More than 1 million acres of private lands in the Bay Area, much of it deemed essential to the preservation of animal species, have been identified for potential conservation by the Bay Area Open Space Council, according to a massive new report.
"The Conservation Lands Network: San Francisco Bay Area Upland Habitat Goals Project Report 2011," released this fall, is the first regional study in the Bay Area, according to Ryan Branciforte, director of conservation planning for the Berkeley-based organization. It includes an online interactive mapping tool, Conservation Land Network Explorer, he said.
The report identifies land areas that would create a continuous mosaic of habitats and wildlife corridors, key to maintaining the Bay Area's biodiversity.
The report looked at habitats with irreplaceable rare and endemic species and vast tracts of intact plant types needed for biodiversity conservation. Five hundred plants, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates were identified along with the lands needed to support each species.
Already, 1.2 million acres of land in the Bay Area are protected. The report locates an additional 900,000 acres of "essential" lands that should be preserved, beginning at the inland edge of the baylands and extending to the outer county boundaries. It also identifies 200,000 acres that are "important to conservation goals," 120,000 acres in so-called "fragmented" areas that suffered substantial human impacts but are adjacent to protected areas, and 160,000 acres that need further investigation. The Stanford foothills encompass one such area, the study noted.
More than 43 organizations and landowners were involved in the study, which received funding from three private foundations: the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, along with several nonprofit and public agencies, including the California Coastal and Marine Initiative of the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation.
Local areas deemed "essential" for protection include some of Stanford University's foothills and areas surrounding already protected lands. These include: north of Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve; lands north of Sand Hill Road and west of Interstate 280 within Stanford; near 280 and Matadero Creek adjacent to Coyote Hill; south of Los Trancos Creek and east of 280; lands east and northwest of La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve, south and west of Skylonda; large tracts surrounding Purisima Creek Open Space Preserve, west of Skyline Boulevard in the Santa Cruz Mountains and overlooking Half Moon Bay; and land adjacent to Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda and Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve near Los Altos Hills.
Open-space nonprofit groups praised the Conservation Lands Network report as a "greenprint" for conservation that can be incorporated into land, transportation, water and community planning. The network can be used as a guide for selecting lands for purchase, conservation-easement acquisition and cooperative agreements with private landowners. It is not intended to identify specific properties but takes a broad-brush approach, its authors said.
"It provides a landscape-level look for conservation planning," said Paul Ringgold, Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) vice president and head of stewardship. The report and online tool helped confirm areas where POST is focusing its preservation efforts and is helping to identify areas the agency might have missed, he said.
The San Francisco Bay Area is one of only five regions in the world with a Mediterranean climate and is noted for a high diversity of endemic species -- species found only in that one area and nowhere else, the study noted. Yet, it is one of the most ecologically imperiled. Eight of nine Bay Area counties fall within the top 20 counties in the nation's fastest-growing metropolitan areas where species are threatened by sprawl.
Santa Clara County has 36 imperiled species and ranks 17th and San Mateo County ranks 14th with 40 imperiled species, according to a 2005 study by the National Wildlife Federation, Smart Growth America and NatureServe.
The Bay Area supports 97 endangered or threatened species, according to the report. Landfills, highways, night lighting, predators and human settlement have impacted bird and mammal species, and gaps in ponds and connected water habitats affect amphibians and reptiles.
Ringgold said the report also provides a tool for describing the importance of lands to funders. The 1999 Baylands project, which focused on protection and restoration of historic tidelands around the Bay, resulted in $200 million in funding from Proposition 50, the Water Quality Supply and Safe Drinking Water Projects Bond that passed in 2002. The measure contributed to 45,000 acres of wetlands protection, according to the report.