Save Mount Diablo’s accomplishments in 2017 propelled growth in all our priority areas:
By the end of 2017, we will have preserved critical habitat that had been on our high-priority list for decades, reduced multiple threats of development in sensitive wildlife corridors and scenic viewsheds, stewarded recently acquired and existing lands in our care while engaging new members of the community, and broadened our reach through expanded and new programs.
A year of crucial gains in Land Preservation
In a historic transaction marked by years of effort, Save Mount Diablo purchased the beautiful and sought-after Anderson Ranch in Morgan Territory. The 95-acre Ranch has ranked high on Save Mount Diablo’s wish list for forty years because of its unrivaled value for native plants and wildlife, its critical location, and the threat of development that had loomed over it for decades. Highly visible from the Marsh Creek Road “Scenic Route,” the property sits on a stunning plateau in our top priority acquisition area at the north end of Morgan Territory Ridge. It is close to two of our other properties, allowing us to reconnect habitat. The property is one of the rare places in Contra Costa County outside of the Urban Limit Line where a significant major subdivision was still being considered, as it had included an approved 40–unit subdivision. Recently, it had become much more visible to potential buyers due to newly opened temporary access from the Morgan Territory Road closing. Fortunately, Save Mount Diablo’s purchase of the property will end that large-scale development threat forever.
In another exciting transaction, Save Mount Diablo acquired a landmark Conservation Easement with the sale of one of our high-conservation-value properties on Marsh Creek (known as “Marsh Creek 2”). This transfer ensured the permanent protection of important riparian habitat while generating valuable revenue for our organization.
Stewardship: Actively caring for precious resources
The severe storms of last winter were cause for celebration in a region thirsty for an end to drought, but they also washed out roads giving access to Save Mount Diablo properties, eroded stream banks, pummeled new plantings, and triggered an explosion of spring growth.
To manage these challenges, stewardship staff and volunteers dispatched invasive species before they set seed, mowed, mulched, hauled off debris, and planted native vegetation like bee plant, wild currant, and buckeye to attract and sustain wildlife. When summer heat endangered new plantings, volunteers turned their attention to watering – often by hand – and more mulching, pathway restoration, and pruning. The advent of fall called for prepping new restoration areas and, coming full circle, to prepare for this year’s rainy season. A total of 870 volunteers contributed over 4,450 hours of work.
Stewardship staff welcomed veteran volunteers and many new ones – from summer campers to corporate employees – and provided training for skills and safety. On California Coastal Cleanup day, Pittsburg High School students and local residents cleaned up part of Kirker Creek, bagging over 150 pounds of plastic trash, cigarette butts, micro foam, and fast food packaging. Boys Team Charity tended to new plantings, installed tree tubes, and collected debris washed downstream from the storms. Summer campers from Do Cool Things that Matter mulched an interpretive pathway. AssetMark Inc., a financial software company, weeded, watered, and pruned established plantings. Chevron’s Week of Caring crew built tree cages out of recycled wire and prepared the ground for future acorn and buckeye seed plantings. And, Diablo Restoration Team members, as well as the East Bay Trail Dogs, worked tirelessly to keep our properties healthy. We also partnered with the Contra Costa County Resource Conservation District to remove two huge, defunct culverts as part of our pond restoration project.
Through these and countless other projects, Save Mount Diablo’s volunteers and staff restored the health and beauty of the land so it will remain a home for wildlife and source of renewal for all.
Pathways to protection through Land Use Policy and Advocacy
Saving land for future generations requires unrelenting vigilance and concerted action on multiple fronts. Last year, Save Mount Diablo’s land-use staff continuously monitored development proposals, pending legislation, and stakeholder positions while at the same time mobilizing grassroots responses, countering potential threats, and advocating for smart growth policies at every level.
In 2017, development initiatives heating up near Antioch demanded action. Save Mount Diablo took the lead in informing residents about proposals to develop the beautiful and environmentally sensitive Sand Creek Focus Area and encouraging them to attend public hearings. We sent out mailings, held public meetings, and conducted a phone survey of Antioch residents. When in October the Antioch City Council voted to table the Sand Creek Focus Plan indefinitely, we considered it a victory, but only a temporary one; developers will undoubtedly reassert their agenda for subsequent projects within the Focus Area.
Save Mount Diablo responded to several other threats and worked to influence pro-conservation legislative initiatives. For example, we opposed a proposal to build 140 residential units on 29 acres in south Brentwood, adjacent to Marsh Creek State Park, and fought plans to add 1,500 houses to Pittsburg’s 606-acre Faria Southwest Hills area, next to the East Bay Regional Park District’s new Concord Hills Regional Park. In our role as advocates for smart growth and open space, we engaged with our allies and met with elected officials to move forward and improve Senate Bill 5, the Parks Bond Bill (which, we are proud to announce, was recently approved by the Governor for inclusion on the June 2018 ballot), and worked to support world class transit-oriented development at the Concord Reuse project.
