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Land Trust of Santa Cruz County Coastal Program

Coastal Program and Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program worked withPhoto courtesy of the Land Trust for Santa Cruz County the State Coastal Conservancy and the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County (Land Trust) to develop a National Coastal Wetland ConservationGrant proposal in FY2010 that helped to secure a 45-acre property in the middle Watsonville Slough, one of the five tributaries associated with the Watsonville Slough complex in Santa Cruz County, California.  The proposed active and passive restoration efforts on the property will increase the existing palustrine wetlands to almost 30 acres and the property will ultimately be managed as part of the Land Trust’s recently established 485-acre Watsonville Sloughs Farm property.  The Land Trust is in the process of developing a long-term management plan for the property with a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) that is comprised of staff from the Coastal Program and other partners, including the State Coastal Conservancy, Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County (RCD), Watsonville Wetlands Watch, local biologists, and representatives from the organic farming community.  In FY2010, the Coastal Program is also providing cost-share and technical assistance on two other habitat improvement projects associated with the Watsonville Slough Farms property that will address immediate sedimentation issues into the Watsonville Slough system and provide benefits to the only known breeding pond for the federally threatened California red-legged frog (Ranadraytonii) west of Highway 1 in the slough system.  These projects are immediate needs for the Land Trust’s property that will eventually tie into the long-term management plan being developed by the TAC.

The Watsonville Slough complex is one of the largest remaining freshwater coastal wetlands in the central coast of California, totaling approximately 800 acres and represents the most significant wetland habitat between Pescadero Marsh (San Mateo County) and Elkhorn Slough (Monterey County).  This slough system includes five tributaries: Hanson Slough, Harkins Slough, West Struve Slough, Struve Slough, and Watsonville Slough.  The slough complex is located along the Pacific flyway and the wetlands, marsh, and grasslands provide critical resting habitat for migratory waterfowl and significant wintering habitat for raptors. The slough ecosystem also supports the Federally-threatened California red-legged frog and the recently delisted the brown pelican (Pelecanusoccidentalis) and also supports at least 10 other bird species of state special concern.

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of the Land Trust for Santa Cruz County


Rush Ranch Project

This project is conceptual at this point, but the Coastal Program office in rush-ranch-projectSacramento has provided technical assistance with design review for the final design and assessment planning.  The project will restore a 70 acre tidal marsh and the associated upland transition zone.

This project will provides support needed to complete construction designs for  tidal Marsh Restoration at Rush Ranch. Rush Ranch Open Space Preserve, acquired by the Solano Land Trust (SLT) in 1988, is a 2,070-acre ranch located along the northern edge of the Suisun Marsh in Solano County, California. The property consists of 940-acres of grassland, a 70-acre diked marsh, and 1,050 acres of tidal wetlands which form one of the largest extant tracts of undiked, brackish marsh within the San Francisco Estuary.

The tidal marsh at Rush Ranch provides a home for numerous federally and state-listed threatened and endangered species, including the last known meta-population of the Suisun thistle (Cirsium hydrophilum var. hydrophilum). In 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated much of the marsh at Rush Ranch as critical habitat for Suisun thistle and soft bird’s beak (Chloropyron molle ssp. molle, syn. Cordylanthus mollis ssp. mollis), another listed plant. Rush Ranch also provides important habitat for listed species such as salt marsh harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys raviventris), California clapper rail (Rallus longirostris obsoletus), and other rare and special status species. First Mallard Slough, a natural tidal channel at the center of the marsh, has been shown to harbor among the highest counts of splittail (Pogonichthys macrolepidotus) and tule perch (Hysterocarpus traski) in Suisun Marsh. ESA listed fish that utilize the marsh include delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) and longfin smelt (Spirinchus thaleichthys). Anadromous fish include NOAA-trust species such as Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha).

This project focuses on the 70 acre diked tidal marsh.  The 70-acre diked marsh restoration project site is situated in the northwest corner of Rush Ranch, on the edge of Suisun Slough. In the 1940’s a levee and water control structures were constructed around the site and it was operated as a duck club. Hunting was stopped at Rush Ranch when it was opened up to public access in the early 1990’s (hunting opportunities are widespread elsewhere in Suisun Marsh). Since the 1990’s the diked marsh has fallen into disrepair. Today the diked marsh is subsiding and overgrown with emergent vegetation. A trail circumnavigates the diked marsh on top of the levee, but storm events often damage the levee, creating a safety hazard, and brambles have taken hold on the levee edges, sometimes interfering with passage. The Rush Ranch Tidal Marsh Restoration Project will breach the levee and create a starter channel to allow daily tidal inundation and restore natural patterns of sedimentation, marsh plain and channel evolution. A footbridge and boardwalk will be constructed in an alternate site nearby that will be less intrusive, increase public safety, and allow visitors a close-up view of the restoration project as it evolves.

