The East Bay Hills are a defining feature of our region’s rich natural heritage. A treasured resource running north-south through Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, these hills are beloved by millions today, and essential for the health and well-being of generations to come.
John Muir Land Trust (JMLT) is a non-profit organization that has been working for decades to identify and protect the most threatened properties in this enduring landscape. Think of the East Bay Hills as a partially completed jigsaw puzzle — a beautiful photograph with many missing pieces. Recent acquisitions such as pristine Carr Ranch and Almond Ranch demonstrate that we can successfully fill in these gaps together.
The East Bay At Risk
The Bay Area’s booming economy and soaring housing market are putting enormous pressure on precious natural lands, especially in Contra Costa County. The populations of Contra Costa and Alameda counties are projected to grow by a combined 30% in the next 30 years, equivalent to adding nearly one San Francisco or three times the current population of Marin County to the East Bay.
A landmark study projects that nearly 300,000 acres of Bay Area land are at risk of sprawl development over the next 30 years, with Contra Costa County accounting for 1 in 5 acres of those threatened lands. That’s 62,000 acres, or 41% of the area’s at-risk critical habitat lands. Contra Costa County also has the most land at high risk of development in the next ten years – enough to cover an area the size of the city of Concord.
The East Bay lags behind other Bay Area counties in percentage of land protected. While Marin County has 56% of its land protected, Contra Costa County has 26% and Alameda County has 22%.
The Importance of Preserving East Bay Hills for Wildlife and Community
Fragmented habitat is one of the greatest threats to wildlife. The East Bay Hills provide a unique regional preserve of connected ecosystems of ridgelines, riparian valleys, oak woodlands, and open grasslands. This unbroken habitat shelters special-status species such as mountain lions, golden eagles, the threatened Alameda whipsnake, and the endangered California red-legged frog. Acquiring critical parcels keeps it intact and provides safe harbor for native species.
Watershed lands absorb and filter rainwater, then feed local rivers, streams, ponds and reservoirs. The waterways in our hills are unusual in that they are largely open and in a natural state, making them an exceptionally pristine source of clean drinking water for hundreds of thousands of East Bay families.
Public parks and preserved open space are vital to community health. The East Bay Hills are woven into a well-designed network of trails that crisscross our neighborhoods. Each new acquisition adds vital new connections. A bucolic buffer for mind and spirit, our hills give kids a chance to experience nature nearby. Any parent of a child with a smartphone knows that today’s youth are the generation most at risk of losing a personal connection to the outdoors. Conserved lands provide a daily reminder of the natural beauty around us, and why we have chosen to live here. Protecting them preserves the character of our community for generations to come.
Undeveloped ranches are highly sought after for commercial and residential development. JMLT works with conservation-minded sellers who want their land to be preserved. In gestures of extraordinary generosity, many are granting JMLT options to purchase at reduced prices. California’s 30×30 Initiative is making unprecedented public funds available for the purchase of these lands. 30×30 is an international movement to permanently conserve 30% of land and ocean for climate resilience by the year 2030. With approximately 24% of lands and 16% of coastal waters conserved to date, California is at the forefront of this global movement. Undeniably important for receiving these grants is communities demonstrating local support by contributing their own funds. Each gift, of any size, makes a difference.
We can seize this moment now or lose it. JMLT supporters have made possible a wonderful string of successes. Fernandez Ranch was recently expanded, and we’ve acquired Carr Ranch, Painted Rock, Almond Ranch, Hamlin Nature Park, and Harvey Ranch in just the past few years. We’re on a roll. You can help. In a world of uncertain outcomes, it is certain that we can do this together.