How Highway Improvements Bolstered Conservation In Elkhorn Slough

Feb 12, 2018

Recent safety improvements on Highway 101 through Prunedale have led to the expansion of protected land in the Elkhorn Slough, just off the coast near Moss Landing.  

Whenever Caltrans does road work, the state agency is required to fix or offset any environmental damage. Sometimes, it can do that onsite, like replanting trees along a roadway. Other times, it can’t.

That was the case when Caltrans removed the left turns that cut across oncoming traffic on Highway 101 through Prunedale. The work impacted wetlands and maritime chaparral.

To offset that, Caltrans purchased a piece of private property about two miles away in the Elkhorn Slough Watershed. In a ceremony Monday that land was given to the Elkhorn Slough Foundation for permanent protection.

Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo helped make this transfer of land possible. When he was a California Assemblyman, he paved the way for a state law that authorizes state agencies to transfer property and management funds to nonprofits.

As part of Monday’s celebration, Elkhorn Slough Foundation Executive Director Mark Silberstein led a tour of the Foundation's newly acquired property. The property is now called the Elkhorn Highlands Reserve.  Home to rare and sensitive species, only guided walks by the Foundation will be allowed.

“This particular property, this 167 acres, encompasses almost all the critical habitats in North Monterey County. The ridgeline includes the largest unprotected tract, before it was purchased, of maritime chaparral, which is a really rare plant community,” Silberstein says.  

In addition to this $4.5 million property, Caltrans is also giving the foundation money to manage the land. The Elkhorn Slough Foundation, with help from Caltrans, has already removed 800 tons of trash from the land. Next, the Foundation will remove invasive weeds and fence the area.