On February 21, about 200 guests, many of them ranchers from Santa Barbara and surrounding counties, gathered at the Santa Barbara Club to celebrate and learn more about the California Rangeland Trust (CRT). This Sacramento-based nonprofit has preserved more than 500 square miles of California’s open landscapes by obtaining conservation easements from ranchers. The easements allow ranchers to continue their operations, but limit specified development rights in perpetuity. Agricultural open space is preserved and along with it, California heritage, wildlife habitat, clean water, clean air, and healthy foods. According to CRT, private rangeland accounts for almost 63 percent of California’s undeveloped land, making its protection of paramount importance.
After a lively, extended reception hour, guests were welcomed by event cohost Marianne Partridge (Santa Barbara Independent editor in chief), whose husband, Jim Poett, is a member of a longtime Santa Barbara ranching family.
CEO Nita Vail related how she was raised on a Santa Rosa Island ranch in a family with a strong land ethic. She shared her optimism, which is based on now having ranchers, conservationists, and scientists working together on the goals of healthy food, clean water, clean air, open space, sequestration of carbon, and quality of life. Vail noted that CRT has protected more than 17,000 acres in Santa Barbara County, 123,000 acres in San Luis Obispo County, and 330,000 acres statewide. She lauded the work of the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County and other nonprofits with which CRT has alliances.
Guests viewed Chris Malloy’s short film A Common Ground, which features rancher conservationists working to protect California’s open spaces through restorative grazing, carbon storage, renewable energy, and wildfire prevention. In the film, ranchers shared their gratitude to CRT for enabling them to continue holding their land as ranch land, instead of worrying that it would eventually be sold to developers.
Founded in 1998, the California Rangeland Trust is the largest land trust in California and the only rancher-led trust in the state. Boardmembers must be members of the California Cattlemen’s Association, the organization out of which CRT was formed. CRT, in cooperation with the landowner, monitors compliance with the easement conditions. More than half of CRT’s projects have been funded through the California Wildlife Conservation Board with voter-approved state bonds, and it receives other public funding as well. However, in recent years, public funding has become more difficult to obtain, which has made private funding more critical.
Of CRT’s 77 transactions, only 16 have been donated easements. Four of the 77 transactions have been in Santa Barbara County: El Chorro Ranch, Hanson Ranch, Rancho San Lorenzo, and San Lucas Ranch.
Cohost Eric Hvolboll of La Paloma Ranch introduced family members who were still living and working on the only two ranches in Santa Barbara County established in the Spanish era 200 years ago: Brandy Luton Branquinho of the Ortega family and Jim Poett of the De la Guerra family.
Luton Branquinho spoke of how grateful she was to have raised kids in the same house that she was raised in and how her children have the same respect for the land, cattle, and history that she has. Poett explained the challenges encountered in trying to hold together a family ranch with multiple owners for 200 years. He listed three main problems: testosterone, money or the lack thereof, and trustees. Many in the audience seemed to agree.
Two young members of ranching families — Russell Chamberlin from the Ted Chamberlin Ranch and Elizabeth Poett Campbell from Rancho San Julian — both spoke of their passion for keeping the land in ranching agriculture and free from urban development.
The California Rangeland Trust has more than 200,000 acres, including 7,500 in Santa Barbara County, owned by 90 families awaiting funding to secure protection. For more info about CRT, go to rangelandtrust.org.
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