Amid the global pandemic and historic wildfire season, I’m thrilled to share that Tilton Ranch, one of the largest remaining intact ranches in the South Bay, is now protected as open space. This is a big win for all the wildlife that live there, and a step forward toward enhancing the resilience of the entire Bay Area.

At 1,861 acres, Tilton Ranch is a tremendous complement to the existing network of protected lands in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Bookended by the 348-acre Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve to the north and to the south by the 603-acre Baird parcel, acquired by the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency (Habitat Agency) in 2019, it’s a big piece of the puzzle and one that’s now permanently secured for conservation.

At 1,861 acres, Tilton Ranch (pictured here) is one of the largest remaining ranches in the South Bay and is now permanently protected for conservation. 

You may be more familiar with Tilton Ranch than you realize, having seen it out the window as you drive on 101 in the South Bay. Northwest of Morgan Hill, its rolling oak-studded hills rise up from the valley floor, providing a wide range of habitats for the diversity of life that call it home. Now, this land will forever be protected in its natural state.

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Like so many conservation successes, this achievement was only made possible through strong partnerships. Our colleagues and friends at the Habitat Agency and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (Authority) took the lead on the project, securing this high priority property for conservation from the Burback Family, longtime ranchers that have owned the land since 1896. POST is supporting the deal by providing funds and helping with transaction logistics. We are especially grateful to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation who have provided a generous grant and been exceptional partners in offering additional financing options when needed. All of us at POST are excited to have played a role in a new chapter in this landscape’s long and rich history.

A Gateway for Wildlife

Preserving Tilton Ranch was a high priority for POST in part because of its sheer size. As one of the largest contiguous ranches in the South Bay, it offers a tremendous amount of habitat for a wide range of wildlife, including five animal species and six California endemic plant species targeted for conservation by the Habitat Agency. Its proximity to other large habitat areas and its placement in the foothills above Coyote Valley amplify its significance to our regional ecosystem.

This is a continuation of our work in Coyote Valley. With our partners at the Authority and the City of San Jose, we protected almost 1,000 acres of valley floor habitat in North Coyote Valley in the fall of 2019, something the conservation community had been striving toward for decades. By securing Tilton Ranch, we have protected a significant amount of core habitat in a key location, bolstering the foundation of this landscape linkage.

Burrowing owl in California grassland - POST
Tilton Ranch is home to a number of threatened and endangered species, including the endangered Bay checkerspot butterfly and foothill yellow-legged frog, as well as the threatened California tiger salamander, western pond turtle, tricolored blackbird, western burrowing owl (pictured here), fragrant fritillary, Loma Prieta hoita, Metcalf Canyon jewelflower, most beautiful jewelflower, Mount Hamilton thistle and smooth lessingia. Photo: Gloria Rodriguez

Intelligent Land Use and Fire Resilience

As I write this, smoke is still clearing from parts of the Bay Area as we experience the most intense fire season ever. It will be months — if not years — before we can fully understand the impacts of the fires in our local mountain ranges. There’s still so much uncertainty for the people and wildlife who have been impacted.

Fire is top of mind for everyone here in the west as we come to terms with what the climate science has been telling us for decades: that increasingly dry and warm weather will continue to fuel wildfire frequency and scale if we don’t make some dramatic changes. Yet fire is a natural part of many of California’s ecosystems. Protecting landscapes like Tilton Ranch ensures that places remain where animals like mountain lions, red shouldered hawks and coyotes can seek refuge and adapt to the changes that lie ahead. To this end, Tilton Ranch gives me hope.

Winding gravel road within Tilton Ranch - POST
Tilton Ranch is home to the headwaters of Fisher Creek, which flows north through Coyote Valley (pictured here top of frame) before terminating in the San Francisco Bay. Water also flows from part of the property to south, into the Pajaro River watershed before finding its way into Monterey Bay. Photo: Courtesy of Hall and Hall

A Legacy of Stewardship

Tilton Ranch opened in 1917, under the ownership of the Tilton family and their descendants, and has operated continuously since then. For much of that time, the land has been grazed with cattle and dry-farmed for hay and grain. But for millennia before it became the ranch, this area was inhabited by the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe and the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band whose ancestral homes encompassed the entire area. This landscape is and will always be part of their story. Protecting it from development creates an opportunity to restore their access to this land once again.

A coyote on the prowl at sunset - POST
Protecting landscapes like Tilton Ranch limits human encroachment and ensures that places remain where animals like mountain lions, red shouldered hawks and coyotes can seek refuge and adapt to the changes that lie ahead. Photo: Teddy Miller

Next Steps

The Authority will take on the long-term management of Tilton Ranch in the next couple of years, adding it to their growing portfolio of protected open space. They intend that it remains a multi-use landscape, with protected habitats, continued conservation grazing and opportunities to introduce new recreational access in the years ahead.

We’re thrilled to have played a part in the creation of a network of connected open spaces in the South Bay these past few years. By working together — with our partners and supporters including the Moore Foundation, the California Wildlife Conservation Board, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Santa Clara County Parks and many others — we can continue to do this great work, bringing forward the many benefits nature has to offer to all of us.

About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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