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Open Space District Purchases Half Moon Bay Endangered Species Habitat

Purchase of 564-acre ranch which is home to 16 types of endangered species.

Madonna Creek Ranch, a 564-acre property located south of Highway 92 between Miramontes Ridge to Pilarcitos Creek in Half Moon Bay, has been acquired in an effort to protect a local population of California red-legged frogs and 15 other endangered species, a Bay Area land preservation organization announced on Friday.

“With prime agricultural land, habitat that can support red-legged frogs as well as golden eagles, and excellent connections to nearby protected lands, Madonna Creek Ranch is an exciting addition for the District,” said Steve Abbors, General Manager of Los Altos-based Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

Though the property is reportedly valued at $3.6 million, the District acquired the ranch for $600,000 from Palo Alto-based Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), which bought the property in 1995. The selling price includes a $100,000 reimbursement to POST for bridge improvements and other work on the property, the District said.

One of the District's first priorities for the ranch is to improve riparian habitat along Madonna Creek in order to enhance protection of the California red-legged frog and provide suitable migration grounds for Steelhead trout, another endangered species. The focus on Madonna Creek, a tributary of Pilarcitos Creek, is part of the Bay Area Open Space Council's prioritization of Pilarcitos Creek as land to be targeted for conservation.

According to the District's Senior Planner Sandy Sommer, the California red-legged frog population at Madonna Creek is particularly striking for its robust nature.

“They almost hop out to greet you,” Sommer said.

Yet the population still faces predatory threats from bullfrogs, the District said.

Funding for these projects will come from a $500,000 grant the District was recently awarded to protect the 16 species found on the grounds, which includes the yellow warbler bird.

The $500,000 in funding comes from a $2 million pot of money given out each year by the California Department of Parks and Recreation Habitat Conservation for local conservation projects.

Madonna Creek Ranch is also home to 27 acres of row crops and a 12-stall equestrian boarding facility. Pumpkins and grains are grown on site.

"Before POST acquired this land, it had the potential to be subdivided into four parcels for luxury estates," said POST President Walter T. Moore.

"Fortunately, the District obtained the grant that made it possible for POST to transfer the property to permanent public ownership," he said.

"[It's] another terrific example of the power of our ongoing collaboration to save local natural lands," Moore concluded.

Editor's Note: The photos of the yellow warbler and the last photo of the California red-legged frog featured in the media box at right were not taken at Madonna Creek Ranch. They are included for illustration only. The first two photos of California red-legged frogs, courtesy of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, were taken at Madonna Creek Ranch.

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