Nonprofit aims to protect and preserve

Local organization stewards open space statewide
By: Toni Arnes,
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Development may be good for a city’s economy, but for the surrounding habitat and the wildlife species, it can prove detrimental.

Wildlife Heritage Foundation works to mitigate the effects of development through natural resource management and education.

Based in Lincoln, the nonprofit organization holds conservation easements protecting more than 30,000 acres of land across California, according to Kelly Velasco, the Wildlife Heritage Foundation’s education and outreach director.

These easements are legal documents that protect certain land and certain habitat from future development, Velasco explained. Property owners, both private and public, maintains ownership but Wildlife Heritage Foundation manages and monitors the property.


Auburn Ravine Park, located at 1300 Green Ravine Drive in Lincoln, is an example of this type of arrangement. Wildlife Heritage Foundation also oversees all the wild and open space in Sun City Lincoln Hills and McBean Park, according to Velasco.

“When a builder wants to build a property, thus taking away a habitat, they need to replace that habitat somewhere else,” Velasco said.

Wildlife Heritage Foundation is dedicated to educating the public about the open space it protects.

Velasco created an education program that provides students with free field trips to preserved wild spaces.

She also created a partnership between the foundation and the city of Lincoln to provide children with guided nature walks through the parks, she told The News Messenger.

“In my experience over the years, I’ve really noticed that we do need to get our young people outside. They need to start learning about what lives in their own backyards,” Velasco said.

Heather Watkins-Koolhoff, a teacher at Skyridge Elementary School in Auburn, and her

third-graders participated in one of the field trips.

“It’s a perfect program for third-grade. We focus on the history of California, the animals of California and its habitat,” Watkins-Koolhoff said.

“An array of animal species” lives in and around the wetlands, grasslands and salt marshes of Lincoln Hills, according to Bob Cook, Sun City Lincoln Hills Community Association’s executive director. Reptiles, birds, beavers, bobcats and occasionally a mountain lion can be spotted in this diverse environment.

Velasco gave a partial list of endangered species the organization protects.

“We are responsible for all species in and around the habitats we protect. California  red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, fairy shrimp, San Joaquin kit fox and burrowing owl,” Velasco said.

On Oct. 5 and 6, Wildlife Heritage Foundation will partner with Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead (SARSAS) to host the fourth annual Calling Back the Salmon Celebration.  According to its brochure, the celebration, “is a day dedicated to educating our community on ways to keep our waterways healthy.”

Velasco points to an important factor for keeping waterways healthy.

“There are some studies that have compared the health of waterways to the health of the population of people. Healthy habitats, healthy watersheds usually means healthy people,” Velasco said. “It’s really important to us to keep our habitat healthy and clean and livable.”