Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is the largest privately owned island off the continental United States. The island, located off the coast of California, is 22 miles (35 km) long and from 2 to 6 miles (3 to 10 km) wide. It is part of the northern group of the Channel Islands of California, and at 61,764.6 acres (249.95 km² or 96.507 sq mi) is the largest of the eight islands in the chain. Santa Cruz Island is located within Santa Barbara County, California. The coastline has steep cliffs, gigantic sea caves, coves, and sandy beaches. Defined by the United States Census Bureau as Block 3000, Block Group 3, Census Tract 29.10 of Santa Barbara County, the 2000 census showed an official population of 2 persons. [ [|b=50|l=en|t=4001|zf=0.0|ms=sel_00dec|dw=0.3599341050264767|dh=0.22748226131046756||if=gif|cx=-118.42426637496948|cy=33.37146458057821|zl=5|pz=5|bo=318:317:316:315:314:313:323:319|bl=362:393:392:358:357:356:355:354|ft=350:349:335:389:388:332:331|fl=381:403:204:380:369:379:368|g=05000US36061&-PANEL_ID=p_dt_geo_map&-_lang=en&-geo_id=100$10000US060830029103000&-CONTEXT=dt&-format=&-search_results=01000US&-ds_name=DEC_2000_SF1_U&-keyword= Block 3000, Block Group 3, Census Tract 29.10, Santa Barbara County] United States Census Bureau ] Highest peak is Devils Peak, at 2450+ feet (747+ m).

A central valley splits the island along the Santa Cruz Island Fault, with volcanic rock on the north and older sedimentary rock on the south.

Santa Cruz is the only place where the Island Scrub Jay is found.


Early history

Archaeological investigations indicate that Santa Cruz Island has been occupied for at least 9,000 years. The island was home to the largest population of island Chumash and developed a highly complex society dependent on marine harvest, craft specialization and trade with mainland groups. The Santa Cruz Island Chumash produced shell beads that they used for currency, which formed an important part of the overall Chumash economy. Native villagers had no known contact with outsiders until the 16th and early 17th centuries. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, who is credited with the first European exploration of the California coast, observed at least six villages, though he and his crew never stopped at the island. Cabrillo named the island "San Lucas", although the Chumash called it "Limuw".cite web | url= | title=Santa Cruz Island | work=Channel Islands National Park | publisher=National Park Service | accessdate=2008-01-22]

In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno led the last Spanish expedition to California. His map named Santa Cruz Island the "Isla de Gente Barbuda" (island of the bearded people). Between 1602 and 1769 there was no recorded European contact with the island. Finally, in 1769, the land-and-sea expedition of Don Gaspar de Portolà reached Santa Cruz Island. Traveling with him were Father Juan González Vizcaíno and Father Francisco Palóu. Father Palóu wrote of Father Vizcaíno’s visit to the Santa Cruz village of Xaxas that the missionaries on ship went ashore and “they were well received by the heathen and presented with fish, in return for which the Indians were given some strings of beads.” The island was considered for establishment of a Catholic mission to serve the large Chumash population. When Mission San Buenaventura was founded across the channel in 1782, it commenced the slow religious conversion of the Santa Cruz Chumash. In 1822, the last of the Chumash left the island for mainland California.

With Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government asserted its control over California. In an effort to increase the Mexican presence, the government began sending convicted criminals to populate many areas. Around 40 prisoners were sent to Santa Barbara where, upon arrival, they were sent to Santa Cruz Island. They lived for a short time in an area now known as Prisoners Harbor.

Private ownership

Through a land grant from the Mexican government, Captain Andrés Castillero became the first private owner of Santa Cruz Island from 1839 to 1857. When California became a state in 1850, the United States government, through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, required that land previously granted by Spanish and Mexican governments be proved before the Board of Land Commissioners. For twelve years Castillero’s claim to Santa Cruz Island was disputed, even after his property had been sold. During Castillero’s ownership, Dr. James B. Shaw, an English physician, acted as manager of the island. He built the island’s first ranch house by 1855 and is thought to have brought the first French Merino sheep to the island.


