From Coastal Dairy to National Monument: The Early Days
South of Davenport, the Coast Dairies property on the Santa Cruz north coast is shaped by 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. A rich diversity of vegetation includes coastal grasslands, 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 Indigenous Peoples known as the Cotoni (Cho-toe-knee), 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 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 surveys. 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.
Sempervirens Fund led the campaign to designate the land Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument, to 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 belongs 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.
A Campaign for a Permanent Conservation Legacy
Sempervirens Fund, under the direction of former California Assembly-member and past Board President Fred Keeley and current Board President Jacqueline Wender, led the monument campaign from its inception with generous support and the active involvement of our board, donors, foundation funders, and key partners. In January 2017, the effort came to fruition, with President Barack Obama designating the property as a National Monument.
Without the vision, tenacity and tireless leadership provided by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and former Senator Barbara Boxer, this landscape would not have been protected. We are deeply indebted to them for championing this effort. We are grateful to former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, California Resources Secretary John Laird, Assemblyman Mark Stone, Santa Cruz Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, and Valentin Lopez, Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band for providing essential support to this campaign. Dozens of partner organizations, including Peninsula Open Space Trust, Save the Redwoods League, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, and The Nature Conservancy, hundreds of local businesses, and over 15,000 members of the public also endorsed and supported this designation. It was a remarkable team effort.
Creating a Management Plan
In March 2020, the BLM began the public commentary process to shape your experience in visiting Santa Cruz County’s newest national monument and impact heavily the future of the monument’s natural and cultural treasures.
At Sempervirens Fund, we believe that the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument can become a much-beloved recreational treasure, a safe-haven for fish and wildlife, and a landscape in which rare and important native vegetation is restored and water quality is enhanced, all while honoring the Native Americans who occupied this landscape for millennia.
To realize this vision, BLM will need to engage in a careful balancing act. Over the course of many public comment, public workshop, and plan drafts, BLM had proposed several activities that Sempervirens Fund believed would be harmful to the monument’s future. We asked you to raise your voice and share your concerns and we are grateful you took the time to do so.
Nearing the Finish Line: A Final Plan Comes to Life
Your support for Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument has been truly impactful. Recently, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its final plan for managing the monument, and we want to be sure you are aware of what it includes and excludes, and what you can do next.
Significant Protection of Natural and Cultural Resources
When you joined us to press for national monument status for the Cotoni-Coast Dairies property, our goal was to prioritize the preservation of its incredible ecological, archeological, and cultural values. It was a unique opportunity for the public to experience this natural treasure in ways that are sustainable and responsible. It is a tricky balancing act, for sure.
There is a lot that Sempervirens Fund supports about BLM’s final plan. Thanks to you and others who raised their voices on behalf of Cotoni-Coast Dairies, the final plan does these things well:
Wildlife and Habitat Protection
- Large portions of the property are set aside for the protection of the many wildlife species that depend upon it —including imperiled Coho salmon.
- Earlier proposals to artificially manipulate habitat to promote hunting have been eliminated.
Managing Wildfire and Invasive Species
- The plan appropriately calls for a prescribed burn program and the creation of shaded-fuel breaks to help protect the surrounding communities and the monument’s resources from catastrophic wildfire.
- It calls out the need for managing invasive species, particularly pernicious weeds that threaten the diverse and rare plants that are found there.
- Ill-advised plans to allow the aerial spraying of pesticides have been abandoned.
- BLM worked intensively with our close partners, the Amah Mutsun Land Trust, and incorporated their recommendations regarding the protection of important archaeological sites.
- Hikers, bikers and equestrians are welcome, but only on designated trails.
- Dogs are also welcome, but only on a leash and only on designated trails.
- The anticipated trail network is extensive, but it will be developed in phases to allow for an assessment of existing recreational impacts before expanding the system.
- BLM’s trails will connect to the trail being built on our San Vicente Redwoods property.
- Camping and campfires will not be allowed, for good reason, in this highly flammable landscape.
Areas Needing Improvement
Overall, we are encouraged by the plan. But, a place this special and this sensitive deserves a plan that gets all the details right. Here are our primary areas of concern that need to be addressed:
The monument is small and surrounded by many homes and roads, which makes it difficult to meet everyone’s expectations for recreational opportunities. Hunting is not appropriate in this setting and creates unnecessary safety risks. The plan allows for the creation of an archery-only hunting program on a large portion of the monument with no limits on the number of hunters or hunting days; no clear buffer zones for public safety and no clarity about which species, or how many, will be killed.
Tighter Recreation Footprint
The plan would allow cars and e-bikes to access some parts of the monument that are critical for wildlife and where the effects of human presence should be minimized. Specifically, the seasonal parking area deep in the heart of the monument will be harmful and e-bikes should not be allowed on the Molino Trail Loop because of its connection to San Vicente Redwoods.
Scientifically-Informed Response to the Wildfires
About 20% of the monument burned in the recent, horrific CZU Lightning Complex Fire. This plan was released just as the fire was declared contained, and before BLM assessed the impacts of this fire, consulted with relevant scientists, or incorporated necessary modifications into its plan to reflect the changed conditions on the ground.
More Moments to Press for the Best Plan
In October, BLM launched its process for inviting forma protests to this plan to ask for additional changes.
Sempervirens Fund filed a protest with BLM that details our concerns and offers proposed remedies to the outstanding problem areas.
The California Coastal Commission reviewed the Cotoni-Coast Dairies final management plan for consistency at their December hearing, on Dec. 11. The Coastal Commission’s role is to ensure the plan is consistent with the requirements of the Coastal Act, including a determination that it provides adequate protection for the monument’s natural resources. They approved the plan with conditions. You can read our comments on consistency to the Coastal Commission here.
We cannot thank you enough for your steadfast commitment to the long-term protection of Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument. And we are grateful for your commitment to the Santa Cruz Mountains, to redwoods, and to protecting the treasured natural resources of our extraordinary coast.