Restoration of this area will result in a tidal marsh-upland ecotone and fully connected transitional zone that will connect existing tidal marsh habitat to the north and south. Across the slough from the project site, CA Department of Fish and Game, is planning an additional tidal marsh restoration site nearby. Moreover, the draft Suisun Marsh Plan—a regional plan under development by state and federal agencies—has proposed to restore between 5000-7000 acres of tidal marsh restoration within Suisun Marsh over the next 30 years. The existing tidal marsh at Rush Ranch is an important reference site for restoration projects in general. In light of the surrounding projects and planning processes, the proposed restoration and monitoring of the 70-acre diked marsh at Rush Ranch will generate important information to benefit future hydrologic/tidal reconnection projects in Suisun Marsh.

In April 2008, SLT hired consultants from PWA, Ltd, WSP Environmental Strategies, and CA Waterfowl Association to prepare Conceptual Designs and Cost Analyses for various alternative restoration strategies for the 70-acre diked marsh at Rush Ranch. Interested stakeholders were invited to review the multiple design concepts and decide whether the site would remain a “managed marsh” or be restored to un-muted tidal action. Upon recommendation of a majority of stakeholders, the SLT Board of Directors passed a resolution to restore the site to tidal marsh.

The last step before restoration is to develop final construction designs and permit the project. This proposal will provide a portion of the funding needed to complete construction designs. The San Francisco Bay Coastal program Manager will also assist with design review and project assessment. Match funds from the State Coastal Conservancy and potentially the NERR Science Collaborative provide the necessary cost share.


Eld Inlet on Puget Sound:  A Conservation Easement Protects Important Coastal Habitat

by Ann Haas

"My wife and I bought part of the farm in 1975 and have added through it Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Ecologythrough the years.  We fell in love with the place and didn't want to see it developed," said Ralph Munro about Triple Creek Farm.  "Triple Creek Farm is on the Eld Inlet, one of Puget Sound's most intact estuary-inland complexes.  A cornerstone property, the farm fits nicely into the partnership initiative led by Capitol Land Trust," explained Ginger Phalen from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Coastal Program.

"Ralph and Karen Munro have been supporters for a long time," said Eric Erler, Executive Director of the Capitol Land Trust, an organization that accquires Puget Sound properties for permanent protection through conservation easements.  The Trust is guided by a strategic goal to protect the marine and estuarine shoreline.  "Waterfront property is in high demand and is being lost very rapidly," he said.  "Three-fourths of the estuarine environment has been converted or fragmented."  Thurston County's population is expected to grow by 50 percent during the next 20 years, the fastest rate in Washington state.  The county is already experiencing impacts with the conversion of open space, farmland, and shoreline.  Protecting habitat is critical to the long term health of the area.

The Capitol Land Trust and The Trust for Public Land contacted other partners including the Service's Coastal Program in Puget Sound, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the Squaxin Island Tribe, to help ensure that the Triple Creek Farm will remain as it is now.  The culmination is a conservation easement, limiting development and protecting the property in its existing state in perpetuity.  The conservation easement protects 3.5 miles of marine shoreline, 500 feet of stream, 160 acres of intertidal and freshwater wetland and riparian habitat, and 43 acres of coastal associated forested upland habitat.

Biologists from the Coastal Program in Puget Sound helped develop a proposal for the FWS National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program to acquire the easement and provided funding and technical assistance to implement the easement.  The Washington Department of Ecology received the grant and gave the money to the Capitol Land Trust.  The Department also added to the sum from its coastal protection fund, fines assessed from oil spills to restore damaged areas.  In turn, Capitol Land Trust generated support from partners such as Entrix, a private company that conducted a biological assessment as a donation.  Financial contributions totaled more than $1 million.

"We knew that Triple Creek Farm was important, but didn't know how important until we discovered the first fish net," said Erler, referring to the Squaxin Island Tribal village and fishing grounds.  "The cedar bark fish net was more than 100 feet long, and it had jaw bones of salmon, so we know what kind of fish they were catching," added Ralph Munro.  The property has yielded artifacts that turned out to be of national significance and have formed the core collection ofa museum of the Squaxin Island Nation.  The net may be 800 years old.

The property adds important habitat for five species of anadromous fish-fall Chinook salmon, coho salmon, winter steelhead, sea-run cutthroat trout, and churn salmon - providing a transition area to saltwater at the very southern end of Puget Sound.  "This is a pretty special place," Ralph Munro said.

Photo caption: An aerial shot of the Triple Creek Farm property.

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Ecology

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