UC-owned wildlife reserve, research field site completes expansion, renovation

Blue Oak Ranch Reserve

Blue Oak Ranch Reserve, a university-owned wildlife reserve, hosted a spring open house March 19, displaying renovations and expansions completed in February.

The 3,280-square-acre property on Mount Hamilton near San Jose, California, was donated to the university in 2007, becoming part of a system of 39 reserves throughout the state that comprise the UC Natural Reserve System.

“I call it more of a transformation, rather than a renovation,” said Michael Hamilton, reserve director for Blue Oak Ranch Reserve.

Proposition 84, a 2006 state bond initiative that allocated funds for natural resource protection and restoration, provided the funding for the renovation and expansion, which cost approximately $5 million.

Previously, a cedar barn was the only building on the property. The barn, which was built in 1993, served as a residence for the reserve director and as a temporary field station.

The renovations included the construction of a utility building, four year-round cabins and eight seasonal cabins to house researchers at the field site. The expansion also included two residences for the reserve director and the steward. Additionally, the existing barn was remodeled into a common area with a kitchen, meeting room, small classroom and field laboratory.

Hamilton noted that before this project, the facilities were very primitive and researchers staying at the site needed to “enjoy the rustic aspect.”

Before the construction of cabins, researchers camped on the reserve and shared a single shower. Bree Putman, a doctoral candidate at San Diego State University, first began conducting research at the reserve in 2011 and remembered camping on site.

“(The cabins) make such a big difference because now you can go there and spend a lot of time doing your research and then have all the comforts of being at home,” said Todd Dawson, a campus professor and the faculty director for the reserve.

Putman added that the reserve previously had limited facilities for her research, which required inserting radiotransmittors into rattlesnakes to track them. She said she would perform surgery on snakes in a shared office. Now, the reserve has a separate laboratory area for such experiments.

In addition to the new facilities, Hamilton said the reserve is almost entirely self-sufficient, with its own waste management system and its own water system, as well as solar heat and solar power.

On-site construction lasted between June and February, although most of the buildings were constructed at a facility in Santa Rosa, California, and then transported to the site, according to Hamilton.

Although funding for this project was designated in 2008 after the initial acquisition of the property, the process was unable to begin until four years ago because the economic crisis impeded the state’s ability to provide the necessary funds, Hamilton said.

Now that the expansion and renovation has been completed, the reserve can accommodate as many as 70 people, including campers, according to Hamilton. He added that the renovations will also accommodate more research projects and different techniques to be applied.

“The facilities are going to allow for very transformative teaching and research activities,” Hamilton said. “That’s the future of Blue Oak Ranch.”