Saving Coast Dairies: Pioneering a Landscape Approach to  Conservation

Saving Coast Dairies: Pioneering a Landscape Approach to Conservation

Once a working dairy ranch, by 1998 the 7,500-acre Coast Dairies property on California’s central coast had been optioned for the development of luxury estates. Land speculators were planning to build nearly 150 homes on this stunning landscape that comprises six distinct watersheds, more than seven miles of pristine beaches, hundreds of acres of agricultural lands, and 700 acres of redwood forest and other unique natural and cultural resources.

Responding to this threat—by guiding funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation as well as the efforts of key conservation organizations—became a formative effort for the newly launched Resources Legacy Fund, and Coast Dairies has remained an RLF focus ever since. Along the way, RLF helped establish a new approach to land conservation, one that focused on environmentally strategic landscapes and was grounded on extensive resources assessment, public outreach, and planning for long-term conservation management. Just as important, it coordinated philanthropic funding from multiple sources in ways that generated greater public funding for land and water conservation. In 1998, the Trust for Public Land, working with Save the
Redwoods League, purchased the property with support from the Packard Foundation via RLF’s Conserving California Landscapes Initiative (the Packard Foundation program that brought RLF into existence). Subsequently, RLF worked closely with the Packard Foundation to support multiple projects involving land management, due diligence, environmental clean-up, and other activities that together enabled TPL to donate the coastal section of the property to California State Parks and the remaining 5,500 acres to the Bureau of Land Management for permanent protection as part of the federal National Conservation Lands system.

This long-standing effort came to fruition in October 2014, when BLM accepted TPL’s donation of the Coast Dairies property. But the story did not end there. Coast Dairies is adjacent to the 8,532-acre San Vicente Redwoods property purchased by Peninsula Open Space Trust and Sempervirens Fund in December 2011 (with support from the Packard and Gordon and Betty Moore foundations through another RLF program, as well as from other funders). Thus, Coast Dairies became part of a much larger protected landscape. The protection of the Coast Dairies property was a major milestone in conservation land protection in California.

The protection of the Coast Dairies property was a major milestone in conservation land protection in California.


RLF is currently supporting a cohort of organizations—including Conservation Lands Foundation, Sempervirens Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Save the Redwoods League, Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, Peninsula Open Space Trust, and others—in this broader region and also in an effort to incorporate the BLM-owned portion of Coast Dairies, known as “Cotoni–Coast Dairies,” into the existing California Coastal National Monument. Doing so will improve management, public use, and funding opportunities for this critical protected area while advancing innovations to improve current conservation models and practices.

The protection of the Coast Dairies property was a major milestone in conservation land protection in California. It was made possible because of the vision and generous support of philanthropic donors whose funding has helped leverage considerable public support and investment in a new era of land conservation, preserving major portions of the California coast and other resources for the enjoyment of present and future generations. In addition, the Coast Dairies project helped set a new direction in land conservation in California, towards landscape-oriented preservation projects. By providing a compelling large-scale conservation success story, it generated momentum for other landscape-level projects as well as a series of major state bond acts and other funding mechanisms that have generated billons of dollars for land conservation in California for the better part of two decades.

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