Visitors to Siltanen Park and residents of Tabor Drive may have noticed in recent weeks that the horses, once so familiar a sight in the open pasture of the adjacent Glenwood Open Space Preserve, have disappeared.
In their place, a dozen cattle — six cows and six calves — now roam through the 200 acres of ecologically sensitive grassland.
According to Stephen Slade, deputy director of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County which administers the city-owned property, the introduction of the cattle is a step toward the long-delayed goal of opening the land up to public usage.
“The eventual goal is to also allow public access on trails through that property,” Slade said. “Cattle are considered safer for people than horses.”
According to Brian Largay, conservation director for the Land Trust, having the large animals grazing the land is actually beneficial to the rare plant and animal life that is found in the preserve.
“These endangered plants and animals do really well when the land is grazed,” he said “Some of these endangered species (such as the Ohlone tiger beetle) occur on only a few places on Earth.”
According to Largay, the presence of the cattle will serve to fulfill two of the Land Trust's goals for the preserve.
“Our primary goal is to increase the population of rare and endangered animals,” he said. “A secondary objective is to make (the preserve) open for public enjoyment.”
The horses, Largay said, were “not very compatible with recreation use.”
“While the horses were doing a fine job of sustaining this habitat, they weren’t very conducive to recreational use,” he said, describing them as “overly friendly” toward humans.
The cattle, on the other hand, are “pretty shy around people,” Largay said.
The decision to introduce the cattle, he said, came partially due to the success of similar arrangements on the UC Santa Cruz campus, where another herd of cattle has peacefully coexisted with hikers for several years.
Largay said that the next step for the Land Trust is to submit a habitat conservation plan for the approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a process which can take approximately one year to complete.
From there, he said, the preserve could potentially be open for public use as early as 2016.