Castillero sold the island to William Barron, a San Francisco businessman and co-owner of the company Barron, Forbes & Co., in 1857. During the twelve years that Barron owned the island, Dr. Shaw continued to manage it as superintendent and was charged by Barron to expand the sheep ranching operation begun during the Castillero era. The Civil War significantly increased the demand for wool and by 1864 some 24,000 sheep grazed the hills and valleys of Santa Cruz Island.

Shaw’s island sheep ranch was well known by 1869, the year he left Santa Cruz. He imported cattle, horses, and sheep to the island and erected one of the earliest wharves along the California coast at Prisoners Harbor by 1869. He built corrals and houses for himself and his employees and expanded the road system. Shaw was the first rancher to ship sheep to San Francisco by steamer, some selling at $30 per animal. When Barron sold the island in 1869 to ten investors from San Francisco for $150,000, Shaw left for San Francisco and Los Alamos where he continued ranching. At that time, the gross proceeds from the ranch on Santa Cruz Island were supposedly $50,000.

One of the investors, Justinian Caire, was a French immigrant and founder of a successful San Francisco hardware business that sold equipment to miners. By the late 1880s Caire had acquired all of the shares of the Santa Cruz Island Company which he and his colleagues had founded in 1869. He continued a successful livestock and ranching industry on the island for many years.

An extended and complicated series of litigation among Caire family members resulted in the division of the island and the sale of most of it in 1937. Justinian Caire's descendents retained 6,000 acres on the east end of the island, on which they continued the sheep ranching operation. Other family members sold the remaining 90 percent of the island to Los Angeles oilman Edwin Stanton in 1937.

Edwin Stanton’s purchase of the major part of Santa Cruz Island brought a major shift in agricultural production on the island. After trying for a short time to continue the sheep operation, he decided to switch to beef production. At the time, the beef industry in California was growing rapidly, with Santa Barbara County among the top ten beef producers in the state.

Edwin Stanton’s ranch on Santa Cruz Island saw changes that reflected the evolution of cattle ranching in a working landscape. While retaining most of the 19th century structures dating from the Caire period, Stanton constructed a few buildings to meet the needs of his cattle ranch, the most notable of which is Rancho del Norte on the isthmus. Pasture fencing and corrals were altered to suit the cattle operation and an extensive water system was added to provide water to the cattle.

The Gherini family, descendents of Justinian Caire, continued their sheep ranching operations on the east end of Santa Cruz Island until 1984, using Scorpion Ranch as their base. They managed the island with resident managers and laborers and often worked as a family during shearing and during the summer. Production dropped during the 1970s and 80s and the expense of ranching on a remote island rose. By 1984 the last ranch lessee vacated the island and a newly formed hunting club called Island Adventures leased the facilities from the Gherinis. The hunt club used the ranch houses at Scorpion and Smugglers to house guests who came to hunt the feral pigs and remaining sheep.The fight between the Gherinis and the federal government started in 1980, when the northern Channel Islands were designated a national park and Congress authorized the purchase of the family's remaining acreage. But the purchase agreement stalled for years as family members pushed the federal government to pay what they believed was the appropriate amount for the land.In the early 1990s, the government managed to buy the interests of Francis Gherini's three siblings for about $4 million apiece. But the former Oxnard attorney rejected the offer as too low, keeping his 25% interest in the 6,264-acre ranch and leaving the park service with 75%.Park officials continued negotiations in recent years, but said they were constrained by law from paying more than fair market value. In 1995, park officials were still reviewing appraisals of the land, hoping they could meet Gherini's price and snatch up the last privately owned land in the national park. Then in November 1996, frustrated government officials decided to force Gherini to sell the ranch. [ [ VENTURA COUNTY NEWS; Family Gets $12.7 Million for Lost Land; Courts: Jury awards the Gherinis compensation for the 6,300 acres taken from them to create Channel Islands Natio... ] ]

With Edwin Stanton’s death in 1964, his widow and son, Carey, re-incorporated the Santa Cruz Island Company and continued the cattle operations on the island. Carey Stanton died unexpectedly in 1987 at the ranch and was buried in the family plot in the island chapel yard at the Main Ranch. The real property passed to The Nature Conservancy through a prior agreement that Carey Stanton had established with the non-profit organization. The Nature Conservancy rapidly liquidated the cattle operation and ended the ranching era on the island.

