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In accordance with guidance from the CDC and the County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency, and in the spirit of doing our part to limit community spread of COVID-19, the RCD of Santa Cruz County is temporarily closing our physical office. This office closure will be in place until May 3rd, or until the County lifts the Shelter In Place Order. Staff remain committed to serving our community and will continue working remotely to the greatest extent possible. Please contact staff via email. For general inquiries, contact
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by John Warner, USDA Soil Conservationist

photo monitoring1Grassed filter strip between fencing and roadWith all the recent wet weather we’re enjoying, now might be the right time to set up some simple permanent photo monitoring locations at key locations where water runs off your property. You might have some filter strips or other permanent vegetation on the outside of horse paddocks where water can gently overland flow off your property (see picture to the right).

Or you might have some more challenging places where water leaves your property. But in any case, permanent photo monitoring can you give important information that can inform your stormwater runoff management.

photo monitoring 2 resizedPhoto monitoring station location identifiers in Big SurAfter the Soberanes Fire, Big Sur Land Trust set up photo monitoring stations throughout their redwood forest to document vegetation recovery (see picture left).

As you can see, this is really just a simple L bracket mounted on a post that allows you to place your smart phone in exactly the same position every time you take a picture. For horse facilities, these simple photo monitoring stations can be set up on fence posts, or another suitable flat surface, where the L bracket can be mounted. Another advantage of using smartphones to take your monitoring pictures is that these pictures are usually date stamped so it is very easy to document when your picture was taken.

Some suggestions of what to monitor with photographs: Manure management areas, pastures, paddocks, openarenas, riding rings, trails, roads, riparian areas, and more. Depending on the monitoring purpose, photos can be taken during winter rains to show runoff patterns, but also in the summer to show a contrasting view. It is especially valuable to have photos taken from exactly the same spot before and after any water drainage improvements you may undertake. Have fun taking pictures, and you may be surprised at how useful these photos will be in how you manage your property!

by Devii Rao , University of California Cooperative Extension
Yellow starthistle is an invasive rangeland weed that takes over pastures, reducing quality and quantity of livestock forage. Ranchers continue to struggle with controlling this species. Weed Control in Natural Areas in the Western United States (DiTomasso, Kyser, et al. 2013) is an excellent book with information on how to control yellow starthistle and many other invasive species that occur in California. The yellow starthistle chapter is available at:

This article summarizes the yellow starthistle chapter from this book.

Three of the main yellow starthistle control strategies are herbicide, grazing, and mowing.


thistle1Seedling stagethistle2Rosette stage


Several herbicides are effective on yellow starthistle, but two of the best options are Aminopyralid (Milestone) and Clopyralid (Transline). The best time to spray Aminopyralid is from the seedling stage to the rosette stage. The best time to spray Clopyralid is when the plant is in the late rosette stage. Grasses are not harmed by either herbicide.

thistle3Bolting is a stage if vigorous growth during the time of greatest list availability.Grazing: Cattle, sheep, and goats can all be used to graze yellow starthistle. The best time to graze is from the bolting stage to right before the spiny heads emerge. Bolting is the stage after the stem comes up out of the rosette, but before the flower head begins to emerge. Protein content during this stage is relatively high: 8% to 14%. Once the spines come out yellow starthistle becomes less attractive to cattle and sheep and they start avoiding it. Goats, on the other hand, are not dissuaded by the spines so they are often used in yellow starthistle targeted grazing programs. Short-duration, high-intensity grazing is the most effective grazing strategy to control yellow starthistle.

