On February 20, about 200 guests, many of them ranchers from Santa Barbara and surrounding counties, gathered at the Santa Barbara Club for an event put on by the California Rangeland Trust (CRT). The event sought to “bring together friends whose collective passion, ideas, and commitment are making a legendary difference serving the land.”
This Sacramento-based nonprofit has preserved nearly 340,000 acres 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.
After a lively, extended reception hour throughout much of the ground level, patio, and lawn areas, complete with live music and gourmet tacos, guests were seated inside for the program. CEO Nita Vail shared that she will be leaving CRT after nearly 20 years and reflected on some recent high points: CRT just completed an agreement on the 3,500-acre TS Ranch in Yolo County, whose history dates back to the 1800s and whose owners, Don and Merrie Tompkins, are very proud that the ranch can continue as a working landscape.
Vail related that quite soon CRT expects to finalize an agreement on the 300-acre Rock Front Ranch in the Cuyama Valley, which was made possible by donations from more than 200 individuals and private foundations, including many in attendance at the event, and by the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County, with which it partnered on the project. This will be the first project funded entirely by private contributions. Vail lifted her glass for a toast to all the supporters for making “a difference for the land and the people and wildlife who rely on it. “
Vail proudly introduced her successor, longtime COO Michael Delbar, who shared CRT’s impact on this region in numbers of acres conserved: 17,000 in Santa Barbara County, another 123,000 acres in San Luis Obispo, and soon more than 340,000 statewide.
Delbar reflected on how special the ranching community is in our county, with the mix of old and new ranching families and, with a smile, related that he was a bit envious of the “family” of ranchers that exists here. He ended by noting that CRT has 200,000 acres awaiting funding (which include 4,834 acres in Santa Barbara County) and needs to find funding to turn the desires of families willing to grant easements into realities.
Guests heard technical presentations from two experts from the the UC Cooperative Extension: Natural Resource/Watershed Advisor Royce Larsen and Livestock & Range Advisor Matthew Shapero.
Then Pamela Doiron of El Rancho Español de Cuyama related how managing a large ranch is quite challenging. While having learned a lot during her 22-year tenure at the Spanish Ranch, she emphasized that it takes generations to restore and enhance ranch land. As examples, she pointed to learning how plants interact and how to treat and rotate animals to mimic what the great herds of the past did to make the land thrive. She lauded CRT for helping to maintain large ranches that might otherwise end up as ranchettes.
Founded in 1998, the California Rangeland Trust is the largest land trust in California and the only rancher-led trust in the state. In the past few years, about 35 percent of funding has come from public sources. Of CRT’s 87 transactions, only 17 have been donated easements. Four of the 87 transactions have been in Santa Barbara County: El Chorro Ranch, Hanson Ranch, Rancho San Lorenzo, and San Lucas Ranch.
For more info about CRT, go to rangelandtrust.org.
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