Nov 3, 2018
By Meghan Peterman
Natural History of 2595 Railroad Street, Graton
Many concerns have been shared by the community in regards to the harmonious setting of the two properties recently sold along the West County Trail. This space is currently zoned for agriculture and for myself, as a naturalist, is where my concern resides.
Unfortunately, the monetary value of nature is often unrecognized or underestimated and is not given adequate consideration in land-use planning or development decisions. As the population of a region grows, the economic value of its natural lands increases, but only if the health of the ecological and hydrological systems is maintained. Some of the most important ecosystem services rendered by natural lands include maintenance of biological diversity, groundwater recharge, nutrient recycling by wetland areas, flood prevention through water retention, and pollination of crops and natural vegetation.
The property on the west side of the West County Trail is a part of the Atascadero wetland system. Along the west end of this property runs the Atascadero Creek. This rivulet and its major tributaries are an important natural resource which historically supported steelhead trout, California freshwater shrimp, and have served as habitat for the endangered Coho salmon.
Throughout the winter season, these fields annually flood, not only providing a habitat for migrating birds, but also creating a space for flood prevention and groundwater recharge. Furthermore, Hallberg Butterfly Gardens, a nature reserve, resides on the east side of the two plots and these properties serve as the last open space accommodating wildlife to forage and pass through this lateral corridor. A disruption in the availability of these fields affects the diversity and well being of the animals residing on the Hallberg preserve which continues to serve as an ecological learning center for local schools, community and visiting tourists.
With the increasing development of monoculture farming in our county I hope that we can propose a long-term plan of a complete transition for this land to serve as an open space, reestablishing native plants, for wildlife to prosper and the community to enjoy. In circumstances in which this could not be accommodated, I would implore our guidelines to require all parties being considered for this space to not only accommodate our natural resources, but assist in helping them prosper and therefore support a sustainable utilization of the rich biodiversity that inhabits our county.