The Nature Conservancy, the State of California, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected 141 acres of prime riparian habitat, agriculture fields and flood plains from development for the benefit of both people and nature. They closed today on the historic McGrath property in Ventura County, marking another step towards saving one of the last wild rivers in Southern California—the Santa Clara.
“The McGrath purchase is another step toward bringing nature back into the lives of Southern Californians,” said Executive Officer of the State Coastal Conservancy Sam Schuchat. “The property will become part of the Santa Clara River Parkway, which will benefit the region for generations. The Nature Conservancy has been an ideal partner in this effort.”
The Nature Conservancy and California State Coastal Conservancy initiated the McGrath land deal in 2008 as part of a larger effort to create a river parkway along the Santa Clara River in Ventura County for protecting and restoring the river’s floodplain and functions and for providing recreational opportunities such as hiking and bird watching. The parkway will be protected in the long-term by a conservation entity. The California State Coastal Conservancy initiated the Santa Clara River Parkway project in 2000. The Nature Conservancy is the state’s primary partner in this effort. With many partners, they have been working with landowners who are interested in selling to acquire and protect key properties such as McGrath.
“The Coastal Conservancy's Santa Clara River Parkway project is a model for state agencies to restore river habitat and assist local governments to reduce flooding. The Nature Conservancy is to be congratulated for pulling together this acquisition that includes beautiful stretches of the historic Santa Clara River estuary," said State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica).
“As a community we have a sacred duty to make sure our most threatened natural resources are protected and maintained for future generations," said Congresswoman Lois Capps. "Purchasing these lands will guarantee the Santa Clara River Parkway continues to be free from development, preserve important wildlife habitat, and remain available for our residents to enjoy for years to come.”
Funding for acquiring the 141-acres McGrath property was provided primarily from public sources including the State Coastal Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Transportation, California Resources Agency, and Santa Clara River Trustee Council ARCO oil spill settlement composed of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game.
“After jumping through many hoops for many months, we are happy to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We believe this is a win-win for all involved and are looking forward to The Nature Conservancy being a good neighbor and working together to protect this land,” said the owner of the property sold Mary McGrath.
McGrath is situated along the Santa Clara River which drains a 1,600-square-mile watershed in which more than 60 percent of the land is in public ownership (primarily National Forest). Stewardship of the Santa Clara River is needed to ensure that the river, its natural resources, and the ecosystem services it provides are protected for generations to come. Adding McGrath to this system will help protect the river’s ecological integrity, provide fresh water, minimize flood damage, and support sustainable economic development.
“The Nature Conservancy is dedicated to conserving the Santa Clara River for both the natural resources and people dependent on the river,” said The Nature Conservancy LA-Ventura Project Director Catherine McCalvin. “The great efforts of our partners in the state and federal governments and the McGrath family’s critical cooperation enabled us to protect the property from encroaching development. This will help ensure that the economic and environmental benefits are secure for County residents.”
“The Conservancy’s vision of a comprehensive river restoration project will provide a priceless benefit in the County of Ventura,” said Supervisor Kathy Long, Chair of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. “One in particular, is the project’s footprint that gives the river back much of its floodplain; reducing the damage floods cause to farmland, public facilities, and existing development in our County.”
While a significant portion of the Santa Clara River’s floodplain has been converted to other uses, including the dominant use of agriculture, it still has some of the best riparian habitat remaining in southern California (which has lost 95 percent of its wetlands) and is a haven for many rare species such as least Bell’s vireo, southwestern willow flycatcher and steelhead. McGrath is part of this important landscape and the lack of a levee or heavy bank protection between the riparian and agricultural areas makes it susceptible to flooding. It lies within the 100 year floodplain and was several feet underwater in the 1969 flood. The potential to restore riparian habitat on the portions of the floodplain is high.
"The McGrath purchase has provided the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the opportunity to partner with others in the overall effort to protect and restore the Santa Clara River, including habitat for the various endangered and threatened species of the watershed, such as the least Bell's vireo,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Denise Steurer.
“This project is part of a larger effort that will be beneficial to the people of Ventura County,” said Ventura County Planning Director Kim Prillhart.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.