March/April 2017 issue

The Cougars Among Us

Chris Wilmers, UCSC Professor of Wildlife Ecology

Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room,
Pine Flat Road & Ice Cream Grade

The Cougars Among Us

It appears from discussions on the Bonny Doon “Slice” Facebook page that mountain lions sightings have been increasing in the last few years. Several long-time Dooners have reported their first views of these magnificent top predators ever. Unfortunately, there also has been an increase in encounters with pets and livestock.

UCSC Professor of Wildlife Ecology Chris Wilmers started studying and tracking our local lions (by collaring them) in 2008, founding the Bay Area Puma Project. Its research objective is to uncover basic facts about the puma population, including range, movement, density and feeding patterns, and the impact of human development, like roads.

At the public RBDA meeting at Bonny Doon School, Chris will discuss the results of his team’s long-term research on the lions (also known as cougars or pumas) who inhabit the Santa Cruz Mountains and our area, Ben Lomond Mountain, and ways to keep you, your family and your pets and livestock safe.

The increased lion sightings has led Elias Varney, a UCSC grad, to start a Facebook group called Ben Lomond Mountain Lion Journal, whose purpose is “…the sharing of experiences in the San Lorenzo Valley and Bonny Doon areas with our local big cats: Sightings, pictures, game-cam videos, scat and print identification, as well as the occasional (and sometimes not so occasional) losses of pets and livestock.” The page is a great way to share current information about lion sightings and learn more about how lions behave and how to live safely among them.

The Puma Project’s website,, has some great maps and a wealth of information about pumas. The project has collared almost 60. On the site you can track their wanderings, and see their most common routes.


Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument: Lots of Questions, Few Answers

As most of us expected, on January 12, then-President Obama, under the auspices of the National Antiquities Act, proclaimed Coast Dairies a national monument, and added to it the name of the Cotoni (pronounced Cha-tone-ee) band of Amah Matsun people who used to inhabit the area.

Along with other local groups like Friends of the North Coast and the Davenport/North Coast Association, the RBDA Board feared the designation would attract many more visitors to the 5,800 acre property that stretches from Highway One up into Bonny Doon, surrounds Bonny Doon Road, and reaches up the coast into Swanton, than if it were simply maintained as a protected area managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, a division of the US Department of the Interior.

The problem is that national monument designation gears up a global barrage of publicity, while guaranteeing only a pittance of additional funding for management and stewardship.

Cotoni-Coast Dairies faces the same dilemma as most other protected lands. They are managed for two conflicting purposes: public recreation, and environmental and habitat preservation.  

But Cotoni-Coast Dairies is different from most other large protected lands: it is just two hours or less away from a population of 8 million people, many of whom are enthusiastic hikers and bikers. It isn’t hard to foresee that when a visitor center and trails are established, 500,000 or more people a year may be enjoying the property. [State Parks estimates that that many visitors—obviously, many of them locals who use it frequently—tramp or ride about on Wilder Ranch S.P. each year. We think that estimate is high.] Since being named a monument, Ft. Ord’s visitation has zoomed to over 400,000.

Will BLM have the personnel and funding to protect the land and minimize fire danger and other impacts? Republicans, who control Congress, and now the White House, too, are hostile to spending money for environmental protection. The Interior Dept. budget has been shrinking, considering inflation, for several years, and it has an estimated $15 billion backlog in deferred maintenance. Private funding may make up some of the budget shortfall for Cotoni-Coast Dairies, but it can’t make up for a serious deficit. Historically, conservation organizations have been willing to donate funds for programs and facilities, but not for operational budgets.

Adding to our concerns are more studies that show that top predators—mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, etc.—shy away from areas frequented by humans, even people just hiking through. Cotoni-Coast Dairies is a significant territory for those predators.

Undoubtedly BLM will proceed slowly, and, we hope, thoughtfully and carefully, in opening trails. It will take several years, perhaps 10 or more, for them to fully develop a visitor center (most likely at the Davenport cement plant site), parking lots and other facilities. Everyone acknowledges that successful stewardship will require the development of a dedicated volunteer cadre; BLM itself has only four rangers right now for the 278,000 Central Coast acres it manages.

It remains a mystery where the money will be found to meet the additional costs for local emergency services and law enforcement, and there seems no way to cope with increased traffic on Highway 1/Mission St., and feeder roads like Highways 17, 92 and 84, and even Felton Empire and Empire Grade. Along with the near-term prospect of opening San Vicente Redwoods to the public, we fear that Davenport, in particular, Bonny Doon and even Santa Cruz may become much busier than many of us will like.

