Support Swanton Pacific Ranch

To provide Cal Poly students, faculty, staff and the public with a unique interdisciplinary environment in which to foster the Learn by Doing philosophy by providing educational experiences on a working ranch, supporting diversified agriculture and forest resources while maintaining the integrity of ranch operations.

  —Our Mission

Forest Management

Ranch Operations - Forestry


Cal Poly Swanton Pacific Ranch is committed to providing its students with a quality forestry education that provides experience of the entire forest management process. The forests at Swanton Pacific offer a full range of forest management activities. From conserving, protecting, and researching commercial second growth redwood forests to producing Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certified lumber products.

The forest resources of Swanton Pacific Ranch are sufficient to enable a selective forest harvest rotation every 5-10 years that will help provide students the opportunity to experience multiple aspects of forest stewardship in their academic careers. The forestry program has a commitment to ensure not only the quality of its educational program for its students, but also the health of the forests and accompanying beneficial uses. To accomplish this, the Ranch is committed to using the best management practices available for minimizing adverse environmental impacts during harvest and providing a diverse resource base for wildlife habitat while ensuring the future health of the forests.

2015 Swanton Pacific Ranch Management Plan


Forestry education at Cal Poly and Swanton Pacific are closely aligned to provide significant 'Learn by Doing' opportunities that help students shape their careers. The Natural Resource and Environmental Sciences (NRES) majors participate in many field trips per year in forest management, measurements, growth and yield, silviculture, soil science, and watershed management. Students also participate in internships where they gain meaningful experience in maintaining Non-Industrial Timber Management Plans (NTMPs), preparing Timber Harvest Plans (THPs), estimating harvest yields, maintaining forest inventory, engaging in sawmill operations and preparing materials for Forest Stewardship Council Certification (FSC).

Sustainable Forestry and Environmental Practices is an Industry, Agency, University (IAU)-based course held each summer. Approximately 40 different resource professionals from around the state gather to teach students all aspects of writing and reviewing a THP. The NRES department has been accredited by the Society of American Foresters (SAF), partly due to having access to Cal Poly Swanton Pacific Ranch. Recent approval for the Swanton Pacific Education Center and Field Camp (SPECFC) will provide much needed housing to support existing uses and the development of new educational opportunities.

Forestland Management

Our Non-industrial Timber Management Plan and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification guide the stewardship of the Cal Poly Swanton Pacific Ranch forest. The management plan, referred to as the Swanton Pacific Ranch Non-industrial Timber Management Plan (SPR-NTMP), is a document approved in perpetuity by the State of California in 2008.

Maintaining working lands that provide local resources to local markets, these documents conserve and protect the beneficial uses of the State (soil, water, flora and fauna) under what has been regarded as the strictest Forest Practice Rules in the world. The NTMP focuses on maintaining a functional ecosystem throughout each harvest entry and responsibly producing resources. Please see Section I of the SPR-NTMP for the Table of Contents on Page iii, found under the link below, to view all the management topics covered. These documents (including the 2011 NTMP Amendment that discusses the 2009 Lockheed Fire in detail and the 2019 NTMP Amendment that discusses road reconstruction), FSC certification audit reports, and other supporting forest management plan documents (current and historic), can be viewed under Forest Management Documents

Back to top

Swanton Pacific Ranch NTMP - 701 acres

The Swanton Pacific Ranch Non-industrial Timber Management Plan was a major accomplishment for forest management at Swanton Pacific. Driven by a change in philosophy occurring in the Santa Cruz Mountains for many decades, it strives to identify and balance the important relationships between ecological function and responsibly producing local resources on working lands. Scientists, local experts, and Forest Stewardship Council representatives evaluated SPR forestlands which resulted in a wide range of protections and uses documented throughout the SPR-NTMP.


North Fork unit - 191 acres

This unit includes the manageable timberland on the Ranch that drains to the North Fork Little Creek. A selection harvest occurred in most of this area in 1993, 1994, 2008 and a salvage harvest in 2010 following the Lockheed Fire of 2009. Several different yarding systems are utilized in the Little Creek watershed to be consistent with the varied terrain and timber. Helicopter and skyline yarding configurations are proposed for steeper areas while ground skidding the balance of the unit. Springs, seeps and unstable areas occur in helicopter, cable, and tractor operating areas. Above a historic railroad grade, redwood is scattered among low-quality Douglas-fir. The combination of low timber value, low timber density and difficult terrain makes these mid slope areas a difficult portion of the unit to manage.

