Rocks Ranch. Photo courtesy of Paul Zaretsky.
Rocks Ranch. Photo courtesy of Paul Zaretsky.

On Feb. 25 the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced a $4 million grant to the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County for a cooperative project with the Department of Conservation to acquire Rocks Ranch for the protection of wildlife, habitat preservation, restoration and management, wildlife-oriented education and research, and habitat connectivity. 

The 2,613-acre property, located near San Juan Bautista in San Benito and Monterey counties, is also planned to provide future wildlife-oriented, public-use opportunities.

This grant is part of a wider $64 million plan, Wildlife Conservation Board Funds Environmental Improvement and Acquisition Projects, aiming to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California. Funding comes from several sources including the Habitat Conservation Fund and bond measures approved by voters to help preserve and protect California’s natural resources.

According to Laura Dannehl-Schickman, communications director of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, the nonprofit agency is in the process of acquiring Rocks Ranch and hopes to close escrow this fall. 

To protect the land until then, a private individual who lives in California but wishes to remain anonymous has bought the land to hold until the land trust has the funds needed to complete the purchase. The $4 million grant money will be used solely toward that purchase. The trust is currently about $2.5 million short of the total needed and is campaigning to raise that amount. 

The land trust’s website states the property was slotted for a 900-home development: “[its] gentle slopes and wide valleys are ideal for building houses or a hotel with great views. The property’s abundant water resources are icing on the developer’s cake.”

The website adds that the area “has two miles of streams, nine ponds, and 10 acres of wetlands—a varied mix of habitat that supports a wide variety of wildlife. On visits, our staff regularly count a half-dozen or more deer.”

An area of Rocks Ranch, not included in the acquisition, is designated by the San Benito County General Plan as a node, intended to be developed to serve Highway 101 traffic with gas stations, restaurants and hotels. Other properties identified as nodes include Betabel, Highway 129/Searle Road and 101 Livestock properties, totaling about 300 acres.


 We need your help. Support local, nonprofit news! BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is committed to this community and providing essential, accurate information to our fellow residents. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s public service, nonprofit news.

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College and she reports on science and the environment....