To follow this issue as it develops, and share your thoughts, go to, and join the Facebook group Friends of the North Coast.


Supervisors’ Conditions Missing from Monument Proclamation

Responding to concerns raised by the RDBA and the Davenport/North Coast Association, in April 2015 the County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution basing their support for Coast Dairies becoming a national monument on a set of conditions that could help mitigate the impacts of the expected increase in visitation. President Obama’s monument proclamation failed to meet many of those conditions.

The Supervisors’ resolution specifically stated, “There should be no implication in the Proclamation that the National Monument is adjacent to the California Coastal National Monument.” Instead, Coast Dairies is now officially part of the
Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument.

Condition 10 said “Long-term funding from private, as well as public, institutions should be secured to assure adequate management of the Monument.” While Sempervirens Fund, which initiated and spearheaded the campaign for monument status, has promised some funding, it is a pittance compared to the amount needed for “adequate management,” and Congress is more likely to reduce the Interior Dept.’s budget than expand it.

Condition 3 stated that “The Proclamation designating the National Monument shall contain a commitment that the National Monument Management Plan shall: a. Be comprehensive and specific to the land included in the Coast Dairies National Monument.” The Proclamation ignores this, and the Cotoni-Coast Dairies management plan may instead be included in the CCNM management plan, which could well make it much less specific to Cotoni-Coast Dairies. The Proclamation also ignores Condition 2, which calls for the management plan to be completed within 3 years.

Condition 3f. said the Proclamation should direct that the management plan “Assure that local fire and rescue services are not overburdened by increased use.” That language isn’t in the Proclamation.

Condition 3g. demanded that a fee-for-service be negotiated for emergency services, and take into consideration “costs that occur off the property as a result of its public use.” Again, not in the Proclamation.

Condition 9 was that “There should be no specific reference to plant communities not specifically listed as endangered on Federal or California state endangered species lists.” The Proclamation specifically names several such plant communities.

Will the Supervisors push BLM to live up to the conditions their Resolution demanded? We think they are honor-bound to do that, and that it is very much in the community’s interest.

Sempervirens Fund and other organizations that backed the monument campaign have an ethical obligation to try to reduce the negative impacts of that designation. Ironically, we who fought this designation on the grounds that Coast Dairies was already fully protected and that greatly increased visitation would bring only negative consequences, must nevertheless work hard to try to make the best of this by participating in the management plan process, overseeing BLM’s plan implementation, and by volunteering as docents on the property itself.


San Vicente Redwoods Trails

It will be about three more years before you can hike, ride your bike or horse, or walk your dog on San Vicente Redwoods, the 8,500-acre property that stretches from Empire Grade nearly to Davenport. That was the word at the January RBDA meeting from Bryan Largay, the Conservation Director at the Santa Cruz Land Trust, which has been developing a public access plan for the property for about three years.

Earlier, the Land Trust had been hoping to have one or more trails open by 2016, but detailed studies of the flora, fauna, geology and other critical matters have not only pushed the timeline back, but added to the projected overall costs of trail construction to protect against erosion and impacts on such things as mountain lion denning and roaming. Some of those costs have been underwritten by a $500,000 donation earlier this year from Santa Cruz Bicycles, the world-renowned mountain bike manufacturer, and a matching grant from an anonymous donor.

Mountain bikers are eager for more local trails, including on Cotoni-Coast Dairies and Pogonip. Those whose job is to reduce bikers’ impact on land, plants and animals, and other recreational users (hikers and equestrians) are very aware that a small subset of bikers will strike out on their own if legal, managed and monitored trails aren’t provided (or even if they are).

To that end, the Land Trust has worked with its conservation partners in San Vicente, Sempervirens Fund and Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), who will fund it, and with County Parks and the County Sheriff, to implement a patrol program on San Vicente.

Largay said current plans call for 38 miles of trails. Trail design will separate hikers, equestrians and bikers as appropriate to try to eliminate problems. Some of the old logging roads will be made into trails. When it owned this property CEMEX logged it extensively. Projected costs have been rising because of the neglected state of those roads.