Tranquility Flats - North Fork sub-unit 

The Tranquility Flats sub-unit is approximately 11 acres in the North Fork Unit that has been managed to develop larger diameter trees managed accordingly in the Sustained Yield Analysis of the SPR-NTMP. This Sub-unit is in the best growing site on the Ranch and estimated to have 48,000 BF (board feet (one board foot = 12" x 12" x 1") per acre of redwood and Douglas-fir with approximately 1000 BF of growth per acre per year ( 1000BF = a tree that is approximately 34" in diameter and 140 feet tall). The general cutting prescription will continue to transition more trees into the upper size classes predominantly maintaining the mean diameter of the stand.

South Fork Little Creek unit - 84 acres

The South Fork unit includes manageable timberland that drains to the South Fork of Little Creek. A selection harvest in conjunction with infrastructure development occurred here in 1989 and 1990 with an additional helicopter harvest in 2011. Access to the South Fork Unit is from Swanton Road via the road up Archibald Creek, and across Winter Creek. Yarding in the South Fork unit is a combination of skyline cable yarding on the south ridge access road including tractor yarding from designated skid trails. Logs must be skidded on the road to the landing in some portions of this unit. 

Satellite Units - 426 acres

The timberlands outside the Little Creek drainage are dominated by Douglas-fir and hardwood with non-native Monterey pine stock in several plantations and small pockets of redwood in more protected and moister sites. These areas were evaluated for their management potential under the SPR-NTMP based on current stocking levels, stand condition, and access. Parts of this unit were harvested in 2004 and salvaged following the Lockheed Fire in 2010.

The 2004 harvest focused on removing some defect and improving spacing in areas affected by heavy cutting done in the late 1940's to early 1960's. The 2009 Lockheed Fire burned many portions of the satellite units severely.

The 2010 salvage harvest focused on removing trees previously damaged in 1948. The purpose was to maintain economic viability for our managed stands in the future by reducing compounded defect from both fires in our stands managed for timber production. 

Future harvests under the NTMP will build on the timber stand improvement by using selection silviculture, group selection harvests, timber stand improvement, and planting operations to continue establishing reasonably healthy stands with good stocking.

The area previously planted with Monterey pine stock from New Zealand will be managed to phase-out the non-native stock. Some of this area is already interplanted with redwood and Douglas-fir seedlings and indicate that continued planting of these species will likely result in a stocked stand over time. As new opportunities for spot planting occur, more conifer seedlings may be planted. Release of established saplings from non-native pine or hardwood competition will also continue.

Back to top


Botanical Conservation Areas

Botanical conservation areas are mapped and discussed in the SPR-NTMP and identify specific habitats, species, or even single trees that are viewed as important components to the integrity of the local forest ecosystem on Swanton Pacific (except for the General Smith Stand, see High Conservation Value forest). Mapped characteristics range from a Shreve oak stand to a second growth redwood tree protected by our benefactor Al Smith. Each of these locations are locally significant with special management considerations given in the SPR-NTMP. In most cases, varying levels of management are allowed, but the goal focuses on the locally significant component different from HCV.

For instance, while it has no listing status, the Shreve oak stand is managed as a locally significant component. Interestingly, the stand of Shreve oak resulted from human activity in the 1950's to 1960's from the clearcut harvest of Douglas-fir for split box products. To maintain the integrity of the Shreve oak stand, Douglas-fir will be removed so that it does not shade out the Shreve oak. More information on the locations of botanical conservation areas can be found on the Botanical Conservation Map in the SPR-NTMP.

Valencia Creek NTMP - 504 acres

As of March 2019, the Valencia Creek property is no longer under the ownership or management of Cal Poly’s Swanton Pacific Ranch. For educational purposes, the former Valencia Creek NTMP will remain available to students on SPR’s website. 

A precursor to the SPR-NTMP, the VC-NTMP also took tremendous steps forward by utilizing multiple consultants in the same manner as the SPR-NTMP. Most notable changes for this NTMP were changes in harvesting infrastructure. Formerly, timber operations utilized oxen, steam donkey, railroad and tractor logging on or along watercourses. The VC-NTMP moved infrastructure away from the watercourses and utilized skyline cable yarding systems to fully span the creek. In addition, many old Humboldt crossings were removed in favor of more robust and functional road drainage and watercourse crossing options. These improvement have resulted in only one culvert over the entire 600 acres. Another step in future forest management was to break silvicultural units by subwatershed rather than by yarding method.

The Valencia Creek property was clearcut in the late 1800's and had two selective second growth harvests that occurred in 70's and 80's. In addition, Valencia Creek has been harvested in 2001-2002 and 2013-2014. A total of five harvest entries.

