Environment / Nature

Trust buys easement on 9,400-acre ranch in Gabilan Range

The easement will connect with Gabilan Ranch conservation area along the Monterey County.
Easement property. Photo courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Board.
Easement property. Photo courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Board.
Elk drinking on Silacci Ranch. Photo courtesy of California Rangeland Trust.
Elk drinking on Silacci Ranch. Photo courtesy of California Rangeland Trust.
Silacci Ranch. Photo courtesy of California Rangeland Trust.
Silacci Ranch. Photo courtesy of California Rangeland Trust.

Editor’s note: the headline was updated to better reflect the purchase of an easement. The previous headline suggested the trust had bought the property. Last updated 5:35 p.m.

The California Rangeland Trust has secured an easement on the 9,418-acre Silacci Ranch in the Gabilan Mountains for $14.9 million. The property goes from the Salinas Valley floor to the Gabilan Range peaks, and from 181 to 2,556 feet above sea level. It borders the 11,000-acre Gabilan Ranch which is held in an easement by the Nature Conservancy.

When establishing a conservation easement, California Rangeland Trust, a nonprofit that began in 1998, works closely with the landowner to address protection of the property’s natural habitat and agricultural use. 

According to the California Wildlife Conservation Board, the purposes of the proposed easement are to ensure that natural resources, agriculture and wildlife habitat are maintained in balance and harmony with each other. The grant agreement requires California Rangeland Trust to monitor the property at least once a year to ensure the easement terms are being honored.

The property is zoned and used for agriculture and resource conservation. The majority of the property is in Monterey County and enrolled in a Williamson Act land conservation agreement, which gives landowners lower property tax assessments 

Alyssa Rolen, communication director with the California Rangeland Trust, said they hope to close escrow on the property by the end of September.

She confirmed there are several funding partners:

  • California Wildlife Conservation Board: $2 million
  • Department of Conservation: $6.25 million
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: $376,000
  • Landowner donation: $6.27 million

According to the WCB, the topography of the Silacci Ranch is moderate to steep mountainous terrain. Approximately 315 acres on the valley floor are leased for agriculture. Strawberries, bush berries and leafy green vegetables are grown on a rotational basis. 

The conservation easement will prohibit further agricultural intensification and limit the irrigated crops to the existing acreage. It also limits use of agricultural land to food-based crops such as strawberries, raspberries, grapes, nuts, citrus trees and olives.

The remainder of the ranch is used for seasonal cattle grazing. Depending on conditions, up to 800 cattle are grazed from October through June. The cattle are rotationally grazed on 15 pastures throughout the ranch, the WCB states.

The property also consists of eight reserved building envelopes for residences, agricultural employees, barns and other agricultural buildings, and recreational facilities such as hunting cabins. These buildings use less than 25 acres.

The property contains the upper reaches of Alisal Creek and two of the tributary drainages support riparian woodland as well as multiple ponds and other wetlands. Riparian woodland is integral to maintaining the integrity of soils and water quality as well as for providing refuge for wildlife in and around the property.

The WCB notes the property’s considerable elevation range, varied topography, and soil types support an exceptional diversity of plant communities. Plant communities include open land with annual grasses, clover and scattered shrubs. Steeper portions feature coastal oak woodland, chaparral, coastal scrub, montane hardwood-conifer and valley foothill riparian. A significant number of blue and coastal live oak trees are present across the ranch. Other tree species include bay, pine, alder, sycamore, manzanita, and tanoak. Riparian plants, including cottonwood, willow trees, and cattails, are present in vegetated spring and creek banks.

Special status plant species documented on site include: 

  • Pinnacles buckwheat 
  • California false lupine 
  • Coastal biscuitroot

Also according to WCB, the property’s high quality, undisrupted habitats support a number of special status animal species including: 

  • California tiger salamander
  • western pond turtle 
  • bald eagle 
  • golden eagle 
  • American badger
  • tri-colored blackbird

Habitat suited to California red-legged frogs is also present. Tule elk, mountain lion, coyote, and bobcat are present. 

Rotational grazing and off-stream water sources limit livestock impacts to wildlife habitat. There are a total of 11 stock ponds, 10 water tanks and 52 water troughs distributed throughout the easement, the WCB noted. 

Because grazing reduces this vegetation, it can keep the pools wet longer, giving salamander larvae more time to grow up. Removing grazing could reduce habitat availability for California tiger salamanders particularly in a drier climate. 

Stock ponds support native herpetofauna as well as provide critical water for terrestrial animals including black-tailed deers, tule elks and mountain lions. Seeps and springs support wetland vegetation including freshwater marsh, willows and cottonwoods, which can be used by nesting avian species such as tri-colored blackbirds and golden eagles. 

The Wildlife Conservation Board notes that protection of the property will contribute to climate change adaptation and resilience goals such as protection of streams and riparian areas; provide a source of perennial water for wildlife; feature cooler microclimates; and facilitate animal movement. As part of a state-wide analysis, the Gabilan Range was determined to have a high to very high density of seeps and springs. The occurrence of abundant springs may reflect greater groundwater supplies, which support resiliency to climate change.

Conservation through the proposed easement will prohibit fragmentation of the property and maintain a large, contiguous block of habitat. In addition, the proposed conservation easement will prohibit development of vineyards. Rural residential development, fragmentation of large properties, and vineyard development threaten connectivity between the Santa Cruz and Gabilan ranges, according to the WCB. 


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Carmel de Bertaut

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. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.