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McLaughlin Natural Reserve

LAND USE - THE McLAUGHLIN NATURAL RESERVE

 

Manhattan Mine

Sylvia McLaughlin and Susan Harrison at the dedication of the new Donald and Sylvia McLaughlin Reserve visitor sign, 1999.

In its county permits, Homestake promised to create an environmental field station at the mine site. At the time of permitting, the future partner for managing such a field station had not been identified, but the interest that numerous UC faculty had in both the natural landscape of the region and in the mining process shed light on UC Davis as the potential partner. In 1985 Homestake approached the University of California’s Natural Reserve System (NRS), proposing that the location become a Reserve, and in response a team of UC faculty assessed the natural attributes of the mine property and surroundings and wrote a report to NRS recommending the creation of a reserve to represent the state’s serpentine habitats. Their 1986 report helped convince the NRS to accept Homestake’s offer.

In January 1993, a signed agreement between Homestake and the Regents of the University of California created the Donald and Sylvia McLaughlin Reserve on a small (130 hectare) parcel as a way to find out whether the concept would work. In 1998, a modest overnight facility was set up in an unused warehouse, and was named the Ray Krauss Field Station. At the same time, Homestake allowed the Natural Reserve System to begin managing the natural areas of the property as a reserve. During the next several years, use of both the small reserve and some additional portions of the mine's landholdings for studies of ecology, evolution and other environmental sciences grew rapidly. Field trips and other events made the university community and the public more aware of the reserve. For four years, an active mine coexisted with an increasingly active environmental research station.

In February of 2003, three months after the last bar of gold was poured and the processing plant was forever shut down, a three-way agreement was signed between Homestake (a subsidiary of Barrick Gold Corporation since 2002), the Regents of the University of California, and the Land Trust of Napa County. This agreement gives the University the exclusive right to manage and use the property for research and education. The Land Trust holds a conservation easement that prohibits commercial use of the property. Homestake will continue to own most of the property, although Homestake has donated to the University approximately 1000 acres of land where future expanded facilities could be located. At the time of this edition's printing, Homestake is working on its remaining reclamation tasks and continues to maintain engineered facilities such as dams and the waste-rock storage facilities. The Reserve is in full swing, and serves as a site for approximately 50 research projects annually, hosts courses from colleges across the continent, and provides science education opportunities to the general public, teachers, and school children. High demand by increasing research use for overnight and research-support facilities is driving facilities improvements and expansion.

The Reserve’s function can best be understood if thought of as an outdoor lab….not all science or research can be conducted in a laboratory inside a building; many studies in biology, geology, ecology, and other natural sciences need to be conducted out-of-doors, and field stations such as the McLaughlin Reserve serve as outdoor labs to support such research. Because it is an outdoor lab supporting University-level research and teaching, and many of the research projects could be irreparably damaged if disturbed by people, the Reserve is not open to the public for general access. However, many who have attended the Reserve’s public programs over the years will agree that the Reserve is a valued resource to its neighboring communities for education on the natural history of the area and on the science being conducted on the Reserve.