The VC-NTMP details three separate units: Unit 1 (213 acres), Unit II (254 acres), and Unit III (37 acres). Unit 1 and Unit II are predominantly characterized by Site III second growth redwood. Running from north to south, the property begins at Valencia Creek and is extremely steep with significant inner gorge characteristics. When approaching the ridgetops, these steep slopes become more gradual after transitioning through steep perennial and intermittent streams to Valencia's upper watershed headwaters. Finally the property transitions to a striking ridgetop referred to as Bean Hill with a view of the entire Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Back to top

Forest Harvest Volumes and Net Returns

Little Creek - South Fork 1990 216,000 391,000 $100,000
Little Creek - North Fork 1994 616,000 327,000 $308,000
Little Creek - North Fork 1995 579,000 274,000 $216,000
Valencia Creek Unit 1 2001 1,915,000 91,000 $889,000
Valencia Creek Unit 2 2002 2,000,000 100,000 $950,000
Lower Little Creek 2004 588,000 82,000 $249,000
Little Creek - North Fork 2008 847,000 22,000 $150,000
Little Creek - Lockheed Salvage 2010 838,000 20 $253,000
Little Creek - South Fork 2011 632,000 12,000 $164,000
Little Creek - North Fork 1995 579,000 274,000 $216,000
Valencia Creek Unit 1 2013 2,473,650 50,000 $850,077
Valencia Creek Unit 2 2014 1,479,630 100,000 $557,949
GRAND TOTALS 12,184,280 1,449,020 $4,687,026

* Approximately $750,000 was invested into SPR roads that is not reflected in net return 
** SPR total timber harvest yields are equivalent to approximately 100 semi trucks per year for 25 years 
*** Income is sporadic, but is approximately $187,000 per year for the last 25 years

Back to top


FSC® Certification and NTMP's

Cal Poly Swanton Pacific Ranch was the first school forest in the western United States to obtain Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) certification in May 2004. FSC® is likely the most stringent third-party independent forest certification opportunity in the world and requires significant inputs to maintain. The FSC® requires yearly audits with full re-evaluations against their 10 Principles and Criteria every five years. SPR is committed to FSC® certification and its principles guide our forest management in concert with our Non-industrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP).

FSC Principles and Criteria 
FSC Audit Reports

High Conservation Value Forest (HCV)

As required by FSC certification, Swanton Pacific Ranch defined areas of High Conservation Value. Not to be confused with Botanical Conservation Areas from the SPR-NTMP, HCV is a higher standard and is defined by FSC as possessing one or more of the following High Conservation Values (HCVs): 

HCV forest areas containing globally, regionally or nationally significant concentrations of biodiversity values (e.g., endemism, endangered species, refugia), including RTE species and their habitats; 

  1. HCV forest areas containing globally, regionally or nationally significant concentrations of biodiversity values (e.g., endemism, endangered species, refugia), including RTE species and their habitats; 
  2. HCV forest areas containing globally, regionally or nationally significant large landscape level forests, contained within, or containing the management unit, where viable populations of most if not all naturally occurring species exist in natural patterns of distribution and abundance; 
  3. HCV forest areas that are in or contain rare, threatened or endangered ecosystems; 
  4. HCV forest areas that provide basic services of nature in critical situations (e.g., watershed protection, erosion control); 
  5. HCV forest areas fundamental to meeting basic needs of local communities (e.g., subsistence, health); or, 
  6. HCV forest areas critical to local communities' traditional cultural identity (areas of cultural, ecological, economic or religious significance identified in cooperation with such local communities).

2005 HCV Summary

Forest Monitoring

Forest monitoring is performed to evaluate Ranch protection, conservation, restoration, and management actions. A list of major Research Projects undertaken at Swanton Pacific is provided below. For further information, please see additional research publications related to Swanton Pacific Ranch on Cal Poly Digital Commons

  1. Little Creek Water Quality Monitoring and Channel Change
  2. Precipitation
  3. Geomorphic Monitoring and Light Detection and Ranging Survey
  4. Continuous Forest Inventory (C.F.I.) - A Long Term Monitoring Project
  5. Pitch Canker Research and Monitoring
  6. Mill Creek Restoration & Monitoring
  7. Queseria Creek Restoration & Monitoring
  8. Using dual frequency identification sonar (DIDSON) to monitor adult steelhead abundance in Scott Creek

Old Growth and Legacy Tree Policy

No old growth or legacy trees live or dead will be harvested on lands of Swanton Pacific Ranch. Old growth and legacy characteristic redwood trees can be described as being approximately 60 inches at DBH and were present in the dominant overstory during the late successional stages of forest development of the first-growth stands (pre 1800's). These trees have outward indicators such as platy bark with deep fissures, basal hollows with fire scars of multiple ages, large complex branching structures, flat tops, and limbs at least 8-10 inches in diameter that provide an opportunity for platforms/nesting.

