Butano State Park Forest Health


     Project Background

In 2019, the RCD in collaboration with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CA State Parks), and other project partners identified priority projects throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains to address issues of declining ecosystem health and wildfire resiliency. With the goal of enacting landscape-scale forest management, projects were identified to reduce fuel loads, reduce dead, dying, diseased, and dense vegetation, and promote the development of large, healthy trees and diverse understory plants throughout portions of the Santa Cruz mountains. During this time, Butano State Park was identified as a priority location due to unhealthy ecosystem characteristics, which left it susceptible to disease, wildfire, and a loss of biodiversity from past and present land uses.

For over 10,000 years, Indigenous people managed the park and surrounding landscape using low-intensity fires, and before that the land was grazed by large herbivores. By the turn of the 20th century, humans were extinguishing fires and clear cutting the forests. The combined effect of these more recent activities resulted in an overly dense forest today, with thinner and weaker trees that are more vulnerable to disease and wildfires. The forest hosts less diverse plant life and lower quality habitat for wildlife. Thinner trees also store exponentially less carbon in the fight against climate change. This project seeks to restore the forest to function more like it did before these post-settlement human interferences.

In the wake of the August 2020 CZU Fire, CA State Parks, CAL FIRE, and the RCD have sought to manage the ecosystems in Butano State Park in a manner that will promote healthy and resilient systems. This will be accomplished through a combination of ecologically restorative treatments including manual and mechanical understory thinning and thinning of Douglas-fir trees to prevent encroachment into sensitive habitats. The purpose of these treatments is to reduce the density and continuity of dead, dying, diseased, and overly dense vegetation and promote ecosystems dominated by healthy, resilient vegetation represented by a variety of species, sizes, and age-classes.

Although management of the park will be ongoing, the present project encompasses 391.6 acres of mechanical understory thinning, 29 acres of understory hand thinning, and approximately 52 acres of forest restoration focused specifically on oak woodlands, meadows, and the development of large, healthy trees.

Vegetation treatments will be conducted by vegetation management contractors and CA State Parks Natural Resource Management staff, with oversight, surveys, and wildlife monitoring by CA State Parks, RCD, and consulting foresters and biologists.


  • Reduce the density and continuity of dead, dying, diseased, and overly dense vegetation and promote ecosystems dominated by healthy, resilient vegetation represented by a variety of species, sizes, and age-classes.
  • Restore and promote healthy, resilient forests, and adjacent ecosystems.
  • Maintain the diversity of vulnerable, non-forested ecosystems (grasslands, meadows, scrublands, etc.).
  • Improve wildlife habitat by maintaining and creating key features such as standing dead trees, downed wood on the forest floor, and understory plant diversity.
  • Increase the landscape’s resilience to fire, pests, pathogens, drought, and climate change.
  • Promoting the long-term storage of carbon in forest trees and soils through the reduction of dense understory vegetation thus promoting larger healthier stands of mature trees.
  • Minimizing the loss of forest carbon from large, intense wildfires, through reduction of ladder fuels and brush as well as through placement of shaded fuel breaks along ridge tops to reduce the intensity of wildfires.


  • Implementation: April 2023 – March 2025
  • Timing: Operations may occur during daylight hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. No operations will occur on holidays.


  • California State Parks
  • Auten Resource Consulting


This project is made possible by a partnership between the San Mateo Resource Conservation District and the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Funding is provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection as part of the California Climate Investments Program, a statewide program that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing GHG emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment – particularly in disadvantaged communities. For more information, visit the California Climate Investments website at www.caclimateinvestments.ca.gov. Additionally, funding was provided by the California State Parks Wildfire and Forest Resilience Program.

More Information

David Cowman, Forest Ecologist – 650-712-7765 x 107; david@sanmateoRCD.org

Butano State Park Forest Health Project Specific Analysis/Addendum to the California Vegetation Treatment Program PEIR

Butano State Park Website for trail closures


Project Manager Office Hours

As we head into winter, project activities have slowed. Office hours will be on hold throughout the holidays and will resume once we have consistent dry weather and the project is back underway. Check back in the new year for updates. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to the RCD’s Forest Ecologist, David Cowman, for any questions relating the project at david@sanmateoRCD.org.