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Sunday, October 7, 2007


A Look at the Nature Conservancy's Mount Hamilton Project

San Antonio Valley, Mount Hamilton

San Antonio Valley.
Photo © Gary N. Crabbe

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Map of Mount Hamilton

Fast Facts

Location: East of San Jose and the San Francisco Bay, between Highway 101 and Interstate 5, in the southern Diablo Range.

Size: 1.2 million acres.

At Stake: Streamside forests, oak and sycamore woodlands, vast grasslands and seasonal wetlands that support migrating birds, bobcats, mountain lions, endangered San Joaquin kit foxes, tule elk, red-legged frogs, western pond turtles, steelhead and endangered bay checkerspot butterflies.

Threats: Expanding development, incompatible agricultural practices, proposed infrastructure projects.

Results: 81,000 acres in acquisitions and easements for a total of 300,000 acres protected by the Conservancy and its partners.

Mount Hamilton

Hikers in Mount Hamilton.
Photo © Grant Johnson

Encroaching development and proposed infrastructure projects threaten to fragment the last significant expanse of open space between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Great Central Valley.

Time stands still on the southeastern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area, where the wild west of Old California quietly unfolds toward the Great Central Valley. Tule elk graze in secluded valleys among colossal oaks. Rainbow trout and red-legged frogs navigate canyon streams. Cougars prowl the high ridges of the Diablo mountain range, and kit foxes scamper across open grasslands.

Straddling six counties and 1.2 million acres, The Nature Conservancy’s Mount Hamilton project supports a wide variety of natural communities that have graced Central California for centuries. But this last significant expanse of wilderness between Silicon Valley and the Central Valley is feeling the pinch of a growing population. New housing developments creep toward the project’s outer rims every year, and proposed infrastructure projects for rail lines, freeways and water projects threaten to carve the expansive wilderness into pieces. The Nature Conservancy is pursuing a number of strategies to protect Mount Hamilton and preserve its biological richness for future generations.

Ring of Conservation

The Conservancy launched its Mount Hamilton project in 1998 with the acquisition of two large ranches totaling 61,000 acres. Since then, we have worked cooperatively with landowners to acquire land or restrict development on key private properties situated among the region’s many public parks. As these private and public parcels merge into larger, contiguously conserved landscapes, they will eventually form a ring of protection around Mount Hamilton. This will allow ranchers to preserve their way of life and give native plants and animals the open space they need to survive. Protection of Mount Hamilton’s watersheds provides the additional benefit of keeping the region’s water supply clean.

Lifeline for Wildlife

The Nature Conservancy is also working with partners to preserve the upper Pajaro River floodplain. Located between Gilroy and Hollister, this 20,000-acre spread of agricultural lands, perennial streams and seasonal wetlands is the most defensible, undeveloped wildlife corridor remaining between the inland Diablo Mountains and the coastal Santa Cruz mountain range. Preserving it will allow animals to travel safely between the two ranges, giving large mammals the territory they need to maintain a genetically diverse population.

Here, the Conservancy’s strategy is two-fold: to protect the immediate banks of the upper Pajaro River, and to create an additional buffer by limiting the use of adjacent lands to wildlife-friendly agriculture.

Smart Planning

As California’s population grows, demands for new public works projects increase as well. Three such projects — proposals for new reservoir, a new freeway and a new high-speed rail line — threaten to fragment the Mount Hamilton wilderness and undermine the long-term health of its native plants and animals. The Nature Conservancy is working with many organizations and to ensure that the environmental impacts of these proposed projects are scientifically rigorously studied, and that the projects — should they go forward — be sited along existing transportation corridors or in already-developed areas.

With your help, The Nature Conservancy can preserve a vital part of Old California for future generations, while allowing a new California to blossom.

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