SALINAS VALLEY — California Rangeland Trust has announced the conservation of the 9,400-acre Silacci Ranch in San Benito and Monterey counties.
The project was completed by the Rangeland Trust with funding from the California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), the California Strategic Growth Council’s Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) Program in collaboration with the California Department of Conservation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) through Walmart’s Acres for America program, and a donation by the Silacci family themselves.
“We’re happy to see Rangeland Trust use a grant from our Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program to permanently protect Silacci Ranch from suburban sprawl,” said Lynn von Koch-Liebert, executive director of the Strategic Growth Council.
Stretching from the Salinas Valley floor to the peaks of the Gabilan Range, the ranch abuts the city of Salinas — a growing population center in Monterey County. California is currently on track to lose another 797,400 acres of farm and ranch land to development and conversion by 2040.
When working lands are subdivided and converted to other uses, it threatens the region’s wildlife habitat and natural resources. Thanks to the conservation easement, the Silacci Ranch will remain as a working landscape and contiguous block of habitat for wildlife in perpetuity.
“Silacci Ranch is a great example of well-managed land that provides both economic and environmental benefits. It’s also another great example of how the SALC Program ensures the state’s natural and working lands continue to provide a range of benefits to communities while protecting habitat from development and preventing associated carbon emissions,” said Department of Conservation Director David Shabazian. “Sustainable rural economies and protection of our natural working lands are both complementary and essential in achieving California’s climate goals.”
Comprised of prime farmland, productive rangeland, numerous streams and valuable riparian habitat, the diverse topography serves as vital habitat for a variety of plant and animal species, including many special-status species, such as golden eagle, California tiger salamander, Pinnacles buckwheat, California falselupine and more.
Preventing the ranch from conversion to more intensive uses also contributes to climate resiliency by avoiding future increases in greenhouse gas emissions, allowing the ranch to continue as a natural carbon sink and giving species room to move to higher elevations or cooler riparian areas as temperatures increase.
“This conservation easement protects a variety of plants and animals that live in the property’s extensive oak woodlands, riparian habitat, coastal scrub and grasslands,” said Rebecca Fris, WCB acting executive director. “We are happy to be part of the multi-agency partnership to protect wildlife habitat, open space and grazing while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Five generations of the Silacci family have been raised on the land, and just like other ranchers, they have faced many challenges that have made it increasingly difficult to continue ranching. With struggles like squeezed profit margins, increased fuel and labor costs, drought and water restrictions, stringent policies, and more, ranchers are often pressured to find alternative forms of income to supplement their business operations.
By partnering with the Rangeland Trust to conserve the property, the family is safeguarding their ranch from future uncertainties and ensuring that their land and operations will remain viable for generations to come.
“While it is a privilege, working the land is difficult and hard work while balancing taxes, regulations and climate change, and [these factors] present substantial financial challenges,” explained Kevin Silacci, co-manager of the ranch. “By partnering with the California Rangeland Trust, we hope to help conserve the land in its natural state while providing an avenue for our children to keep the legacy in the family for future generations.”
Under the terms of the conservation easement, the Silacci family will continue to own and manage the land, just as they always have. They will continue to prioritize responsible management by seasonally grazing most of their property with cattle to fend off invasive species and mitigate the potential wildfire risks and rotationally farming strawberries, bush berries and leafy green vegetables on roughly 300 acres of the valley floor.
“We are honored to be partnering with the Silacci family and other agencies to protect this ranch,” stated Rangeland Trust CEO Michael Delbar. “This land not only serves as a physical reminder of the family’s long legacy, it also benefits all Californians by providing local, quality food, clean air, fresh water and valuable wildlife habitat.”