One of Santa Cruz County's Most Important Resources - Sand

Posted by Keith Severson on Mar 18, 2015

Although Santa Cruz is famous for its beaches, one of the County’s most important stretches of sand lies inland in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in an area known as the Zayante sandhills. Tucked between the communities of Bonny Doon and Scotts Valley, the sandhills are isolated pockets of ancient sand that support an ecologically distinct assortment of plants and animals. Once covering about 6,365 acres, the sandhills are now restricted to less than 1,500, making it one of the rarest habitats in the state of California.

The sandhills sit on an ancient sandstone terrace that was uplifted when the Santa Cruz Mountains were formed. The soils that developed here are sandy, erodible, and nutrient-poor. Many plants, including redwoods, cannot grow under these conditions. Other plants, however, have become uniquely adapted to this harsh environment. Some of these plants, like ponderosa pine, are usually found elsewhere in the state, while others, like Ben Lomond spineflower and Ben Lomond wallflower, are found nowhere else in the world.

The Quail Hollow Quarry, which Graniterock has operated in Felton since 1997, is an internationally recognized source of high-quality, fine-grained sand used to make glass containers and glass fiber products. Graniterock operates under a permit from the County of Santa Cruz to mine sand deposits for shipment to off-site production facilities. At the same time, at this location, Graniterock conserves and protects the rare and endangered species and native plant communities of Quail Hollow. In concert with state and county mining regulations, and federal and state environmental laws, Graniterock has developed a Habitat Conservation Plan, and established a management fund, to provide for their long-term protection. 

As a part of its approved Habitat Conservation Plan, Graniterock has dedicated 110 acres of the quarry to the conservation and long-term protection of native species, including four endangered species – Mount Hermon June beetle, Zayante band-winged grasshopper, Ben Lomond spineflower, and Ben Lomond wallflower; and two rare plants – naked-stemmed buckwheat, and silver-leafed manzanita. Divided into four conservation zones, these areas are home to two of Santa Cruz County’s rarest plant communities – parkland and northern maritime chaparral.

Sandhills conservation centers on these two sensitive plant communities. Northern maritime chaparral covers the lower slopes of the ridges, and is home to the rare silverleaf manzanita. Rarer still is the parkland, found along the ridge tops. With its carpet of diminutive native plants and sparse overstory of ponderosa pines, sand parkland stands in sharp contrast to the County’s dense redwood forests. With less than 100 acres remaining in the world, sand parkland represents one of Santa Cruz County’s rarest habitats. 

For many years, biologists and Santa Cruz County residents have acknowledged the rarity and importance of the native plant and animal communities at Quail Hollow. In cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, Santa Cruz County, and members of the local community, Graniterock is committed to combining responsible mining practices with long-term protection and stewardship of the land.

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