New 2016 Projects

Gaviota Creek Watershed Restoration Implementation

The Draft Watershed Plan is done and has been reviewed by a number of people and stakeholder groups. You can find it here. Please send any comments or suggestions you might have on the Plan to us at

Trout 1950sWe have begun to apply for grants to begin the work of eliminating the steelhead barriers. Our partner, South Coast Habitat Restoration has made three grant applications so far and, although we have not yet received funding, we are still optimistic we will. Coastal Ranches Conservancy is raising funds to use as a match for the grant funds. The larger the amount of matching funds, the more likely we are to receive the grant.

With South Coast Habitat Restoration, we are working on 3-4 more grant applications to submit this fall. We also continue to work with State Parks and with our state legislators to find other sources of funding for this project, particularly the more expensive access road and campground relocation aspects.

Trout in the Classroom

Coastal Ranches Conservancy is providing the financial support for the Trout in the Classroom curriculum at Vista de las Cruces school. This excellent program is run by Central Coast Salmon Enhancement in Arroyo Grande and, according to them “Students learn how their everyday choices make a difference in their watershed for the health of fish and people.” With Gaviota Creek flowing through the school’s front yard, this program looks to be an excellent way to get the local kids involved and further our collective vision for the watershed.

2015 Projects

Gaviota Creek Watershed Restoration

In one of our most ambitious projects since Coastal Ranches Conservancy was started in 2004, the organization has decided to work in the Gaviota Creek Watershed over the next several years on a variety of different areas of conservation and restoration.

Gaviota Creek drains the largest watershed on the Gaviota Coast, about 13,000 acres in size. This watershed is almost completely in its natural condition and over 75% of it is already protected from development, either in public ownership by the State Department of Parks and Recreation or Los Padres National Forest, or by conservation easements on private ranch lands. There are additional opportunities to acquire conservation easements in the watershed from willing sellers.

Even though at times Gaviota Creek runs literally between the north and southbound lanes of Highway 101, it still has healthy populations of Pond Turtles, Tidewater Gobies, and Red-Legged Frogs. And a few of the endangered steelhead trout too have managed to survive in a couple of deep pools.

Over the next 3-5 years, Coastal Ranches Conservancy will work with Moe Gomez of South Coast Habitat Restoration, the State Department of Parks and Recreation, CalTrans, and adjacent landowners, as part of a team effort to remove the 10 barriers to steelhead migration in Gaviota Creek on State Park lands and to improve the overall watershed health. CRC’s primary role in this will be to:

  1. Write a Watershed Plan, which will identify the critical planning issues and suggest possible solutions.
  2. Work with all of the “partners” (agencies, land owners, and non-profits) to help achieve the goals
  3. Help raise matching funds to increase the likelihood of winning grant money to do the work.

Gaviota State Park Castor Bean Removal

After CRC donor funds paid for their removal 6 years ago, the castor beans have re-invaded the coastal bluff top at Gaviota State Park and are gradually spreading inland. Due to the State Parks budget constraints, there has been little or no follow-up since the last time and the seeds left behind have re-sprouted. We hope to raise sufficient funds to pay for a 3 year program that will result in the complete eradication of this plant from the Park. CRC needs to raise $15,000 for this project and the Park has agreed to provide matching funds in the form of labor to do the field work.

Kids in Nature

“Kids in Nature” is a program providing field trips and nature-based science education to elementary school children in disadvantaged school districts in Santa Barbara County. It is run by UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration and is a 15 year-old program with a proven track record of success. The program utilizes UCSB students as mentors to the fifth graders in the program. These student mentors simultaneously undergo training in teaching the science curriculum that has been developed. CRC raised $7,500 for this program in 2015. This is our first year funding Kids in Nature but we believe it is a very valuable program which we hope you will continue to support through your donations, as we would like to be able to continue our funding in future years. To learn more, visit:

Project Updates

Conservation Grazing at Arroyo Hondo Preserve

This project is an on-going experiment in how to use carefully controlled cattle grazing to reduce wildfire fuels and encourage the re-establishment of native plants on an east-facing hillside in the Arroyo Hondo Preserve. This hillside of interest is heavily infested with non-native plants like Black Mustard and Poison Hemlock which crowd-out native plants. The site and grazing plan is monitored by Dr. Marc Horney of Cal Poly SLO and his students and they decide when the cattle come on and when they must leave, based on the plants’ condition.

