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Nov 9 - Dec 31, 2023

SPOTLIGHT: Big Sur Land Trust

As the climate crisis worsens, the Big Sur Land Trust is experimenting to create carbon sinks in local rangelands.

By David Schmalz

The Big Sur Land Trust is in the news a lot locally, and for good reason: Whether it’s acquiring land that will soon become our newest state park (Ixshenta State Park), creating a new floodplain for the Carmel River to prevent flooding (the Carmel River FREE project), or acquiring 73 acres of open space in the heart of Salinas to create a community park and nature habitat (Carr Lake), its projects benefit residents throughout Monterey County.

There is one thing, however, the nonprofit is working on that hasn’t received much press: sequestering carbon in soil. In 2020, in partnership with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, which secured a $100,000 grant through the state’s Healthy Soils Program, the land trust is running an experiment at its property at Marks Ranch to determine what management strategies work best to both sequester carbon in rangeland, and make the soil retain more water.

“Climate change continues to be the organizing principle of our work,” says Patrick Riparetti, BSLT’s director of stewardship. He adds that healthy soil is not only a benefit for climate change mitigation, but also climate resilience in a future of drought and occasional deluge: “It’s a very practical way that can lead to really meaningful impacts.”

Starting in December of 2020, the nonprofit began it experiment on four one-acre plots at Marks Ranch. In one, BSLT has seeded it with native plants and grasses; in another, the same, plus compost; in a third, just compost; and in the control plot, nothing. All of the plots are on disturbed soil that was trampled in 2020 when the area was used as a staging ground for firefighters in the River Fire, and the experiment will track how quickly the soil recovers under the different strategies—and how much carbon it’s sequestering and water it’s retaining.

The goal, Riparetti says, is to hone in on best soil management practices for the region, and then share that knowledge so it can be scaled with technologies like industrial drill seeders—which the state’s local Department of Fish & Wildlife office lends out—and which can seed one-acre per hour of rangeland with native plant seeds.

“Our mission is healthy land, healthy communities and healthy people, and this project really ties those elements together,” Riparetti says.