May 1, 2019 | Stories

A Walk on the South Side

A Walk on the South Side

The Community Foundation for San Benito County was very excited to accept an invitation to visit Rancho Cienega Del Gabilan, what turned out to be a phenomenal day in the country, and we would like to thank our wonderful hosts, Donny and Julia Baldocchi. They are just two of the 14 family members that currently own the ranch, the third and fourth generation of the Reeves, Baldocchi, and Boyle families. And they are proud to say, “the fifth generation has boots on the ground.”

The day-long event was an opportunity to learn about the operations of the 11,000-acre ranch and the work that has been conducted by Point Blue Conservation Science, a nonprofit organization that works to decrease environmental impact while developing nature-based solutions to benefit both wildlife and people.

With the fog hanging heavy over San Juan Valley, we made our way up San Juan Canyon Road, into the sunshine and then down onto Gabilan Ranch just south of Fremont Peak and partially located in Monterey County. Surrounded by green rolling hills covered with colorful wildflowers, the original ranch house sits adjacent to several ponds teaming with wildlife. The Coots were chasing each other across the water while an Eagle soared overhead.

After a few introductions, it was time to climb into the back of an Austrian Pinzgauer; a troop carrier now used to move visitors around the ranch. We traveled along a narrow dirt road, in and out of oak groves, past more picturesque ponds, and always in the shadow of Fremont Peak. The Tule Elk introduced to the ranch in 1983, now numbering 15 in the herd, made an appearance on a distant hill.

After traveling about a mile, we located what looked like just a few cows who greeted us with an exciting chorus of mooing and bellowing. Ranch Manager, Jeff Mundell explained, “I’m going to call the cattle and let the forest know we are moving. It’s going to get loud.” As he opened the fence, and let out a loud, indescribable whoop and holler, the forest began to move, and cows emerged from the woods. Surprisingly, there was about 400 head of cattle, and many new-born calves were getting their first lesson in life; they were pretty darn cute bounding across the hillside behind their mothers.

After taking in a view of the Salinas Valley, we traveled back to the ranch house where we had lunch. The conversations around the table were passionate. Everyone from Point Blue was engaging and enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge, and even the city dwellers felt welcomed. By dessert, our heads were swimming with new information about conservation.

In 2017, Point Blue spent most of the spring studying the ecosystem of Gabilan Ranch, conducting surveys on the vegetation, bird population, and soil composition throughout the ranch. Of all the rangelands that Point Blue has surveyed in the state of California, Gabilan Ranch is a very special place with the most species of plants (202) and more than 90 species of birds.

Point Blue will continue to conduct these surveys at the Ranch every three years, and the data collected will help Gabilan Cattle Company make decisions about the best holistic range management practices to improve the quality of cattle in the herd, as well as the rangelands on this beautiful historic ranch.

Gabilan Ranch is not the only place Point Blue is making a difference in San Benito County. In 2018, the Community Foundation awarded Point Blue a grant for their STRAW Program (Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed). The project engaged students from five Elementary Schools in San Benito County during restoration planting field trips on three different properties throughout San Benito County.