A population of federally threatened red-legged frogs now has a protected home, after the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) purchased the 564-acre Madonna Creek Ranch near Half Moon Bay, the district announced Friday, March 16.
The Madonna Creek Ranch, which is located just south of Highway 92 near Half Moon Bay, spans from Miramontes Ridge to Pilarcitos Creek. The property includes a variety of habitats and land uses, including 27 acres of row crops and a small equestrian boarding facility. It will be added to Miramontes Ridge Open Space Preserve, one of the MROSD's newest preserves, district officials stated in an announcement.
The MROSD plans to improve riparian habitat along Madonna Creek, home to rare frogs and designated for steelhead migration. Madonna Creek is a tributary of Pilarcitos Creek, which has been recognized by the Bay Area Open Space Council as a top priority conservation target.
The property's robust red-legged frog population, which has coexisted with agricultural operations, is particularly striking, said Senior Planner Sandy Sommer.
"They almost hop out to greet you," Sommer said.
Federally protected, red-legged frogs face threats from predatory bullfrogs and continuing habitat loss. Several district preserves harbor red-legged frog populations or potential habitat.
The MROSD purchased the $3.6-million property for $600,000 -- a bargain rate made possible with a generous discount from Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), the MROSD said. POST received the property from a private donor in 1995. The purchase price includes a $100,000 reimbursement to POST for bridge improvements and other work on the property.
The district was also awarded a $500,000 state grant to conserve the 16 rare or threatened species -- including the California red-legged frog and the yellow warbler -- found on the property.
Established by voters in 1990, the California Department of Parks and Recreation Habitat Conservation Fund distributes approximately $2 million of grants annually for local conservation projects.
"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," General Manager Steve Abbors said.
POST President Walter T. Moore said the purchase would ensure a healthy, vibrant future for a critical expanse of open space close to Half Moon Bay.
"Before POST acquired this land, it had the potential to be subdivided into four parcels for luxury estates," he said.
The district plans to continue working with the existing Madonna Creek Ranch agricultural tenant, which has grown pumpkins, grains and hay and operates a 12-stall equestrian boarding facility. The lower portion of the property contains prime farmland soil.
The property will remain closed to the public for agricultural operations and restoration efforts, although future trails could connect the Skyline corridor and Half Moon Bay, the district said.