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--the California "Mega-Park" Project

Tracking measurable success on preserving and connecting California's Parks & Wildlife Corridors


Friday, February 29, 2008


Big South San Francisco Bay ranch preserved

Hewletts, Packards donate easement for families' land

Tanya Schevitz, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, January 21, 2008

for map of property

San Jose -- A huge stretch of land near Mount Hamilton that is nearly the size of San Francisco has been donated as a conservation easement by the Hewlett and Packard families to protect the property from development, the Nature Conservancy said Sunday.

The protection of the 28,359-acre San Felipe Ranch from development will complete a 70-mile long corridor of protected natural lands that extends from Pacheco Pass to Livermore Valley, according to the conservancy.

The land, which has oaks, year-round streams, seasonal ponds and wildflower meadows, was volunteered as a conservation easement by the families about 10 years after the conservancy identified the ranch's "combination of the large amount of intact flourishing habitat and the location" as one of its top priorities for protection in the Mount Hamilton range just outside San Jose, according to a statement by the conservancy.

The "Mediterranean habitat" of the ranch is an even more threatened habitat than tropical rainforests, the organization's Web site says.

Representatives from the California chapter of the Nature Conservancy did not return calls Sunday night. But information on the organization's Web site said that the land's location just 4 miles from the Highway 101 corridor has put it at risk for the creeping housing developments that have been built nearby.

"Over the past 10 years, as we've worked with ranchers and other partners to protect the private lands that connect the parks, I've watched intense urban development push right up to the borders," Mike Sweeney, executive director for the California chapter of the Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. "The past has given us a pretty good preview of what the future could be like without protection."

When land is put under a conservation easement, it remains as private property but has permanent restrictions in place to protect the natural state and prevent "incompatible activities," such as urban development, according to the conservancy statement.

Only a small portion of the ranch has been developed, and the easement strictly limits further development to a concentrated area around the existing developed headquarters.

The property will remain as a working cattle ranch, which the Nature Conservancy's Web site says is compatible with the needs of the plants and animals on the land because the cattle help maintain the ecosystem as the native elk and pronghorn once did.

The ranch is an important ecological link in the area, the conservancy's Web site says, because it sits among Henry W. Coe State Park, Joseph D. Grant County Park and Anderson Lake County Park. Including the ranch in protected lands will allow wildlife to roam freely through the area.

Members of the donating families said that the land, which they have owned since the 1950s, was dear to their parents.

"Our fathers loved this land for its wide open spaces, its wildlife and native flora and the ranching tradition," said Julie Packard in the Nature Conservancy's statement. "We wanted to ensure their legacy of protection and stewardship for this land continues into the future."

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