Thanks to our donors’ generosity, we were able to fund Phase I of this project at the Arroyo Hondo Preserve in time for the main pasture fence to be built in early winter of 2014. The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County installed the fencing and watering troughs so cattle could be brought in late January. For 18 days, 35 cow/calf pairs grazed the steep 38 acre pasture; the first time in over 20 years that any grazing was permitted. The timing looked good as the site was grazed off pretty well before the mustard had a chance to flower. Dr. Horney and his students monitored the plant condition after the cattle were moved out. The next planned grazing cycle will be in the winter of 2016 and it is expected to take several years to deplete the reservoir of mustard and hemlock seeds so that natives can move back in.

Phase II

Phase II of this project is to divide the main pasture into two smaller pastures so that the grazing pressure to be more finely tuned to the different plant types found at the top and bottom of the slope. A small area is also going to be completely removed from grazing as it turned out to be too steep and the cattle were disturbing the soil too much. Phase II work will likely be done in the late Summer and Fall of 2015.

We will continue to report on this project over the next several years. We are hopeful and optimistic that this project will reveal some grazing management techniques that can be applied more widely on the Gaviota Coast.

2014 Projects

Arroyo Hondo Preserve to Implement Conservation Grazing

August 2014

Working with the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, Coastal Ranches Conservancy is seeking funding to help put into place a key element in the restoration of the 782 acre Arroyo Hondo Preserve. Construction of 3600 feet of fence and placement of livestock water troughs will allow the western side of Arroyo Hondo Canyon to once again be grazed by livestock after 20 years of lying fallow. This grazing will be done with the goal of reducing wildfire fuels and restoring native plants. Much of the Preserve has already been restored with thousands of native plants and shrubs planted by volunteers and staff since the Land Trust acquired the Preserve from the Hollister and Chamberlain families in 2001. The western side of the Canyon is the largest area that remains un-restored. The native vegetation on this slope is largely absent due to dense growth of the invasive non-natives like mustard and the build-up of accumulated dry plant matter from the annual die-off of these plants represents a major fire hazard for the Preserve and its neighbors. This area of the Preserve has already burned off once in recent history, during the Gaviota Fire of 2004.

The native plant restoration techniques that have been used elsewhere on the Preserve would be far too costly to apply to this steep slope encompassing 38 acres. John Warner, Preserve Manager, had been looking for a solution to the problems this area of the Preserve presented when Michael Benedict of Coastal Ranches Conservancy called him with the idea of using cattle to graze down the non-native plants and give the native shrubs and grasses a chance to come back. “I have known Michael for many years” says John, “and he came to me with the concern that this slope needed to be grazed both for fire protection and to bring back the natives. We haven’t been able to graze it since we acquired the property because the fencing was in disrepair. So Benedict suggested that Coastal Ranches Conservancy could possibly raise the money to rebuild the fencing. We don’t want the grazing to negatively impact the existing native plants in this area and, ideally, we want even more natives established here.”

The Coastal Ranches Conservancy, with Benedict’s support (he is on the Board), has agreed to work with the Land Trust to help raise funds for this project. The Conservancy is focused on providing environmental education and financial support to help ranchers along the Gaviota Coast accomplish conservation projects. As Benedict says “We see this as an ideal project for our organization to support. Every rancher along the Gaviota Coast has to deal with heavy infestations of mustard weed, which isn’t a great food source for cattle, although cattle will eat it at certain stages in its growth. Left un-grazed, it becomes a terrible fire hazard. If we can devise new grazing techniques which will help control this invasive plant and at the same time encourage native plants to become re-established, that knowledge would be very useful for many local cattle operations.”

The idea of using grazing for conservation purposes is not a new one. Conservation grazing is considered by many scientists a potentially useful technique but one that needs to be fine-tuned for each particular site and its unique vegetation. The theory is promising but there has been very little research done to develop the technique or to prove the benefits.

To meet the challenge of devising a successful conservation grazing program, the Land Trust sought the help of Dr. Marc Horney, professor in Rangeland Resources Management at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Dr. Horney saw the opportunity to test the conservation grazing theory and has agreed to oversee what will be a multiyear experiment. By varying the timing, duration, and intensity of the grazing, he hopes to be able to create better conditions for native plants to move into areas where they do not now grow. According to Dr. Horney, “This will require several years to reduce the number of mustard plants, which shade out any natives that attempt to come up. We will need to take into account the timing of the growth of each of the various native species we want to restore so that we can try to give them the conditions they need to get re-established.” Dr. Horney and his students are currently working out an initial grazing plan for the site. Over time, this plan will be adapted to annual changes in rainfall and the experimental results.

