Mindego Lake

Water is Life

Water is Life

Restoring waterways in Midpen preserves to benefit plants, animals and people downstream

a man overlooking a pond

Mindego Ranch Ponds

A single morning spent observing several spring-fed stock ponds that Midpen is restoring in the Mindego Ranch area of Russian Ridge Preserve makes evident the abundance of life these ponds support. Hawks circle surrounding grasslands, a great blue heron lifts skyward, American coots scud across open water and a rare California red-legged frog basks in the morning sun.  

“Stock pond habitats like these are one of the few remaining water features in the Santa Cruz Mountains where California red-legged frogs are still present,” Midpen biologist Matt Sharp Chaney said. 

This winter, he and other staff are monitoring these newly restored ponds, which were created by ranchers in the past and are now a critical refuge for the survival of rare native wildlife into the future.

“I’ve never encountered California red-legged frog breeding activity in this specific pond,” Sharp Chaney said from the shore of Upper Springs Pond that has been deepened to provide year-round water and new open water habitat while carefully retaining appropriate native vegetation. “It would make me very happy to find an egg mass here.” 

Sharp Chaney expects the threatened California red-legged frog to benefit from these projects, along with one of their predators, the endangered San Francisco garter snake. A 2017 U.S. Geological Survey study at Mindego Ranch recommended enhancing the stock ponds for California red-legged frogs to support the area’s San Francisco garter snake population. The study also recommended grazing as a land management tool for maintaining the surrounding open grasslands that San Francisco garter snakes and many other native wildlife need to survive. 

Through Midpen’s conservation grazing program, cattle at Mindego Ranch now play a role in improving grasslands and sustaining biodiversity, alongside efforts such as ongoing manual removal of nonnative thistles. Wildlife-friendly fencing allows Midpen staff to control cattle access to the restored ponds while providing cattle with water through strategically located troughs, allowing conservation grazing to be focused to where it is most beneficial. 

We are eager to see the plants and wildlife at Mindego Ranch surviving and thriving in response to our continued care of its rich mosaic of habitats. 

man in grassy field with concrete foundations

Purisima Creek Watershed 

Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve has been expanded west toward the San Mateo County Coast in recent years. This landscape contains several abandoned oil wells, drilled around 1930 and later, that Midpen is working to clean up and decommission to protect the surrounding natural environment. Oil wells must be properly decommissioned to prevent hydrocarbons or other contaminates from migrating into the drinking water or to the surface. Currently, engineers are developing a decommissioning plan and obtaining the required permits. 

bulldozer cleaning garbage off a hillside

Madonna Creek 

In Miramontes Ridge Preserve above Half Moon Bay, Midpen has protected water quality in Madonna Creek by recently completing the removal of an old ranch dump from the 1960s that was discovered near the creek channel. The dump contained car parts, household appliances, concrete and tires. The primary concern, and most challenging aspect of the project, was removing soil contaminated with lead, petroleum and metals to prevent it from leaching into the groundwater and the adjacent creek. Along Madonna Creek, Midpen has future plans to partner with the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District on a Measure AA-supported project to remove an old dam that is a barrier to steelhead trout and salmon. 

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