Other uses

Santa Cruz served as a base for otter hunters, fishermen, and smugglers. Smugglers Cove, for instance, derived its name from these illicit activities. The Channel Islands often provided smugglers and bootleggers with convenient and isolated hideaways in which to store their goods for a time.

George Nidever recalled hunting otter at Santa Cruz in the winter of 1835-1836. Working from a base camp at Santa Rosa Island, he and two others obtained 60 skins that season. Fishermen encamped on the island, trading fish for other goods from passing boats.

The military forces of the United States took notice of Santa Cruz Island during World War II, and since that time have constructed and maintained strategic installations in the name of national security. Like all its neighbors, Santa Cruz Island served as an early warning outpost watching for enemy planes and ships during World War II. The Cold War brought the communications station as a part of the Pacific Missile Range Facility. This station remains in operation, although not at the levels of its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s.

National park

In 1936 the Caire family reportedly offered their 90% of the island for $750,000 to the state of California for use as a state or federal park. Nothing came of this proposal and the property was sold to Edwin Stanton. Stanton's son and heir was not interested in a government purchase of his island and took steps to avoid such events by forging an agreement with The Nature Conservancy and the property was transferred to the organization upon his death. Although Santa Cruz Island is included within the boundaries of Channel Islands National Park, The Nature Conservancy portion of the island does not belong to the park. A transfer of 8,500 acres from the Nature Conservancy to the park was completed in 2000.

Channel Islands National Park owns and operates approximately 24% of Santa Cruz Island. The remaining land is managed by a combination of organizations which includes The Nature Conservancy, the University of California Field Station, and the Santa Cruz Island Foundation.


Introduced and invasive species on Santa Cruz Island include:
*Golden Eagle (invader), which replaced the native bald eagle, and hunted island foxes to threatened status.
*Fennel (introduced), served as cover for Island Foxes, but as forage for the feral pigs.
*Feral Pigs (introduced), displaced native island foxes.
*Santa Cruz sheep

Native species include:
*Island Scrub-jay
*Hoffman's rockress, which is known only from Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands. [ [ Center for Plant Conservation: "Boechera hoffmannii"] ]
*Island manzanita [ [,3454,3488 Jepson Manual Treatment: "Arctostaphylos insularis"] ] and whitehair manzanita, [ [,3454,3544 Jepson Manual Treatment: "Arctostaphylos viridissima"] ] shrubs which are endemic to Santa Cruz Island.

Reintroduced Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles were once numerous on California's Channel Islands. Because of eggshell thinning caused by DDT and other factors, the last known successful Bald Eagle nesting in the northern Channel Islands was in 1949. By the 1960s Bald Eagles could no longer be found on any of the Channel Islands.

The Institute for Wildlife Studies started a program in 2002 to reintroduce Bald Eagles to the Channel Islands, funded by money from a $25 million fund to deal with the lingering effects of tons of DDT dumped by the Montrose Chemical Corporation into the ocean near Santa Catalina Island. Since June 2002 46 young bald eagles have been released on Santa Cruz Island. On 17 March 2006 wildlife biologists for the Institute announced that for the first time in over 50 years there has been a successful hatching on Santa Cruz Island. [ [] Dead link|date=March 2008] [ [] Dead link|date=March 2008] [ [] Dead link|date=March 2008]

In April 2007, the Nature Conservancy announced another successful chick hatching [ [ The Nature Conservancy in California - Santa Cruz Island Bald Eagle Nest 2 ] ] .The chick broke free of its shell on April 13, 2007. The parents were one of the two nesting pairs who had returned to the island after making history last year. Both pairs were born in captivity. This second birth represents a turning point in the struggle to return the eagles to their former habitat on the island.

External links

* [ The Nature Conservancy: Santa Cruz Island]
* [ Santa Cruz Island Foundation]
* [ Santa Cruz Island Channel Islands National Park]
* [ Channel Islands Restoration]
* [ Invasive Plants of Santa Cruz Island]
* [ Santa Cruz Island Sea Caves Map]


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