Environmental groups and land trusts have completed four major land acquisitions in four different parts of the state. To varying degrees, the acquisitions were intended to prevent development and preserve or enhance natural resources.

In southern Sonoma County, the Sonoma County Land Trust acquired 1,657 acres from a wine-growing family. North of Lake Tahoe, the Trust for Public Land and Truckee Donner Land Trust acquired the 1,462-acre Waddle Ranch in the Martis Valley. Near Lassen Volcanic National Park, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) bought a 1,440-acre complex of fields known as Child's Meadow. The Nature Conservancy also bought a 1,350-acre chunk of the Ramona Grasslands on the edge of San Diego County's backcountry. The land purchases are unrelated except that they all were completed in October or November. All except for the Child's Meadow deal involved a combination of public and private funding.

Sonoma County

The Sonoma County Land Trust has focused on acquiring properties on the north end of San Pablo Bay for years and now has extensive holdings along the bay's waterfront and marshes. The latest purchase involved land owned by the Roche family, who owns the nearby Carneros Estate Winery. The rolling, oak-studded property is adjacent to Tolay Lake Regional Park, which is being developed by the Sonoma County Regional Parks Department. The $13 million purchase was funded with $5 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and smaller contributions from the Coastal Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Board and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

"It's a beautiful piece of property," said Maureen Middlebrook, community affairs officer for the open space district. "It was meant for development. But it connects to a number of other properties that have been conserved."

The Roche family had purchased the property intending to plant vineyards. That never happened, their winery went bankrupt, and now the Land Trust has taken possession. The plan is to provide the land to the regional parks agency so that it may be added to the 1,700-acre Tolay Lake park property, which conservation groups acquired only two years ago.

Importantly, the Roche property provides connections from the low-lying hills to the bay front. Between the Land Trust, the parks department, the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge and state properties, about 20,000 acres are preserved at the north end of the bay.

More information: http://www.sonomalandtrust.org/

Waddle Ranch

In 2003, Placer County approved the Martis Valley community plan (see CP&DR Local Watch, March 2002). Although the plan actually scaled back allowable development in the valley between Lake Tahoe and Truckee, environmentalists were outraged at the potential for 6,000 additional housing units. Led by the group Sierra Watch, environmentalists sued over the plan's environmental impact report and won. Afterward, environmentalists, the county and developers reached a settlement that permits some development, sets aside more land for conservation and imposes a conservation fee on new development.

Owned by the Pritzker family of Hyatt Hotels fame, Waddle Ranch had been designated in the community plan for 1,000 housing units. The Pritzkers had sought approval for 600 housing units, a hotel and a golf course. Instead, the Trust for Public Land announced in November that it had completed purchase of the property for $23.5 million. Development impact fees will cover $10 million of the cost (the county advanced $5.6 million in October), with other funding coming from the Wildlife Conservation Board, Truckee Tahoe Airport District, developer East-West Partners, foundations and donors.

The ranch is key, say environmentalists, because it is next to a national recreation area and a federal wildlife refuge. A longtime cattle ranch, the property already has a well-established network of trails. The Truckee Donner Land Trust, which was instrumental in the deal, intends to expand on the trail system before the property is turned over to the airport district.

More information: http://www.tdlandtrust.org/inthenews.html

Child's Meadow

Development pressure in eastern Tehama County is light compared with that in the Tahoe region. Still, the owners of a cattle ranch commonly called Child's Meadow, roughly 10 miles south of Lassen, had made it known they were talking to a developer about a golf course resort. Instead, The Nature Conservancy used its own funds to acquire the property for an undisclosed amount.

"These mountain meadows are under a lot of development pressure," said Jake Jacobson, TNC's Lassen foothills project director. "There is a limited number of mountain meadows. They are almost analogous to waterfront property."

Child's Meadow provides seasonal habitat for the largest migratory deer herd in California, as well as for migratory birds, Jacobson said. TNC is still working out a management plan for the property, but it does intend to permit summertime cattle grazing. The organization likely will restore a stream that runs through the meadow and feeds Dry Creek, an important fishery, Jacobson said.

More information: http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/california/press/childs101007.html

Ramona Grasslands

In Southern California, TNC announced its latest purchase in the 8,000 acre-Ramona Grasslands, the last large grassland remaining in San Diego County. The $11 million purchase was funded with $5.5 million in federal endangered species conservation fund grants, $2.5 million from the state Resources Agency, $2 million from the Wildlife Conservation Board, and $1 million in private donations. The acquisition means TNC now controls about 40% of the Ramona Grasslands, which is nearly surrounded by housing subdivisions.

The latest acquisition from the Gildred family includes grassy fields, chaparral, coastal sage scrub and woodlands that contain rare Englemann oaks. Four protected species live in the grasslands — the Stephens' kangaroo rat, the California gnatcatcher, the arroyo toad and the San Diego fairy shrimp — as do 13 species of raptors.

Again, TNC intends to permit some measure of cattle grazing on the property. "We're finding that carefully designed grazing programs can be a very effective conservation tool," said Chris Basilevac, a senior project director for TNC. "Compared to other methods, it's low-cost and reduces the use of herbicides.

More information: http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/california//features/ramona.html