Sometimes the fruits of land-use efforts take years to ripen, so we were gratified this year to see two examples of the long-term impact of our work. First, 5,000 acres of parkland adjacent to Black Diamond Mines Preserve, much of which Save Mount Diablo helped protect, may soon be open to public access and recreation. And, soon the public may also be able to access Doolan Canyon Regional Preserve north of Dublin and Livermore, where we and our allies won major victories in 2014 through passage and subsequent defense of the Dublin Open Space Initiative.
Public Access and Education: At the forefront of Community Conservation
It takes a community to succeed with the mission of permanently protecting Mount Diablo and its associated open space lands in a densely developed and competitive real estate market like the Bay Area. Community Conservation is a critical long-term sustainability strategy that builds meaningful connections and relationships between Save Mount Diablo, our community, and nature. All three legs of this stool must be strong and engaged for things to stand long-term. Thus, we have started a number of Community Conservation initiatives that are building deeper connections between our community, nature and Save Mount Diablo.
- In our Discover Diablo annual free public hike series started this year, we introduced hikers of all ages to the wonders of Diablo’s natural lands through 32 guided hikes exploring features of the landscape and the creatures found there.
- For those venturing out on their own, we refreshed and re-published our Diablo Trail Map, which covers all parks, preserves, trails and natural features in the Diablo recreation area.
- To further visitors’ enjoyment and understanding of Mount Diablo lands, Save Mount Diablo released its newly refreshed Audible Mount Diablo video podcast series, “Introducing Mount Diablo,” a free series of 14 short and entertaining videos that explore the mountain’s history, plants and animals.
- Our highly successful Conservation Collaboration Agreement Program engaged two schools and two businesses (Mount Diablo Resource Recovery and Bedell Frazier Investment Counselling) in Save Mount Diablo’s environmental education initiative, which is designed to foster greater understanding of land conservation and an intimate bond between students, employees and our natural world. The Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School completed its second year with the program, and students from California State University East Bay became CSU’s first cohort of future conservationists to enroll in the program.
- In an innovative approach to outreach, Save Mount Diablo launched its new Real Estate Professional Program which is designed to raise awareness about land conservation in the Mount Diablo area with the real estate profession and its clients, as real estate depends on the quality of “Location, Location, Location.” We welcomed Paragon Real Estate Group as our inaugural partner, and we are grateful they will be providing Save Mount Diablo membership packages to their clients at closings.
Research and discovery: The keys to effective conservation
- Save Mount Diablo’s annual BioBlitz brought together 35 scientists to catalogue species during a 24-hour survey on Marsh Creek State Historic Park and Marsh Creek Reservoir. With their collective expertise, the group provided an ecological snapshot for CA State Parks and Contra Costa County Flood Control District staff.
- The Mary Bowerman Science and Research (MBSR) Program, now in its fourth year, supported four research projects that are adding vital information to the knowledge base that supports Save Mount Diablo’s decision-making around stewardship, restoration and acquisition priorities. These include a survey of native bees, a study of mate-locating behavior of flying insects, a multi-year investigation of the breeding birds of Mount Diablo, and inquiry into the habitat of Western Pond Turtles. Results will be presented at our annual MBSR Program Colloquium in December.
Forever Wild: The Campaign to Save Diablo’s Wild Lands
This September, we proudly announced the start of the public phase of Forever Wild, our $15 million capital campaign, which will provide Save Mount Diablo the financial resources to respond to strategic land acquisition opportunities as they arise while also ensuring our organization has adequate funds to steward and defend our conserved lands in perpetuity. With $5 million left to raise, this capital campaign will provide Save Mount Diablo with a Revolving Land Acquisition Opportunity Fund, a Stewardship Endowment Fund and a Legal Defense Fund, enabling our organization to transform and go to the next level.
While Save Mount Diablo is proud of the past year’s accomplishments, we do not look to rest on our laurels.
An important new study entitled At Risk: The Bay Area Greenbelt 2017 notes the following:
“Across the eight Bay Area counties addressed in this report, Contra Costa County has the most total land at risk; about one out of every five acres of threatened land in the region is in Contra Costa. Contra Costa also has the most land at high risk, land that could be developed in the near term.”
Further, it is projected that about 2 million more people will move to the Bay Area by 2045.
We face these challenges and future opportunities with confidence thanks to great volunteer efforts, including board leadership, staff members’ dedication and expertise, and our supporters’ amazing generosity. Thank you!