For immediate release: June 29, 2016
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ESF Buys 107-Acre Sand Hill Farm, Linking Conservation Lands Multi-year Restoration Effort Begins with Work to Halt Erosion
WATSONVILLE, CA — On June 15, the Elkhorn Slough Foundation (ESF) completed its purchase of 107-acre Sand Hill Farm, a keystone property connecting the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve with a three-mile stretch of ESF-protected lands in the Elkhorn Highlands.
“We’re pleased to announce that the Elkhorn Slough Foundation has purchased Sand Hill Farm for conservation of native habitat, water quality, and working lands in our watershed,” says ESF Executive Director Mark Silberstein. “Sand Hill Farm is a key piece of the puzzle for conservation in Elkhorn Slough, and we look forward to restoring this land to better health.”
As early as 1999, ESF identified Sand Hill Farm as a high priority acquisition in its Elkhorn Slough Watershed Conservation Plan, but it was not until last year that ESF found a willing seller.
Now that escrow has closed, restoration efforts at Sand Hill Farm — expected to last seven years with estimated costs exceeding $400,000 — can begin in earnest.
Sand Hill Farm was conventionally farmed for decades. Its steep sandy slopes are subject to erosion, and sediment moving off the fields has flowed into the wetlands on the National Estuarine Research Reserve. ESF’s goal is to return the steep upper slopes to habitat and groundwater recharge and conservation, while creating a sustainable, certified organic farm on the gentle slopes.
“Sand Hill Farms features around 25 acres of native habitat, such as maritime chaparral and oak woodlands. About 50 acres of old farm debris and plastic sheeting remain on the fallowed strawberry fields,” explains Kim Hayes, ESF Stewardship Director. “Before our land restoration team can undertake further work to stabilize the eroding slopes, we need to excavate and remove this debris.”
ESF land stewards are working to remove the agricultural plastic and debris in the next several months, so that sediment basins and cover crops can be readied to halt erosion and runoff in time for seasonal winter rains.
Silberstein estimates up to one hundred acre feet of water (more than 32 million gallons per year, roughly the volume of 48 Olympic-size swimming pools) will be saved each year by retiring the steep eroding slopes from cultivation. In addition, Silberstein says changes in land management will reduce the input of nutrients and chemicals into an estuary that is recognized as extremely important habitat for Southern sea otters and a host of other valuable coastal species.
While adaptive efforts to curtail erosion will continue throughout the project, ESF land managers look forward to later phases of the effort, when they will return steeper slopes to native habitat and create an ecologically sustainable, organic farm in the more gently contoured areas of the property.
“Sand Hill Farm is a key parcel that will make a difference in the overall health of the slough,” says Silberstein. “We are beginning what we see as the Foundation’s next major phase of land acquisition, and we look forward to engaging the community as we move forward in these projects that will truly transform the slough’s landscape and health.”
The Elkhorn Slough Foundation will be offering tours of the Sand Hill Farm property throughout the next several months. The tours will allow attendees to gain a greater understanding of the importance of conserving this land and the Foundation’s long-term vision.
The Sand Hill Farm purchase is supported by a $1,580,000 grant from the California State Coastal Conservancy, with the agreement that ESF raise the remaining funds needed for restoration. With restoration costs projected to exceed $400,000, the Elkhorn Slough Foundation welcomes contributions from individuals who support conservation of Sand Hill Farm and other critical watershed lands. To learn more about upcoming tours or to donate toward restoration, visit www.elkhornslough.org.
The California State Coastal Conservancy, established in 1976, is an agency of the State of California within the Natural Resources Agency. The Conservancy’s creative, non-regulatory approach has enabled the conservation of vast areas of natural lands, parks, and farmland, the construction of hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails, and the restoration of working waterfronts along the entire length of the coast. To accomplish its goals, the Conservancy relies on strong partnerships with public agencies, non-governmental organizations, and local communities throughout the coast and around San Francisco Bay. This network of partners helps ensure that the Conservancy’s work is responsive to on-going coastal needs and opportunities.
Elkhorn Slough, located in the central Monterey Bay area encompasses a wide variety of habitats — from oak woodlands, maritime chaparral and coastal prairie to the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay. These habitats support an incredible diversity of life. Elkhorn Slough hosts 550 species of marine invertebrates, and 100 species of fish, as well as resident sea lions, harbor seals and the highest concentration of endangered Southern sea otters on the west coast. As part of the Pacific flyway, Elkhorn Slough bird numbers can soar during migration seasons, with tens of thousands of winged visitors. The slough is designated a Globally Important Bird area, with more than 340 bird species identified in and around the slough.
The Elkhorn Slough Foundation (ESF) is a nationally accredited, nonprofit land trust whose mission is to conserve and restore the Elkhorn Slough and its watershed. ESF protects 4,000 acres of rare habitat including oak woodlands, maritime chaparral, and wetlands. Since 1982, ESF has been the nonprofit partner of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (ESNERR), one of 28 research reserves funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) manages the 1,700-acre Reserve, providing 5 miles of public trails, education, research, and volunteer programs.
For more information, visit www.elkhornslough.org.