thistle4Spiny stage.Mowing: Mowing can be an effective control option if you have an area that’s flat enough for a mower to be safe and not tip over and doesn’t have too many big rocks to get in the way of the mower. It will take several years of mowing to control yellow starthistle. Control will be even better if mowing is used in conjunction with other control methods. The best time to mow is when 2%-5% of all the yellow starthistle plants are in bloom. Timing of mowing is critical. If you mow too early, yellow starthistle can grow back and produce even more seed than if you had not mowed. Mowing too early will also eliminate grasses and other existing plants that were competing with yellow starthistle. Yellow starthistle doesn’t do as well if there’s a thick mat of other vegetation to compete with. So, removing these plants releases yellow starthistle from competition, allowing it to grow better. If you mow too late, you’ll spread the seed. Researchers found that they got the best results when they mowed twice: once during the early flowering stage and then a second time 4-6 weeks later after the plants had regrown and had produced flower buds.

thistle5Blooming stagesEffectiveness of mowing also depends on how your yellow starthistle plants are growing. If you have plants that are tall, and the branches are high up on the plants, you may only have to mow once during the early flowering stage. But, if you have plants that are spread out at the base and the branches are lower on the plant, you may not be able to control it very well because the mower can’t get low enough to cut the branches.

DiTomaso, J.M., G.B. Kyser et al. 2013. Weed Control in Natural Areas in the Western United States. Weed Research and Information Center, University of California. 544 pp.

bancroft ranchWhat do you do with piles of horse poop? What used to be a problem- accumulated manure from a horse boarding business in Carmel Valley in central California – has become a green side business. In 2008 the Bancroft Ranch, an equine boarding facility with 30 plus horses, installed a sophisticated manure composting system with grant funding through the Livestock and Land program The program is a collaboration of local Resource Conservation Districts (RCD’s) and Ecology Action, a non-profit based in Santa Cruz, CA. Additional assistance was provided through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The Livestock and Land programs works with livestock owners and facility managers to solve soil and water quality concerns that can arise from livestock keeping. Bancroft Ranch is now a “Watershed Steward Demonstration Site” and share their success with other horse facility operators.

Horse manure is collected and composted in a state-of-the-art (yes, there is a state-of-the-art in composting) where the process is shortened using aerated bays, which not only eliminates the need for turning, but creates a more consistent end product than ordinary composting in a static pile. Owner/operator and chief pooper-scooper Susan Bancroft has been delighted in the results, both in the quality of the finished product, but also the very tangible side effects of a cleaner (less mud and muck), neater and nearly fly-free property.

The resultant high-quality compost is offered for sale either in recycled feed bags or in bulk and also supplies the local garden club. Susan is a periodic speaker at local garden club gatherings and has a devoted clientele that have bought out her supply the past 5 springs.

To learn more about how Livestock and Land can help your facility, visit

GrahamHill FuelLoadVegetation that was removed as part of a shaded fuel break project in 2017.The Resource Conservation District (RCD), working with Cal Fire and California State Parks, has scheduled Phase 3 of the Wildfire Fuel Load Reduction project along Graham Hill Road. On Monday, October 8, 2018, crews will begin the removal of invasive Acacia and French broom on approximately 1.4 acres of road front property between Rollingwoods Drive and Lockewood Lane. The work is part of a local ongoing effort to prevent wildfire and improve safety along the Graham Hill corridor. Designated as a high priority by Cal Fire, the project will help to ensure safe ingress and egress along this critical access route in the case of wildfire.

Phase 2 was completed last year when crews created a shaded fuel break involving the removal of low tree branches and dense vegetation. The selective clearing can also have a positive impact on sensitive species by improving critical habitat and reducing the risk of catastrophic fire.

The RCD and Cal Fire are working closely with the current contractor to ensure that best practices are employed to reduce the likelihood of Acacia regrowth. A plan is underway to address the resprouts that are appearing in some of the areas treated in 2016.

Funding for this project was awarded to the RCD through a grant from Cal Fire.

For more information contact Angie Gruys at the RCD at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. OR 831-464-2950 x22

The RCD works with local fire agencies, fire protection districts and fire safe councils to implement recommendations in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), print and provide a variety of brochures and resource materials and conduct a multitude of public outreach, workshops and educational efforts emphasizing fire safe awareness and prevention. For more information on how residents can prepare for wildfire visit:

Fire Safe Santa Cruz County

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