On its lands the Open Space Authority is responsible for plants and animals, water and soil resources, cultural and recreational assets and fire safety. In reality all these elements interact in a multitude of ways. Planning for the parts means also considering impacts at the habitat, ecosystem and watershed levels.
In developing resource management strategies, the Authority works toward these goals:
• Improving biodiversity
• Protecting rare, threatened and endangered species
• Maintaining a place in the landscape for people through compatible recreation and agricultural activity
• Understanding and preserving the artifacts and stories of humans from earlier times
• Following fire-safe practices
• Collaborating with others to enable coordinated, regional solutions to resource challenges
The largest threat facing California’s native plant communities is habitat loss. The conversion of land to urban and agricultural uses reduces the amount of natural open space available. What remains is often fragmented or too little to support healthy stands of native plants.
Habitat is also degraded through such human actions as overgrazing, overuse, draining wetlands, channelizing creeks and illegal trash disposal. Nonhuman impacts to vegetation also have to be considered. These include such things as plant pathogens, drought, erosion and flooding.
Many of the conditions that put stress on plants also have negative consequences for wildlife. Habitat loss and fragmentation are the biggest risk factors for many animals.
Degradation and disruption of habitat also takes its toll. Roads, pipelines and power lines in rural areas can create barriers that isolate animal populations. They also introduce risks due to vehicle collisions and electrocution. Extraction of minerals, timber, gas and oil also can create pressures on wildlife due to noise, vehicle traffic, pollution, and loss of food and shelter materials.
The Santa Clara Valley has been occupied by humans for many thousands of years. While much of the landscape has changed dramatically in the last few centuries, some of the natural areas where early inhabitants gathered retain their historic feel.
The landscape itself is a cultural frame of reference. Oak woodlands and creek sides on Open Space Authority lands are some of the areas where early Native Americans hunted and gathered food. The grasslands and forests also bear reminders of early ranching life.
By maintaining these environments and, in some cases, restoring them to a more natural state, OSA is able to help current county residents visualize the lives of people who lived here in the recent and distant past.
As residential building has moved into rural areas, the importance of wise fire management on open lands has become increasingly clear. Wildland fires sometimes overrun nearby homes with astonishing speed. Preparing for the possibility of fire is part of being a good neighbor in the areas where the Authority manages open space.
Prescribed fire on Coyote Ridge
Recurrent fire historically played a regular part in the development of ecosystems within the Mediterranean climate zone, which includes much of the state. Dry summers with months of little or no rain supported a pattern of seasonal burning. Fire suppression practices of recent decades, however, have allowed dense stands of timber and thick understory to build up, which has led to hotter, more severe fires. As a result the emphasis in fire management is moving away from total suppression to a program of removing dangerous fuel loads before a fire starts.
Cattle Grazing Practices
The Open Space Authority uses cattle grazing as a science-based management tool to reduce exotic species, promote native plants and animals, and reduce fire fuels and wildfire risk.
As cattle reduce the abundance of exotic species, they also reduce the buildup of vegetation matter which can provide fuel in a fire. By reducing the fuel load on the landscape, grazing reduces the risk of a destructive wildfire.
Because of these benefits, grazing is used as a management tool to promote native biodiversity and reduce fire risk throughout park and open space lands in California. The Open Space Authority’s grazing program is guided by the Grazing Management Policy which sets the goals and objectives of the grazing program.