Our mission is to inspire and assist the people and communities of Santa Cruz County to protect, conserve, and restore our natural resources.
We envision our county as a place where natural resources and the communities and economies that depend upon them are thriving and resilient.
Resource Conservation Districts across California serve as local hubs for conservation, connecting people with the technical, financial and educational assistance they need to conserve and manage natural resources.
RCDs are established under California law to be locally governed with independent boards of directors that are accountable to our communities. Our relationships with the communities we serve and their trust are critical to how we accomplish our work.
RCDs are not part of County government. We are special districts, a form of local government created by the community to meet a specific need such as fire protection, open space, or flood control. RCDs help meet the need for voluntary resource conservation.
As trusted stewards of public and private funds, RCDs are subject to transparency and accountability laws that require public meetings, open records, annual audits and financial reporting.
The RCD is overseen by a seven-member Board of Directors who volunteer their time for the benefit of the community and natural resources. Directors are local landowners in the district and are actively engaged with rural, agricultural, and natural resource conservation issues. The RCD receives a small local tax base of approximately $80,000 per year (through a combination of local property taxes and augmentation funds). We rely heavily on competitive grants, service contracts, and private donations to deliver our mission. While it varies from year to year, we leverage each tax dollar, on average, to bring over $33 of state, federal and other funds to Santa Cruz County.
In the wake of the Dust Bowl crisis, the US Department of Agriculture established the Soil Conservation Service (later renamed the Natural Resources Conservation Service-NRCS) in 1935 to provide federal assistance to help farmers heal the land. Local counterparts were set up across the nation to ensure that local priorities were served. Thus, conservation districts were born. From the dust bowl crisis of years past, to climate change today, RCDs have been a local partner, nimble and responsive to community needs for managing natural resources.
In 1942, visionary farmers concerned with soil and water stewardship established the first RCD in Santa Cruz County – the Pajaro RCD serving the southern part of the County. In 1949, the central portion of the County formed the Redwood RCD to serve its growing needs. Then, in 1978, working with the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), the districts were combined into one large district to comprehensively serve the entire unincorporated area of Santa Cruz County. This new District was named the Santa Cruz County Resource Conservation District (now the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County, or just RCD) with a service area of over 260,000 acres. The City of Capitola was subsequently annexed to the District in 1983, at the request of the City of Capitola.
We have been successful in advancing our mission by addressing timely resource conservation issues that have met community needs while collaborating with other resource agencies and public interest organizations. Our early work was led by a dedicated board of directors, small staff and volunteers. They worked side-by-side with NRCS to provided critical soil management and erosion control services to both farmers and rural landowners and mentored local youth with an interest in conservation. In times of disaster, like extreme the winters of 1982, 1998 and 2017, the Lexington, Summit and CZU Complex Fires and even the 1989 earthquake, the RCD quickly responded to the public's need for emergency informational and technical assistance. Our RCD has been an innovator and a leader in using voluntary, non-traditional approaches to solving environmental issues in our county and beyond. The strength of our foundation of collaborative problem-solving rooted in community was magnified by our visionary leader, Karen Christensen, who was hired in March of 1996 and went on to serve as the RCD’s Executive Director from 2009 to 2014. Karen was known and respected throughout the community and the state as an inclusive, inspiring, catalyst for change. She was the forward-thinking architect of many of the RCD’s flagship programs, with an innate skill for bringing people together and building bridges between diverse points of view. Under her leadership the RCD grew and successfully brought millions of dollars in grant funding to support local conservation. Her legacy lives on through such innovative programs as the Integrated Watershed Restoration Program, the Early Mitigation Partnership MOU, the Partners in Restoration Permit Coordination Program, and the Community Water Dialogue.
Through our partnerships and commitment to collaborative solutions, the RCD’s leadership and staff today are guiding the District into the future to address emerging and pressing needs like climate change and wildfire resiliency, hand-in-hand with our community.