Land Trust plans ranch conservation

Portion of Rocks Ranch could still be developed

WILDLIFE HABITAT A map of Rocks Ranch shows it extends from Aromas to the north and Prunedale to the south.

The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County plans to protect nearly all of the 2,640-acre Rocks Ranch in Aromas from commercial development, the organization announced Feb. 11.

The ranch has been in the spotlight recently following the San Benito County supervisors’ decision of their intent to rezone a portion of the property for development. According to the Land Trust, the Bingaman family, which has owned the ranch since 1947, will retain ownership of the 60-acre section of property at Highway 101 where development could take place.

Ben Bingaman said the arrangement allows the family to develop a portion of the property adjacent to Highway 101 and the Red Barn while protecting the rest of the ranch, which is used for cattle grazing. 

“It’s a win-win for us,” he stated in a press release, “and for wildlife and the citizens of the San Benito County, which is desperate for tax revenues.”

The property, which is split between San Benito and Monterey counties, abuts a 2.5-mile stretch of Highway 101 to the north that is a “hot spot” for wildlife-vehicle collisions, according to a conservation assessment prepared for the Land Trust.

The Land Trust said the ranch is ideally located next to a tunnel system under Highway 101, which could become a wildlife crossing under the busy highway. Land Trust Executive Director Stephen Slade said the nonprofit has talked to Caltrans about making improvements in the tunnels. 

He added that the crossing is critical to the genetic diversity of the mountain lions in the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

“They need to get to the Gabilan Range to the south,” Slade said, “and this is the first critical step.”

The Land Trust did not disclose details of the transaction, which will take several years to complete, as it seeks private and public funding. 

San Benito County Supervisor Anthony Botelho praised the plan.

“Having been on the ranch, I can attest to its natural beauty and importance for wildlife habitat,” he said. “At one time, it was being explored for development. All of us should be so grateful to the Bingaman Family and the Land Trust for pursuing preserving these lands forever.”

The San Benito County Supervisors in September approved zoning changes for four properties along Highway 101. A successful signature-gathering campaign by a citizens group delayed the implementation of the decision. Voters will decide in March with Measure K if the decision should be enacted.

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