In very rare instances, an old growth or legacy tree might have to be cut for workplace or public safety issue.

Back to top

Legacy Tree Report

The Swanton Pacific Ranch Legacy Tree report was created to identify, document, and protect legacy trees as defined by the Swanton Pacific Ranch's (SPR) old growth and legacy tree policy. No old growth or legacy trees live or dead will be harvested on lands of Swanton Pacific Ranch. Old growth and legacy characteristic redwood trees can be described as being approximately 60 inches at DBH and were present in the dominant overstory during the late successional stages of forest development of the first-growth stands (pre 1800's). These trees have outward indicators, such as platy bark with deep fissures, basal hollows with fire scars of multiple ages, large complex branching structures, flat tops, and limbs at least 8-10 inches in diameter that provide an opportunity for platforms/nesting.

Legacy Tree Report

Back to top

Licensed Timber Operator and Sawmilling Operations

Following the approval of the Swanton and Valencia Creek Non-industrial Timber Management Plans of 2001 and 2008, Swanton Pacific Ranch (SPR) became a Licensed Timber Operator (LTO) for its ownership in 2010. Swanton Pacific purchased a Woodmizer LT50 sawmill, and a CAT 515 log skidder to assist in forest re-habilitation following the Lockheed Fire.

The result was to construct a 60' x 30' x 20' barn with FSC certified wood from SPR forestland to house equipment. In addition, Big Creek Lumber Company generously donated a 15,000 lb. Hyster forklift and our benefactor, Al Smith, left us with his John Deere 450 bulldozer (recently over hauled by Cal Poly Farm Operations). This culminated the creation of the Woods Unit and SPR has been milling, on a smaller scale, its own FSC certified lumber.

The first priority for the sawmilling operations is to complete the wood siding, specialty beams, and table slabs for the Swanton Pacific Education Center and Field Camp. Once complete, a business and education plan will be developed to evaluate the feasibility of starting a specialty milling enterprise.

Forest Management Advisory Group

An advisory group for SPR forestlands, made up of resource professionals, assembled in 2016. The group is one of four groups making up the greater Swanton Pacific Advisory Council that include Forest Management, Livestock and Rangeland Management, Crop Management, and an Education and Research advisory group. The makeup of this group is comprised of educators and researchers (primarily but not necessarily exclusively from the Natural Resources Management Department, as well as representatives from the industry).

It should be re-emphasized that the forestland of Swanton Pacific serves as the school forest for the NRES Department, an important criteria in maintaining Society of American Foresters (SAF) accreditation. The primary responsibility of the advisory group will be to stay apprised of near and long-range plans pertaining to management, research, and demonstration activities, and also forest-related educational opportunities. There will be open communication for the group to provide advice directly and frequently to the SPR Director and Operations Manager. A subgroup will review proposed research plans and comment to the SPR management team and the greater advisory group.

Back to top

Future Plans

Lockheed Fire rehabilitation and accompanying harvest planning are a high priority for Swanton Pacific Ranch (SPR) forestland. Maintaining productive forestlands in the burn area and planning for areas zoned out of timber production in commercial agriculture in the coastal zone will be areas of concentrated effort. Facilitating adjacent landownerships installing variations of the SPR CFI, University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) has installed 138 CFI plots.

An organized and useable Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI) database will continue to be maintained and populated. A significant amount of opportunity for research publications currently exists with data we have to date. Facilitating adjacent landownerships installing variations of the SPR CFI. University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) has begun plot installation of 138 CFI plots.

The specialty milling operation continues to be a revenue-generating possibility for SPR. Incentives justifying a thorough evaluation of proposed production capabilities include the following: Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forest, two Non-industrial Timber Management Plans (NTMP), a Licensed Timber Operators (LTO) certification, logging equipment, including a portable sawmill. Initial projections suggest that the cost of milling vs. purchasing full dimension "bat and board" siding (that's real 1" x 12" boards) for the Swanton Pacific Education Center will be cut in half, a significant savings.

Back to top

Related Content

Support SPR

Al Smithsupport the ranch

How You Can Help

Swanton Research Resources on Digital Commons

For a link to the many resources held by Cal Poly's library on Digital Commons, click here.