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October 2020

Nature is Resilient
By Andrea Mackenzie, General Manager

On August 16, 2020, a thunderstorm that produced thousands of lightning strikes ignited a series of fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties that merged to become the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, burning 86,509 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains, destroying 1,490 structures, and causing extensive damage to protected natural areas and historic resources in Big Basin State Park, Butano State Park, and San Vicente Redwoods.

Two days later, on August 18th, across the Santa Clara Valley to the east, lightning strikes ignited fires in the Diablo Range counties of Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, and Stanislaus that soon merged into one mega fire known as the SCU Lightning Complex. The SCU Lightning Complex Fire burned from north of the Alameda County line and Sunol Regional Wilderness to Henry Coe State Park and Hwy 152 to the south, consuming two-thirds of Northern California’s largest state park. Forty-four days and over 396,000 acres later, the third largest wildfire in recorded state history is now contained.

Reflecting on these and other fires still burning in Northern California and across the state, it’s hard not to feel a sense of loss and despair. Our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones, whose homes and businesses were destroyed, and to all who were and still are displaced as a result of the fires.

The CZU and SCU Lightning Complex Fires that burned on both sides of Silicon Valley were unprecedented in size and intensity, but not unpredicted by scientists who have warned for years about the potential for such catastrophes as the effects of climate change take hold.

For over 150 years humans have actively suppressed fires, contrary to the practices of indigenous peoples who used fire as an effective management tool. Fire suppression over many decades coupled with the effects of climate change has led to increased density and accumulation of vegetation and creation of tinderbox conditions in our wildland areas. Climate change is increasing temperatures and droughts and contributing to increased intensity and frequency of wildfires. And as development has encroached into open space and wildland areas, this has hampered efforts to effectively manage vegetation through prescribed burns and has increased the risks of catastrophic fire, loss of life, and destruction of homes.

PRID - Field Staff Fire Prep - D.Mauk - 2020-08-26-1

During the SCU Lightning Complex Fire, the Open Space Authority’s 26,000 acres of preserved lands including Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve in the north to Palassou Ridge Preserve in the south were somehow spared. Open Space Authority field staff had been quick to mobilize at the outbreak of the fires, focusing on keeping preserve visitors safe, and creating defensible space around barns, a historic house, and sensitive resources in the preserves. The Palassou Ridge Preserve along Coyote Creek near Henry Coe State Park served as a staging site for CALFIRE operations, with the Authority’s field staff providing logistical support. Lead Open Space Technician Andy Burnside, who was working in the field throughout the duration of the fire said, “Thankfully, the damage to our preserves from the SCU Lightning Complex Fire was minor compared to what might have been. Our main concern throughout the fire event was for the public’s safety, especially in the East San Jose foothills. While a considerable amount of land burned in the Diablo Range, we are relieved there were no lives lost.”

While scientists and natural resources specialists from many conservation agencies and organizations are still assessing the damage to closed parks, preserves, and other protected natural areas in both the Santa Cruz Mountains and Diablo Range, there is among the ashes, a growing sense of hope that nature will recover and that nature is resilient. Botanists tell us we may well see banner wildflower blooms this spring and that rare plant species in the Diablo Range that are dependent on fire to sprout and haven’t been seen in many years may well re-emerge.

In the wake of these fires, as we rebuild and recover, we must accept that climate change is the new normal; that fire is a part of the natural ecology and is necessary for habitats and diverse species to thrive; and that to mitigate the most serious effects of intense climate-induced fires, we must work together going forward to implement adaptive-management approaches in our forests, woodlands, and grasslands and to help our natural and human communities to heal.


Best Regards,

Andrea Mackenzie, General Manager

Acquisition of Tilton Ranch Complex Expands Greater Coyote Valley Vision


On October 6th, the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency, Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, and the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) announced the purchase of 1,861-acre Tilton Ranch, one of the county’s largest remaining working ranches. This significant land conservation deal dramatically expands the network of protected lands in the greater Coyote Valley, benefitting people and wildlife alike. The Authority contributed $1.3M in Measure Q funds towards the acquisition.  

Tilton Ranch_detailIn the last decade, the Authority and its conservation partners have protected a horseshoe of over 12,000 acres in the greater Coyote Valley, a landscape that is one of the top ten conservation priorities listed in the Authority’s Santa Clara Valley Greenprint. This network of protected lands in the greater Coyote Valley supports critical wildlife movement across three mountain ranges, protects water resources, and buffers urban areas from the effects of more frequent and intensive wildfires and floods.

Additionally, in 2019, Assembly Bill 948 authored by State Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who represents the 27th Assembly District that includes Coyote Valley, designated Coyote Valley as a landscape of statewide significance and created the 17,200-acre Coyote Valley Conservation Program (CVCP) Area. 

“The purchase of Tilton Ranch significantly expands the land protected within the Coyote Valley Conservation Program area,” said Assemblymember Ash Kalra. “This beautiful landscape will now be recognized and preserved for its historic agricultural significance and importance as a wildlife habitat.”   

Learn more about this historic landscape here.

Open Space Authority Funds New Projects to Connect Communities to Nature

“Who do you serve?”

With concerted efforts to provide equitable access to nature for the Authority’s entire jurisdiction, this question was one asked frequently throughout the review process for the 2019-2020 cycle of the Open Space Authority’s Urban Grant Program, funded by Measure Q. Investing in nature in the communities it serves has been a top priority for the Authority, and the latest Small Grant recipients, the first sub-set of awardees to be recognized in this year’s grant cycle, are a key step in this effort.

