Big Hill Preserve gets bigger, vital habitat connectivity expands in Sierra foothills

Jul 1, 2024 | Project Highlights

Two people standing in front of a preserve sign with green grass and oak trees in the background.
Sierra Nevada Conservancy Area Representative Chris Dallas talks with Christy Claes, recreation manager with the Placer Land Trust, about the Moy property, renamed Kotomyan Vista Preserve to honor the Nisenan tribe that occupied the area in the past.

It may be only 60 acres, but the Kotomyan Vista Preserve located just north of the popular Hidden Falls Regional Park and adjacent to other Placer Land Trust preserves and conservation easements now brings the total acres of protected land in the north Auburn area to nearly 9,000.

With help from a Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) grant, this small acquisition by the nonprofit organization, which protects more open space and strategically connects vital wildlife corridors, is a pretty big deal in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

“After visiting the property, we knew this would be an excellent addition to the block of protected land in the Big Hill area,” said Jeff Darlington, executive director with the Placer Land Trust (PLT). “This land (Kotomyan Vista Preserve) is located in an important watershed area between Raccoon Creek and the Bear River, which is the largest remaining contiguous area of oak woodlands remaining in Placer County. Placer is one of the fastest growing counties in California, and PLT works to balance that growth with conservation of important resources like waterways, agricultural land, and wildlife habitat.”

As Darlington pointed out, the scenic and open oak woodlands throughout the Sierra Nevada foothills are popular roaming corridors and home to more than 300 species of wildlife. “The oak woodlands between Bear River and Racoon Creek form an important north-south corridor complementing the east-west corridors formed by these waterways,” he said referring to the preserve and adjacent protected lands.

Preserving larger blocks of land, and connecting them together, is a key nature-based solution to preserve biodiversity in the face of challenges created by climate change and development pressures. By keeping wildlife corridors and migration routes open and safe, animals are able to follow their food sources and habitats to higher elevations and cooler microclimates as California’s climate warms. This is particularly true for larger animals like mountain lions, bobcats, and foxes.

Large boulders and oak trees throughout a landscape.
Aerial view of Kotomyan Vista Preserve north of the town of Auburn.

Preserved lands expand protected areas, public access

The Kotomyan Vista Preserve lies adjacent to PLT preserves of Taylor Ranch and Kotomyan Big Hill Preserve, as well as the privately owned Liberty Ranch protected by a PLT conservation easement. Both Taylor Ranch and the Kotomyan Big Hill Preserve, collectively known as “Big Hill Preserve” contain existing trails for managed recreation. To complement this, the Big Hill Preserve connects to larger parcels of protected land along the Bear River, such as Harvego, Garden Bar, Shutamul, and the Laursen Bear River Preserve, which was also funded by a Proposition 68 grant from the SNC, the Wildlife Conservation Board, and others.

The expansion of Placer Land Trust Preserves. Kotomyan Vista increases open space connectivity northwest of Auburn.
Protected land, including Placer Land Trust preserves and conservation easements, in the Bear River, Raccoon Creek watersheds. Kotomyan Vista Preserve and Lauren South were funded by the SNC.

In all, PLT protected lands along Racoon Creek and the Bear River cover more than six miles and 4,700 acres.

“Protecting land in the Bear River and Racoon Creek watersheds started many years ago as a collaborative effort by the Northern Foothills Partnership, which includes the Bear River Land Trust, PLT, and the Trust for Public Lands,” added Darlington. “The partnership works to facilitate investment in landscape-level conservation of Sierra foothills across the Bear, Yuba, and American rivers for the economic and ecological health of our local rural communities, benefit of all Californians, and future generations.”

Big Hill Preserve, which now includes Kotomyan Vista Preserve, is also located in the vicinity of Hidden Falls Regional Park, owned and managed by Placer County. While the infrastructure and trails are not yet in place to connect Big Hill Preserve to the county park, connecting these recreation opportunities is in the works. In fact, according to PLT there are plans to build trail connections within the next year or two, increasing places people can enjoy hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

Timely SNC funding opportunity key to acquisition

The creation of the Kotomyan Vista Preserve wasn’t a sure thing. While the landowners were very interested in protecting the property from development, they were also eager to sell.  Under a tight deadline, a timely $600,000 grant from the SNC in June of 2023 helped solve the issue and preserve the land for generations to come.

“The SNC has been an important partner to PLT for 20 years now, by helping fund acquisition projects, restoration projects, fuel-reduction projects, and planning projects, as well as providing valuable information regarding the foothills and the Sierra region,” Darlington said. “The timing of this grant was so ideal because the landowner was concerned about the length of time it might take to find funding, so this worked out perfectly for everyone’s needs.”

The Kotomyan Vista Preserve may be small in size, but it connects nicely with other preserves and conservation easements, expanding wildlife corridors and open space in this culturally and naturally significant region. The PLT plans to add trails to many of these preserves, further broadening recreation opportunities, making this 60-acre land acquisition an even bigger deal.