A Model Partnership for Protect, Restore, and Connect

Photo by Irina-Kogan
San Vicente is a 6-mile-long and 3-mile-wide protected forest that connects 27,500 acres of contiguous protected woodland in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Photo by Irina Kogan.

Spanning more than 6 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, San Vicente Redwoods is a keystone property in the Santa Cruz Mountains, connecting 27,500 acres of contiguous protected woodland. It is home to 90 ancient redwoods, as well as a variety of rare, threatened, and endangered plants and animals, including the California red-legged frog, Shreve and Oracle oaks, and Anderson’s manzanita. Many of California’s signature mammals also roam here: mountain lions, black-tailed deer, bobcats, and coyotes. San Vicente’s ecological health impacts the entire region. The property provides drinking water for the town of Davenport and Santa Cruz and clean flows for streams supporting imperiled fish such as endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout.

Protect and Restore

Under the threat of development and subdivision, San Vicente Redwoods received a reprieve in 2011 when the partnership of the League, Sempervirens Fund, Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, and The Nature Conservancy purchased the property. Ultimately, Sempervirens Fund and POST retained ownership while the League obtained a conservation easement over the property, ensuring protection of features such as old-growth redwoods, directs restoration projects, and monitors timber harvests. The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County has led the planning and implementation of a public access plan for the property. 

Restoration will speed the return of old-growth forest characteristics, such as giant coast redwoods, which store huge amounts of carbon and help mitigate climate change. Work in the restoration reserve areas of the property is funded partially through our partners’ sustainable harvesting of young redwoods and other trees in the working forest part of the property. Our partners have applied strict guidelines for sustainable wood harvesting while permanently protecting the features we all value: old redwoods, habitat for endangered wildlife, clean waterways, and access to recreation.

Phase one of the Deadman Gulch restoration project has been completed, which entailed thinning 110 acres of young, overcrowded forest — a consequence of past clear-cutting. Our research has shown that the forest responds positively to thinning, which gives bigger trees room and resources to reach their potential to grow large and reduces the risk of severe wildfires by eliminating excess fuels. In 2019, logs were placed in San Vicente Creek to restore pools for endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout.

Our restoration progress would not be possible without local community involvement. Volunteers have assisted in invasive plant removal. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band participated in the partners’ prescribed burn in October 2016 and helped to plant 5,500 coast redwood and Douglas-fir seedlings in the Deadman Gulch Restoration Reserve and Working Forest unit in winter 2021.

In addition, scientists are conducting research studies at San Vicente, including Chris Wilmers of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has been researching mountain lions. The property is so vast that wide-ranging mountain lions have established several nurseries here.

Post-Fire Landscape

In fall 2020, most of San Vicente burned in the CZU Lightning Complex fire — roughly half of it at high severity. It appears that the work we’ve done to reduce the density of trees in fire-prone areas and create shaded fuel breaks may have helped to reduce some fire severity. The League and our partners are actively refining our restoration vision to incorporate the impacts of the fire and guide our current restoration thinning and prescribed burning projects so the property will be more resilient in future wildfires.

Public Access

The League, Sempervirens Fund, POST, and the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County plan to provide public access to 38 miles of trails in San Vicente Redwoods for millions of people in the San Francisco Bay Area and surrounding communities. As of December 2022, the first 7.3 miles is open to the public. The trails feature spectacular views of the California coastline and will give visitors a look at a forest recovering from clearcutting and wildfire. Through public access, San Vicente Redwoods will meet ecological, social, and economic needs, advancing shared goals on a single property that serves people and wildlife of the region.