Gabilan Ranch: A field trip for grown-ups

Ranch tours are becoming a popular way to learn and share ideas among local governmental agencies, environmental groups and landowners.
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Representatives from environmental organizations, government agencies, land trusts, and a dozen farmers and ranchers met at Gabilan Ranch April 25th for a free tour of the working cattle ranch which overlooks San Juan Valley and the Salinas Valley.  The field tour was hosted by the Pajaro Compass Network, which meets in Hollister twice each year. The meetings are organized for the Network by an active Steering Committee made up of network members including  The Nature Conservancy, California Farmlink, Point Blue Conservation Science,  Caltrans, Gabilan Ranch, San Benito Working Landscapes Group, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Pajaro Valley Water, and the Loma Prieta Resource Conservation District.

About 60 guests attended the free event hosted at the privately-owned Gabilan Ranch, which included a series of short talks and a two-hour tour focused on ranching and specific projects taking place on Gabilan Ranch. Visitors were introduced to Gabilan Ranch manager Jeffrey Mundell’s site-specific approach to holistic management tools such as high intensity, short duration grazing, pasture rotation, and the benefits of spring calving.  Mundell explained how he and the owners came to the decision to keep a closed herd, in order to run cattle that are adapted to the rugged landscape and able to thrive in highly variable conditions. 

Relying on detailed maps and other information developed in partnership with scientists and conservation groups, Mundell said that his adaptable grazing plan has allowed him to increase herd size, even during the recent drought, without damage to the ecosystems on the ranch.

Visitors also heard from Darrell Boyle and Donnie Baldocchi, chairman and president of the Gabilan Cattle Company, about the unique history and geography of the ranch, as well as their family’s decision to work with the Nature Conservancy to protect the ranch with a conservation easement in 2007.

Devii Rao, the locally-based University of California Cooperative Extension advisor, shared a survey that revealed the largest concern for ranchers in San Benito, Monterey, and Santa Cruz counties is the increasing number and complexity of water regulations. Many of their secondary concerns were directly related to their livestock or their pastureland.  Also mentioned was a need for educating the public more on agriculture and how our food comes to our tables.

The ranch tour included a hands-on soil activity led by Point Blue Conservation Science, based in Sonoma County, and the local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.   The activity was designed to help landowners and managers understand their baseline soil conditions to better inform management decisions aimed at improving soil health. Point Blue Senior Soil Ecologist Chelsea Carey and NRCS Staff Member Drew Mather provided a handout with links and resources for those curious to learn more about rangeland soil health. 

The day wrapped up with a short version of the Pajaro Compass Network stakeholder meeting for those who were able to stick around.  Gary Kremen, a Director of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, provided an update on the proposed Pacheco Reservoir Expansion and offered network members a tour of the site.  Representatives from several other organizations, including REACH San Benito, and the San Benito Agricultural Land Trust gave updates on their recent activities and accomplishments in the watershed.

Pajaro Compass organizers then invited participants to sign up for free webinars in May and June to learn how to use the interactive Compass web map in support of their own projects.

The Pajaro Compass Network, which launched two years ago, is a network of people in agriculture, conservation, transportation, government and community representatives interested in protecting and enhancing the conservation values of the Pajaro River Watershed, including agriculture, water resources, biodiversity and recreation. The Pajaro Compass provides tools, workshops, and online informational resources to help move voluntary conservation efforts forward. For more information, or to receive notice of the next Pajaro Compass stakeholder meeting on October 24, 2018, email:


Leslie David

Leslie David is a Bay Area independent reporter/producer and is a BenitoLink founding board member. She has produced for radio, television, newspaper and magazines in both California and Wyoming. She was with KRON-TV News in San Francisco as camera-woman, editor and field producer, where she won the Commonwealth Club's Thomas Storke Award with Linda Yee for their series on the Aids Epidemic. She started as a small market news reporter shooting her own 16mm film at KEYT-TV Santa Barbara. Leslie lives on a ranch with her family in San Benito County.