Former ranch land to be protected

Former ranch land to be protected

A large tract of ranch land east of Gilroy will be permanently
protected as an undisturbed wildlife habitat following its recent
purchase by an international nonprofit.
A large tract of ranch land east of Gilroy will be permanently protected as an undisturbed wildlife habitat following its recent purchase by an international nonprofit.

The property – 1,557 acres – was formerly part of the historic Willson Ranch. Its sale to the Nature Conservancy, a land preservation foundation, was completed this summer, according to Daniel Olstein, Nature Conservancy project director. Three sisters who are descendants of the former ranch owner, Horace Willson, sold the property.

The purchase was completed in two transactions – roughly half in June and half about a year ago – for a total cost of about $1.9 million, Olstein said.

The land is adjacent to the Rancho Canada de los Oso Ecological Reserve, which is owned and managed by the California Department of Fish and Game. The Nature Conservancy intends to sell the Willson Ranch property to the state so it can be attached to the reserve. That transaction is hoped to take place by the end of the year, when the state can begin to work on providing public access options, Olstein said.

Also nearby, is Henry W. Coe State Park, the largest state park in northern California.

Covered with rolling hills, grass lands, oak woodlands and chaparral, and the home to deer, eagles and mountain lions, the terrain is similar to that found throughout Coe Park, Olstein said.

“It’s part of a large intact landscape that has been that has been protected over the years in this area,” Olstein said.

The property ties into about 1 million acres of publicly- and privately-owned property between U.S. 101 and Interstate 5, that is mostly undisturbed, and about one-third of which is legally protected, Olstein said.

“Those are the hills that everybody in Morgan Hill, San Jose and Gilroy look up into and are able to enjoy,” Olstein said.

Fish and Game currently allows limited public access at Rancho Canada de los Oso Ecological Reserve, with youth hunting and fishing programs. The Willson Ranch property will likely be used for similar purposes, as the same state department will manage its use and access, Olstein said.

The state has already approved funding to purchase the property from the Nature Conservancy, Olstein added.

Both the state and the nonprofit have eyed the Willson Ranch property for about a decade, waiting for the opportunity to purchase it.

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