found refuge here. Read More…
Tales from the Field
A Milestone Moment
By Lindsay Cope
There are many beautiful and diverse grasslands around the world, as two of our newest staff members can attest. Before joining the Conservancy team, Rodrigo researched prairie dogs, ran cattle, and managed bison in the arid grasslands of Janos, Chihuahua, Mexico. While Lindsay snorkeled seagrass meadows in the Philippines, working with fishing communities to protect and restore this threatened ecosystem. Both arrived at the Conservancy a year ago. In twelve months, a lot has changed. The team has grown even more. We welcomed Jenna Allred, the Conservancy’s weed guru; Rue, our cattle dog who joins Kyle in the field every day; most recently, a five-person seasonal field crew; and, soon, we will be expanding our cattle herd and adding an extra grazing technician. Read More…
INTO THE WEEDS
A Deeper Dive into The Preserve’s Plant World
A Weed Warrior’s Toolkit
By Jenna Allred & Angela Hains
When I first received the exciting news that I would be working with the Conservancy on the Santa Lucia Preserve, I did not really know what was in store for me. However, spending the day at Peñon Peak filled me with enthusiasm about my role here as the Natural Lands Manager. Surrounded by the call of raptors and buzz of bees busily pollinating nearby flowers, I felt myself quickly connecting to this special place. Bending to observe the wildflowers more closely, I realized in horror, that the bee nearest me was sitting atop a familiar, vibrant yellow bloom and was vigorously collecting its pollen. My hands, covered in protective leather gloves, clasped my tool belt, patting clockwise around the belt until I grasped the right tool for the job. Read More…
NATURE NOTES & OTHER NEWS
Welcome Rue. Our cattle herd has been getting to know the newest member of the team, Rue Lucia. Rue is a highly trained, female Border Collie that guides the herd from one pasture to the next, working alongside our grazing staff. Border Collies are working dogs bred for their intelligence, obedience and high energy. Rue has all three in spades and has already proven to be a valuable member of the team. She is able to anticipate the livestock’s movement, improving our efficiency in the field and helping support our grassland restoration goals.
Let it Snow. Portions of The Preserve were temporarily transformed into a winter wonderland a month ago. Although snow is infrequent, hard frosts are an annual occurrence each winter and are beneficial to our natives. If long and intensive enough, these frosts can help regulate the growth of weeds and populations of certain insects, like bark beetles and oak moths. A light dusting of snow can highlight our sweeping views and majestic trees in a new light, refreshing our sense of wonder in this special place.
The Eye of the Storm. High winds, heavy rains and frosty morning can be hard on people and wildlife alike. Winters like these offer important benefits to the natural world: opening new areas in the forest to sunlight, washing silt from streambeds and breaking down old brush to clear the way for fresh growth in the spring. Surprisingly, downed oaks offer habitat that is even more valuable once fallen than the same tree provided alive, creating homes for birds, native pollinators and reptiles. For assistance with downed trees, please contact the Conservancy.
Highlights from a Recent Event
FOOTSTEPS OF WILDLIFE
January 12 was a great day on the land with Bart Kowalski, our local friend and wildlife tracker. Twenty community members, including three youngsters, joined us in interpreting the “Footsteps of Wildlife” on Cantera Trail. Within the first 50 meters of the start of the trail, we identified tracks from coyote, skunk, grey fox and mountain lion. After checking wildlife cameras from the previous night, we were pleased to find our detective work was spot on, seeing that each of those animals had passed through that area, just as we’d hypothesized.
UPCOMING EVENTS: SAVE THE DATE
April 5: Sudden Oak Death 10-Year Update, Hacienda Talk
April 6-7: Sudden Oak Death Blitz, Self-guided Saunter
April 19: Preserve Wildflower Quest, Saunter
April 22: Get Some Earth on Your Hands on Earth Day, Restoration Event
May 11: Bird in the Hand, Saunter
May 22: Got Grass, Saunter
May 23: Conservation Ranching, Hacienda Talk
June 21: Sunshine, Seining and Salamanders, Saunter
For the Conservancy’s full calendar of events, please visit our Member Events page.
UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN
We hope you enjoyed the first edition of the Conservancy newsletter. The next edition will be out in a couple of months. Until then, stay updated on Conservancy news through any of our social media channels, new website, events listed above or by participating in any one of several citizen science programs.
The non-profit Santa Lucia Conservancy envisions a place of enduring wild beauty and resilient biodiversity, actively cared for and protected by a thriving community of people for the benefit of all. If ever you have a question or need assistance, we hope you get in touch.
© 2019 Santa Lucia Conservancy
26700 Rancho San Carlos Rd.
Carmel, CA 93923