Miniature wonderlands saved for future seasons

Conservation Agreement protects vernal pool habitat

In the last 150 years, California has lost over ninety percent of the bunchgrass and vernal pool habitat that once covered its central valley. But when ranching families and the conservation groups you support work together, your community can keep those numbers from falling further.

The completion of a new conservation agreement at Alex Cook Ranch in Dixon preserves 1,259 additional acres of vernal pool and bunchgrass habitat in perpetuity. The Alex Cook property is southwest of Jepson Prairie and Wilcox Ranch. After a good rain, many vernal pools and playa lakes will form within its borders, some that last longer than those on the other properties. The protection ensures that wildflowers, amphibians, crustaceans, and birds will continue to transform these irreplaceable landscapes for many springs to come.

“This is great news,” exclaimed 30-year Jepson Prairie docent Kate Mawdsley. “We have known there were other properties near Jepson Prairie Preserve that had many of the rare species we are protecting. Assembling larger parcels of habitat is additional insurance they will survive and flourish.”

Keeping land with those who know it best

The protection of this land came about through a local mitigation project. The developer at Fairfield’s One Lake housing community contacted LSA, an environmental consulting firm, to find a landowner whose property met the requirements for habitat protection. A survey of Alex Cook Ranch detected ten species each of rare plants and animals listed in the California Natural Diversity Database. While the ranch will not have public access, its preservation directly supports the habitat visitors experience at Jepson Prairie.

Carquinez goldenbush

Conservation agreements work because they keep open land in the hands of the farming and ranching families who know its unique qualities best. This is especially true for Richard Hamilton and his family, who graze their cattle and sheep at Jepson Prairie. These properties rely on these ruminants to munch down invasive plants that would otherwise overwhelm the delicate ecosystem, where federally endangered Colusa and Solano grasses still grow.

1,259 acres have big implications for some of the smallest animals and plants found on Solano Land Trust properties, including the Conservancy fairy shrimp and the Delta Green Ground Beetle, two species not found outside this region of Solano County.

Having adjacent conservations gives a leg up to the beloved California tiger salamander, as Project Manager Jasmine Westbrook-Barsukov notes.
“California tiger salamanders breed in playa pools but spend the majority of their lives (>95%) in the uplands surrounding the pools, where they live in rodent burrows. Studies have shown salamanders can travel over a mile from their breeding pools to their burrows. Salamanders breeding in Jepson Prairie’s Olcott Lake or Round Pond or at Wilcox Ranch East may spend the rest of their lives at the Alex Cook ranch.”

Solano grass

Dwarf downingia

Delta green ground beetle

California tiger salamander

Colusa grass

An appreciation for what is near

In the end of the twentieth century, people began to expand what conservation means by paying closer attention to animals, plants, and natural systems at home.

Pandas, gorillas, and other charismatic megafauna may have been the poster children for faraway wildlands that activists worked to keep pristine and safe from harm, but people began looking to their yards, neighborhoods, and surrounding woodlands to see what wonders remained and what risks they faced. Bioregionalism, as some of these trends were called, emphasized harmony and sustainable practices that could help the unique endemic life of a region thrive again.

Here at home, this meant helping people see a vernal pool was more than just a puddle.

We know these lands look very little like what the grizzly bears of California once saw. But come spring, millions of wildflowers, giant flocks of snow geese, and pools teeming with critters awaken people to the dazzling wildness that still survives. Your support allows us to partner with ranchers who graze and manage the land with care, so that California’s native grasses, flowers, and salamanders don’t go the way of its grizzlies.

Wildlife photographs courtesy of Jepson Prairie Docent Charlie Russell.
His nature photography can be seen at