Eventually, of course, the San Vicente trails will link up on the southern end to Cotoni-Coast Dairies, which separates it from Cement Plant Road in Davenport. In the beginning, the plan calls for a short dog-walking trail paralleling Empire Grade, and loop trails going down into the property. Largay said there will be a free 25-car parking lot off Empire which will be locked at night, and will be expanded when and if needed to ensure people don’t park on Empire or on nearby private roads. In response to a question at the January RBDA meeting, he said there definitely will not be access to the property from Bonny Doon Road.


We’re 60!

2017 is the 60th anniversary of the Rural Bonny Doon Association. No one (except Mother Nature, of course) has shaped the community that we live in and love more than the many men and women who have served on the RBDA Board during these 60 years, starting with lobbying successfully for the County’s first zoning laws and general plan.

We’d like to mark this anniversary with a special celebration, and we’re looking for ideas, and of course, volunteers to make it happen. A community celebration with a BBQ and songfest? Contact us at, or
call any of the board officers here—and let’s talk about it.


County Starts Commercial Cannabis EIR Process: Get Your Comments In

The County has begun its process to do an environmental impact study (EIR) on its new proposed commercial pot-growing and manufacturing regulation, Ordinance 7.128. On Feb. 13 the Planning Dept. issued a notice that it is opening the public comment period on what impacts the EIR should study, or suggest changes in the proposed ordinance that would have different environmental impacts. The burgeoning growth of commercial marijuana cultivation and manufacture of cannabis-based products is a major change in land use, and any ordinance regulating it must conform to State environmental regulations and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The public and interested agencies were given 30 days to comment on the ordinance and its potential impacts.

Written comments should be submitted or postmarked no later than 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Indicate a contact person in your response and send your comments to
: or Matt Johnston, County of Santa Cruz Planning Department, 701 Ocean Street, 4th Floor, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.

On Feb. 27 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. (unfortunately, this may be before you find this Highlander in your mailbox) the County will hold a Public Scoping Session at Simpkins Swim Center meeting room, 979 17th Ave., to inform the public and interested agencies about the proposed ordinance and solicit verbal comments

Relevant documents are available for public review at the Planning Dept. Records Room, 701 Ocean Street, 4th Floor. Relevant documents are available for public review at the Planning Dept. Records Room, 701 Ocean Street, 4th Floor. You can find them online at: Scroll down to “News and Announcements” and click on the first item, “Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Commercial Cannabis Regulations and Licensing Program for Cultivation and Manufacturing.”

The RBDA Board believes that any regulations must address the dangers of forest fires; house fires caused from flammable chemicals or inadequate electrical wiring; and selling personal plants on the black market (thus competing with licensed growing); and must protect wildlife from rodenticide poisoning (predators like foxes, coyotes, and raptors can die when eating poisoned rodents). Growing cannabis inside rodent-proof buildings eliminates the need for rodenticides but growing inside homes increases the risk of house fires. Both options—poisoning wildlife or causing fires—seem unsatisfactory, and we don’t have a solution. One possibility might be to allow growing only in rodent-proof structures (including greenhouses) that have been inspected for electrical wiring.

If the County’s proposed cannabis regulations are approved, they will protect much of Bonny Doon from commercial cannabis cultivation. Within the Coastal Zone and one-mile inland from there, commercial growing will only be permitted on properties zoned A (Agriculture) or CA (Commercial Agriculture), and there are few in Bonny Doon. Nevertheless, the RBDA Board continues to have concerns about impacts of growing in other rural regions in the County, impacts caused by growing for personal use, and problems resulting from lack of enforcement.

To reduce diversion to the black market, we recommend that personal cultivation limits be based on a fixed number of plants rather than square footage of a growing area. We also recommend that the County require permits for personal cultivation, a simple on-line registration system similar to that for outdoor burns, and require people to agree to rules like no rodenticides and other restrictions.


Sempervirens Fund Wants to Bank Trees

On Feb. 15, Sempervirens Fund held the first of a series of meetings with landowners in the Santa Cruz Mountains to discuss a proposed voluntary carbon bank tailored to their needs. Sempervirens was trying to see how much interest there is, and what the landowners require to make this program attractive to them.

The program’s goal is to provide incentives to smaller landowners to promote tree conservation, which could lead to better carbon sequestration. Deforestation and other destructive land uses are estimated to be responsible for nearly 25% of carbon dioxide emissions around the world. [On the other hand, scientists are still gathering data and, for complex reasons we won’t go into here, debating whether tree preservation actually reduces carbon sequestration.]