This year, the Authority awarded over $200,000 in total to six recipients of these Small Grants, with Large Grants to be awarded at the end of 2020. The grants are designed to empower organizations operating on-the-ground in the communities they serve, making them the most effective at creating equitable access to nature.

BAWT # 4"We are so grateful for the Open Space Authority’s grant to power nature access and science education for thousands of kids,” said Diana Garcia, a Board Member for Environmental Volunteers, a recent grantee. “We will be using our award from the Urban Grant Program to help fund new nature programs and resources for Santa Clara Valley Schools. This funding will help us give youth in the community the opportunity to learn about the natural world.”

Learn more about the Urban Grant Program and the new projects that were awarded grants here.  

Connecting Communities and Mental Health to Nature

MeditationWorld Mental Health day, created by the World Health Organization to increase awareness and education about mental health, is approaching once again on October 10th and is particularly relevant today in our masked, 6-feet-apart world.  With dramatically reduced social interactions, and many interactions becoming entirely virtual, feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression seem almost inevitable. Nature provides us a crucial respite from the stress of a world in isolation and has been proven to have a positive impact on mental health.

Providing access to nature within the constraints of the shelter-in-place restrictions has been a priority for the Open Space Authority. It is as necessary as ever to keep preserves and trails open to the public, and to make this access as equitable as possible.

Throughout the entire month of October, recognized as Emotional Wellness Month, the Authority will be hosting events to bring awareness to the benefits of nature for mental health and provide the community with nature-focused experiences. With events and tools like guided meditation videos and virtual nature walks at urban open spaces and community gardens, the Authority hopes to bring nature to people within the safety of their homes.

Prioritizing our emotional wellness isn’t always easy, but it is important. Heading outside and appreciating the beauty Santa Clara Valley has to offer is a way to do it. This month and beyond, remind yourself to take a minute, step into nature, and breathe. Nature is resilient, and so are we.

Read more about nature and mental wellness here.

Who Am I?

Who Am I?

I am a tall tree with mottled white, gray, and tan bark and branches that extend at erratic angles. I need more water than other trees, so you can usually find me beside rivers, creeks, or wetlands. My leaves are huge, with some extending nearly 10 inches across. These leaves turn yellow and orangish brown in the fall. Who am I?

Renewing Our Investment in Nature

r.horii hikers 2

Measure T is a no-increase renewal of the 2014 Measure Q $24 annual parcel tax that will appear on this November’s ballot.

If passed, Measure T would allow the Authority to continue its work to protect our region’s scenic hillsides, open spaces, wildlife, redwood forests, and farmland - all while providing people with access to nature through open space preserves, urban open spaces, and environmental education programs. And all without raising taxes.

Learn More About Measure T

Morgan Hill Community Garden Grows!


In 2016, the Open Space Authority awarded the Morgan Hill Community Garden $248,012 through the Urban Grant Program to fully fund the construction costs at its new site. Today, the community garden is getting people outdoors, strengthening community relationships, and giving people access to grow their own healthy food.

Check out a recent article from the Morgan Hill Times on all the amazing benefits this garden is providing to the community since its relocation. We are excited to continue following the success of this Authority-funded project!

Read the Article

Volunteer Opportunity! 
Apply for the Measure Q Expenditure Oversight Committee

Mayfair Trail - Fall Leaves - CH - 09-11-2014 - 3

Do you love nature and numbers? Do you believe open space lands are essential to community health and well-being? If so, the Measure Q Expenditure Oversight Committee might be the perfect volunteer role for you!

This seven-member committee provides public oversight for all funds collected and allocated by Measure Q. Each member contributes unique talents including an understanding of budgets and audit reports.

Learn More

Tune in for Virtual Nature Programs!

Teri - Virtual Nature Walk - 7

Looking for a fun activity to do this month? Why not learn something new about Santa Clara Valley’s open spaces? Check out our Virtual Nature Programs page to watch any of the virtual events we've hosted over the past year. Wildlife presentations, art lessons, nature walks, wellness activities, and more - we have over 60 (and counting!) engaging programs for the whole family to enjoy!

You can also check out all the upcoming livestream programs brought to you by the Open Space Authority and our partners. Each month we have a new selection of virtual, livestreamed outdoor events and programs to keep you connected to nature from the comfort of your own home. Sign up and tune in to join us live!

Virtual Events Page

Who Am I? Answer

PRID - Sycamore tree - lkb - 2007 - 1

I am the Western Sycamore tree, also known as the California Sycamore or California plane tree! I am an important food source for the Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly and other butterflies and hummingbirds. My large cavities also provide shelter for many other animals. California’s sycamore trees are vulnerable to extended drought and depend on the preservation of riparian habitats. Look for me at Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve.

Photo Credits

Field Staff Fire Prep - David Mauk, Authority Staff
Tilton Ranch - Hall and Hall
Kids in Nature - Bay Area Wilderness Training
Meditation - Authority Archives
Western Sycamore - Lark Burkhardt
Coyote Ridge Hikers - Ron Horii, Authority Volunteer
Morgan Hill Community Garden - Authority Archives
Autumn Leaves - Cait Hutnik, Authority Volunteer
Snakeskin Virtual Program - Annamarie Pilon, Authority Staff

Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority | 408.224.7476 |