Local residents recently gathered for a volunteer work party and family hike at the Nyland Property in San Juan Bautista. The property was recently taken under the wing of the San Benito Agricultural Land Trust.
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A collaboration of area land trusts recently secured permanent conservation rights for the historic 540-acre Nyland property in San Benito County. 

The Trust for Public Land, the San Benito Agricultural Land Trust, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County and the Amah Mutsun Land Trust formed a joint partnership to obtain conservation and cultural easements for the land, which is identified by environmentalists as an important wildlife corridor. 

The easements will not only protect the land forever from high-impact development, but they will also help sustain cattle ranching and provide for historic and indigenous cultural access and mitigate climate impacts on the site, says an announcement from the land trusts. 

The protections also represent the long-term vision for the property and reflect the formal transfer of the property to the San Benito Agricultural Land Trust. The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County holds the conservation easement, while the Amah Mutsun Land Trust holds a cultural easement that provides access for indigenous land stewardship as well as cultural and educational activities. 

“Conservation opportunities like this are rare and could not be done without partners,” said Guillermo Rodriguez, State Director with Trust for Public Land. “We are incredibly proud to work with local land trusts to design and deliver a multi-benefit conservation outcome that ensures the natural health and indigenous, historic and agricultural heritage of this property are preserved for future generations to enjoy.”

The Trust for Public Land purchased the Harvey and Gladys Nyland property in 2021. The site is located across Highway 156 from San Juan Bautista, less than half a mile from the San Juan Mission and associated State Historic Park. 

Steeped in history, the 540-acre property is the home of oak studded grasslands, wetlands and seasonal streams that once supported the indigenous Amah Mutsun people for thousands of years, before being taken to the mission and others as part of the Spanish conquest of California, according to the Trust for Public Land.  

In response to the imminent sale of the Nyland land in 2021, the Trust for Public Land purchased the property with the assistance of donors including the California Wildlife Program. The purchase allowed the current partnership of land trusts enough time to raise the funds that will now ensure the permanent protection and stewardship of the land. 

The property is currently leased for cattle grazing by 101 Equipment Company. 

“Permanent conservation of the ranch will ensure this land can support viable grazing operations that contribute to our local economy, feed people, and protect our scenic views,” said Lynn Overtree, Executive Director of the San Benito Agricultural Land Trust. “We are excited about owning these 540 acres, which are adjacent to the 520-acre Rancho Larios Open Space that we have owned since 2004. 

“Together with the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County’s Rocks Ranch, there is a chain of protected working lands from the San Juan Road exit of Highway 101 to the City of San Juan Bautista. We are honored to continue the Nyland family’s loving stewardship legacy.”

On the first Sunday of every month, members of the public can join San Benito Agricultural Land Trust staff for a work party or hike on the land, says a press release from the trusts. 

The San Benito Agricultural Land Trust calls these monthly events “Ranch Days,” in recognition of the need to provide county residents access, and with it, a window to understanding of the importance of the working cattle ranches that are the foundation of the local agricultural economy and scenic beauty.

The cultural easement on the Nyland property will provide the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band special access to the property for cultural, spiritual and ceremonial traditions, says the press release. The tribe’s guidance will also facilitate restoration, conservation and care of the lands and waters using traditional and contemporary indigenous knowledge and methods.

“The Amah Mutsun people have lived in Popoloutchum, which is now recognized as San Benito County and beyond for millennia,” said Valentin Lopez, President of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust and Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. “Our ancestors worked to fulfill their sacred obligation to take care of Mother Earth and all living things for thousands of years. 

“Today we are happy to return to Popoloutchum through this cultural easement. This easement will ensure this land remains undeveloped and intact. We hope to share our traditional indigenous knowledge and practices regarding land management with our partners and the public so we can all learn from each other.”

Since the 2021 purchase, the three local land trusts have worked together to raise the funding to buy the property from TPL, and will collaborate on an ongoing basis to maintain its conservation and cultural values.

“The partnership between our organizations is what makes this project so exceptional,” said Sarah Newkirk, Executive Director of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. “This property is important for so many different reasons—wildlife connectivity, agriculture and cultural history and practice. We all bring something unique to the table, and our collaboration is what will make this conservation project a success.”

An array of native plants and wildlife can be found on the ranch, as well as a historic barn that marks a visitor’s arrival to San Juan Bautista. In addition to providing valuable wildlife habitat, the property contributes to an important regional wildlife corridor linking the Gabilan Mountains to the Santa Cruz Mountains a few miles to the north, says the press release.

The Nyland property supports native habitat for numerous wildlife species, including raptors, migratory birds and waterfowl, along with mountain lion, grey fox and bobcat. Several rare species reside at the ranch including tri-colored blackbirds, American badger and western pond turtle. 

The protection of the property also supports Trust for Public Land’s broader climate conservation efforts in the region. Protecting the property from development for public purposes aligns with California’s climate goals and the “30 x 30” initiative that calls for the protection of 30% of the state’s land and coastal waters by the year 2030. 

Funds for the Nyland Property’s closing were made available through the California Strategic Growth Council’s Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC) in collaboration with the Department of Conservation.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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