By “small landowners”, we mean people who own 40- to 200 acres and sell trees for timber. They could allow more time between timber harvests, and possibly thin their forest to promote faster growth and reduce fire hazards.

Sempervirens’ mission is to protect and preserve the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Their current tools include acquiring conservation easements, timber rights, trail easements and land. The carbon bank could add another tool.

The overarching idea is for Sempervirens to act as a non-profit matchmaker between landowners and third-parties who want to purchase carbon credits.Small landowners currently can’t participate in the carbon markets because of the high cost of meeting the State’s inventory requirements.

The Sempervirens carbon bank will not satisfy the regulatory obligations of carbon credit buyers, many of which are expected to be tech companies that want to be greener.

An initial feasibility study was completed in 2016 and paid for by a $100,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy, a State entity. The next phase will be a small pilot project funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

You can learn more at:


Join/Renew Your RBDA Membership: New 5-year Option Available!

A big THANK YOU! to all the members (new and renewing) who used the postage-paid envelope i
n the January Highlander to send in your annual RBDA dues. We hope we made it easier than ever to keep your membership current, renew a lapsed one, or to join our great organization for the first time.

Another thank you to those who provided email addresses! We are encouraging our members to provide them so we can continue to build a database to use in very time-sensitive and critical situations, and strictly for RBDA related issues and business. We will never share your email address with a third party without your permission.

If you missed the previous Highlander, or misplaced the envelope and you want to join or renew your membership, please call our Membership Coordinator, Jennifer Joslin, 831-419-7141 or email her at, to find out if you are current or not. We will be sending out a reminder in March to those of you who didn’t have a chance to get that check in the mail Memberships run February 1st to January 31st.

Because our dues are so affordable and many of you like to join for multiple years at a time, we are adding a 5-year option for our members. Two members at a household is $150 and a single member at an address is $100. Just make a notation on your check that you want the 5-year membership and indicate the name(s) and address of the member.

The RBDA is your community organization and your voice at the County Building for all the issues that impact us here on so-called Battle Mountain.

Are you an RBDA Member? Join the conversation, get news updates on the Facebook page exclusively for RBDA members: RBDA, Rural Bonny Doon Association

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The Highlander
The Rural Bonny Doon Association Newsletter
Box 551 • Felton, CA 95018

Bonny Doon's voice in preserving our special quality of life, 
The Highlander is mailed free to Bonny Doon residents prior to the 
RBDA General Meetings, which are usually held on second Wednesdays of 
January, March, May, July, September and November.
We encourage you to participate. 

 Send mail correspondence to the Highlander Editor at the above address, 
or by email, below.

Contact the RBDA Board in one email

Support the RBDA
- Renew Your Membership
: all 1-year memberships expire on January 31st.

Your continued support enables the RBDA Board to work on issues critical to Bonny Doon, to hold meetings to educate and get feedback regarding those issues, and to publish The Highlander newsletter.

Some people may not understand that receiving The Highlander in the mail doesn’t mean you are a current RBDA member. To reach the whole community we mail The Highlander to all mailboxes in Bonny Doon.

So unless you joined for multiple years, all 1-year RBDA memberships will expire on Jan. 31, 2016. To continue to support the RBDA, we need you to renew now for the 2016 year. Details are here.

Dues and donations go mainly to printing and mailing The Highlander, and rent and insurance for the public meetings at the school.

Ideas for RBDA Meeting Topics?

We are always open to suggestions for interesting programs and speakers at our bimonthly (except July) RBDA public meetings.

What are you interested in? Local flora and fauna, gardening, environmental and political issues, Bonny Doon history or geology, public safety?

What were some of your favorite speakers or presentations at past RBDA meetings?

Were there any that you would like us to repeat?

Please email us with your ideas and comments at

The Bonny Doon Planning District
Bonny Doon Planning
                    District map

If you live in or own property within this district, roughly from Empire Grade to the ocean and from San Vicente Creek to the City of Santa Cruz border, you are eligible to be an RBDA member.

Please support the RBDA!

Annual dues are used primarily for printing and mailing The Highlander,
your voice for keeping Bonny Doon rural and natural.

Click here for details!

Those who make additional contributions qualify as:

CONTRIBUTORS ($ 25+ dues)
SUSTAINERS ($50+ dues), or
PATRONS ($ 100+ dues)

Coast Dairies, photo by Ted Benhari 

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