Coast Dairies – Natural, Cultural and Historic Resources
This iconic property on the Santa Cruz north coast offers rugged and beautiful terrain including vast coastal terraces, rolling hillsides and mountain ridgelines that plunge into deep riparian canyons. Six creeks flow through the property and into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary offshore. Vegetation types range from coastal grasslands to oak woodlands and redwood forests. The property’s diverse ecosystems provide habitat for a variety of rare or special-status species like steelhead, coho salmon, red-legged frogs and mountain lions. Expansive hillsides offer dramatic vistas of the Pacific coastline and Monterey Bay.
The Coast Dairies lands were once inhabited by Native Americans known as the “Cotoni,” part of the larger cultural sphere of Ohlone Indians in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay region. The ancestors of the Cotoni people, speakers of the Awaswas language, settled the Coast Dairies area thousands of years prior to European contact. The areas of highest Native American cultural value in the Santa Cruz Mountains are concentrated along coastal terraces, streams, ridges, and uplands, and Coast Dairies contains all of these features. Currently, four registered ancestral Native American archaeological sites have been documented on the property, and many more may still be identified through formal archaeological survey. The registered ancestral sites are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Conserving them is important because of their significance to today’s living Ohlone Indian descendants and because they hold the potential to help us understand the landscape and the history of human interaction with it. For additional information, see Amah Mutsun Land Trust’s Indigenous Cultural Resources at Coast Dairies (PDF).
The Coast Dairies lands have also played a central role in the recent history of northern Santa Cruz County. Long held in private ownership by the Coast Dairies & Land Company, the property supported Swiss dairy operations for many decades. Beginning in the 1960s, pressure to develop the land grew strong and a variety of plans were made, first for a nuclear power plant and later for a luxury home development. Fortunately and for a variety of reasons these plans failed, and in 1998 the Trust for Public Land (TPL) stepped in, with the help of generous donors, to purchase the Coast Dairies & Land Company’s land holdings – roughly 7,000 acres in total – and protect them for conservation and public enjoyment. In 2006, TPL transferred 407 acres of rocky coastal bluffs and beaches on the western side of Highway 1 to California State Parks. Recently, in 2014, TPL transferred 5,800 acres inland of Highway 1 to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), while retaining ownership of several inland parcels that are now protected via conservation easement for continued agricultural production.
The proposed Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument will provide a permanent layer of federal protection for the 5,800 acres owned by the BLM and elevate the property as a conservation priority among BLM’s extensive landholdings throughout the country. As a national monument, the property will belong to a special class of federal properties known as National Conservation Lands, which are managed by the BLM for conservation purposes above all else. Monument designation also gives Coast Dairies increased access to federal funding and other resources for stewardship of the land.
What Is A National Monument?
National monuments are protected public lands that have unique natural, historic or cultural resources worthy of permanent federal protection and public enjoyment. National monuments are created by Congress through special acts or legislation or by the President under powers granted in the Antiquities Act of 1906. With national monument designation comes added federal protection and recognition that a place is particularly special and deserving of heightened care. Today there are more than 170 national monuments across the country, including Muir Woods (President Theodore Roosevelt, 1908), Fort Ord (President Obama, 2012), and the California Coastal National Monument, which includes the rocks and small islands located off the coastline (President Clinton, 2000).
Day uses such as hiking, mountain biking, equestrian use, picnics and educational programs are usually allowed on national monument lands, while mineral and resource extraction, hunting, fishing, off-road vehicle use and concerts are usually prohibited.
National monuments can be managed by one of several federal agencies: the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or the BLM. The federal agency that manages the national monument develops a resource management and public access plan with local input. Before TPL donated the Coast Dairies property to the BLM, TPL prepared a management plan, including an extensive environmental survey. If Coast Dairies is designated as a national monument, the existing management plan will become the basis for the BLM to develop a final National Monument Management Plan in collaboration with members of the public and local agencies. National monuments are not national parks (national parks are owned and managed by the National Park Service, not the BLM), but like national parks they may generate considerable economic benefits for the local community.