The initial project cost is estimated to be $52,000 to rebuild the fencing and install several livestock watering points. There will be additional operating expense over the project’s first ten years to monitor the impact on the vegetation and to manage the livestock accordingly. Coastal Ranches Conservancy has committed to raise the money required to get the fencing built and the project started. Operating costs will be borne by the Land Trust. For additional information, please contact John Warner at the Arroyo Hondo Preserve at 805-567-1115 or at

Hollister Ranch Conservancy Tide Pool School

The Tide Pool School combines local elementary school children with UCSB Marine Biology student docents and the pristine tide pools of the Hollister Ranch Shoreline Preserve. This successful program provides a hands-on marine science education to schoolchildren in the neighboring communities while enabling UCSB’s Marine Biology student docents to lead the educational curriculum. With grants received from the Kiewit Foundation, the Coastal Ranches Conservancy has provided support for the Tide Pool School for the past 5 years. The funds cover the costs of transporting students by bus, supporting the UCSB student docents, and providing instructional materials.

Sustainable Cattle Ranching Model

Working in conjunction with the Hollister Ranch Cattle Cooperative, which operates one of the largest cattle ranches in Santa Barbara County, the Coastal Ranches Conservancy has supported the development of an environmentally and financially sustainable model of cattle ranching. Cattle ranching is a beneficial agricultural operation and we believe anything we can do to make cattle ranching more successful on the Gaviota Coast will help take the pressure off of ranchers to convert their operations to more intensive land uses and allow these historic operations to continue.

This project is focused on the three areas we believe to be most important:

  • Control of invasive species; both plants and animals
  • Implement innovative methods of protecting riparian corridors from the impacts of cattle
  • Better understand the impacts of grazing on Coast Live Oaks.

In the future, we hope to expand this work to other ranches and feature the results on our website.

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Past Projects

Following is a list of projects the Coastal Ranches Conservancy has helped to fund over the past ten years. Each of these are an examples of CRC’s approach to 1) identify beneficial projects and 2) provide seed money to enable the project to get up and running and 3) to quickly demonstrate successful outcomes. These successes then build the momentum needed to expand the projects and secure additional funding with grants from larger organizations.

Support of Permit Streamlining

The Coastal Ranches Conservancy continues to support efforts by the County and the Coastal Commission to make it easier to obtain permits for habitat restoration and traditional maintenance projects. In the past, these types of beneficial projects were treated the same as a standard development project by the permitting agency. This caused additional delays, increased costs and reduced the private landowner’s motivation to perform actual restoration work.

Gaviota Coast Steelhead Coalition

Formed in 2008 on the initiative of the Coastal Ranches Conservancy, the mission of the Gaviota Coast Steelhead Coalition is to work with private landowners and agency funding to assist in the restoration of healthy, self-sustaining populations of the federally-endangered Southern Steelhead Trout to the streams on the Gaviota Coast. The Coastal Ranches Conservancy has provided seed money that has been matched with State and Federal grants to help carry a given project forward. The Patagonia Environmental Grants program generously provided initial support for the Gaviota Coast Steelhead Coalition. The Steelhead Coalition is led by Mauricio (Moe) Gomez, who is just completing an 12 year long, $5.7 million restoration of steelhead passage on Carpinteria Creek. Moe Gomez works with landowners and is well-respected by the State and Federal agencies that provide funding and regulatory approval for these projects.

It is Coastal Ranches Conservancy’s policy to only work with willing land owners on steelhead restoration efforts.

Native Grass Seed Farm

The Coastal Ranches Conservancy provided funds to develop a ½ acre site to grow Purple Needle Grass, Stipa pulchra, which is a native perennial bunch grass. Purple Needle Grass seeds were collected from local Gaviota ranches and plugs grown at a local nursery. The use of locally collected seeds for restoration projects is desirable to preserve the genetic uniqueness of this species. The annual seed production harvested from this site will be available for future native grass restoration projects on the Gaviota Coast.

Measuring Stream Health with Bugs

In 2006, CRC helped pay for the training of 12 Gaviota ranch owners in the technique of measuring stream health called “bio-assessment”. Basically, stream bio-assessment allows volunteers to monitor the overall health of local creeks by collecting a sample of the aquatic insect larvae (benthic macro-invertebrates or “BMI”) that live in the streambed. By identifying the numbers and types of insects found in a given stream, it can be determined if that stream is healthy or not. For example, if the stream is impacted by soil sediment from a road cut, then certain sensitive species of insect larvae will not be present and other less sensitive species will have taken their place. This method of measurement is considered a much more accurate measurement of stream health than testing for bacteria, which is another technique. The volunteer “Stream Team” measures water quality in creeks along the Gaviota Coast on an annual basis.

Controlling Exotic Plant infestations

As part of our mission to work with the neighbors, the Coastal Ranches Conservancy has worked closely with Gaviota State Park and the Hollister Ranch Cattle Co-op to help control outbreaks of invasive plant species such as Castor Bean and Artichoke Thistle. In the case of an infestation of Artichoke Thistle in Alegria Canyon, funds from the Coastal Ranches Conservancy were able to help stop a two acre patch of thistles from taking over the whole canyon and becoming permanently established. Artichoke Thistles can be particularly difficult to remove because of their deep tap roots. In Gaviota State Park, well-established invasive plants cannot be so easily contained but a $10,000 grant from Coastal Ranches Conservancy helped State Parks address this problem. Using labor provided by the California Conservation Corp to stretch the dollars as far as possible, many Castor Bean plants and Peruvian Pepper trees have been removed from the upland areas of the Park. Clearly, more work needs to be done but at least a big “dent” was put in the seed production and rate of spread of these invasive plants.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Database Project

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) provides a method to store and retrieve a wide range of geographical information and GIS is now considered an essential land-use planning tool. GIS can lead to a better understanding of the land by mapping various kinds of information in new ways. Funding from the Coastal Ranches Conservancy has allowed the development of a GIS database for the Hollister Ranch and several surrounding ranches. For example, maps integrating property lines, cow pastures, and watersheds have been used to develop new off-stream water sources for cattle and create a comprehensive Watershed Plan for the Hollister Ranch Owners Association. Other maps have provided an overview of the region’s natural resources and were used to explain the importance of cattle ranching and maintaining the Williamson Act in meetings with officials in Sacramento.

Seed Money Grows Native Grasses

A low-cost experiment, funded by the Coastal Ranches Conservancy, has grown into a much larger project to restore native grasses on previously cultivated fields on the Hollister Ranch. In December 2004, the CRC granted the Hollister Ranch Cattle Co-op $5,000 to seed native grasses on 13 acres of an old hay field on Panochas Flats inHollister Ranch. Ground like this, which had been farmed for many years, is typically considered the most difficult for native grass restoration. John McCarty, the Cattle Co-Op manager, made sure the test plot was grazed hard before seed was drilled into the soil. Mr. McCarty then continued to use cattle to graze off the fast growing annuals in the spring of 2005 and 2006 while giving the slower growing, native perennials a chance to get established. By late summer of 2006, it was clear that the effort was successful and the natives took hold. Bunches of Purple Needle Grass could be seen scattered among the long-dead stalks of Rip-gut Brome and Wild Oats in late September, when the Ranch is about as brown as it can get. In 2006, John McCarty and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) worked on a range improvement plan for the Hollister Ranch that included restoring native grasses on another 60 acres of old hay fields. Mr. McCarty believes that a key element of getting additional funding from NRCS was the success of the pilot project CRC funded. “There was enough new native grass showing in Panochas to prove that we knew what we were doing” said Mr. McCarty. The little bit of seed money from the Coastal Ranches Conservancy, combined with careful observation and the willingness of the landowner’s to experiment, has been leveraged into a successful restoration that has restored native grasses.

Watershed Study Prerequisite for Steelhead Restoration

With financial support from Coastal Ranches Conservancy, in 2007 a team of Masters Degree students from the UCSB Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management completed a study of the possibilities of restoring Steelhead passage on a local creek. This project would involve removal of migration barriers caused by road crossings and other obstacles.

California Rangeland Trust

The California Rangeland Trust is active in the Gaviota Coastal area in efforts to preserve local ranches. The Coastal Ranches Conservancy has offered support with a modest grant. These funds will help procure conservation easements which will protect and preserve natural resources and open space.

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