Farms, Ranches & Private Open Space
The following are farms, ranches and private open space projects that the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County has conserved. Our agricultural easements make sure the land is kept open for agricultural use, and prevent it from being converted for residential or commercial development. Many of our lands are protected by a conservation easement but are still private property.
In 2011 the Land Trust completed a conservation agreement to protect 95 acres of land featuring unique Burton Mesa Chaparral, coastal scrub and oak savannah habitat near Vandenberg Village. Burton Mesa Chaparral is a unique form of maritime chaparral that is only found in the sandy soils north of Lompoc where over 300 native plant species are found.
This easement was granted by Martin Farrell Homes and The Towbes Group to mitigate impacts associated with a housing development they are building nearby. The new Land Trust preserve is largely surrounded by the Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve that is managed by the Department of Fish & Wildlife. Popular walking trails connect this site to the state reserve. The Land Trust will monitor the property and work with the owners and Fish & Wildlife to protect and enhance the ecological resources of this special habitat. You can find out more about the Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve here.
The first conservation easement the Land Trust bought from a Gaviota rancher, the Freeman Ranch is the scenic backdrop to Refugio State Beach. The Freemans may use the land for any kind of agriculture, and may build homes necessary for family and employee use in areas outside the view of the public beach.
Important natural resource features on the ranch including a large vernal pond, a 30 acre oak woodland, and one mile of Refugio Creek, are guarded through agricultural management practices the Freemans agreed to follow. This purchase was supported by grants from the California Farmland Conservancy Program, California Coastal Conservancy, State Resources Agency, the County Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund, and two private foundations.
If you have driven on Highway 246 into Lompoc, you have seen the sunlight flickering through the big walnut groves that are the hallmark of The Hibbits Ranch, a 395-acre farm just east of the city limits.
Four generations of the Hibbits family have farmed the Lompoc Valley, building a diverse and successful farming operation run today by Art and Sherry Hibbits. Their ranch features prime topsoil over 30 feet deep in places, and has supported a wide array of nuts, vegetables, seed crops as well as cattle grazing, for over a century.
The Hibbits family decided to protect the enduring scenic and agricultural value of their land through a voluntary conservation agreement with the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. The Hibbits Ranch is the largest single land holding within a block of scenic and highly productive farmland framed by the City of Lompoc, the Santa Ynez River and Santa Rosa Hills, and La Purisima Mission State Historic Park. Located less than 2,000 feet from the Lompoc city limit, there have been several attempts to extend city limits east across the Santa Ynez River on to this and adjacent farm properties. In recent years, hundreds of acres of agricultural land west and north of the city have been already been annexed and converted to residential and commercial development.
The Hibbits are long-standing advocates for the protection and improvement of local agriculture. The Hibbits Ranch has the second oldest Agricultural Preserve Contract in Santa Barbara County, and Art Hibbits has served many years on land use and agricultural committees, including a stint on the County Planning Commission.
Says Art Hibbits:
“Our family’s goals in pursuing this conservation easement are to protect and encourage the continued agricultural uses on the ranch in a long term sustainable manner, whereby productivity and economic viability are maintained and enhanced. We want future generations to have the maximum flexibility in future choices of crops, equipment, agricultural related facilities, and farming practices and our agreement with the Land Trust will clearly state these objectives.”
Bill Horton and Glenna Berry Horton placed 104 acres of their avocado ranch in a permanent conservation easement to guarantee that most of this scenic and productive avocado ranch will remain undeveloped in perpetuity.Bill’s grandparents founded the ranch, and two succeeding generations have grown lemons, then avocados, on the ranch ever since.
“Our ranch has been in the family since the late 1800s and we expect to pass it on to the next generation. Our forebears would be gratified by the benefit the conservation easement provides to the community,” says Bill Horton.
Eric Hvolbøll’s great-grandparents purchased La Paloma Ranch in 1866, and his mother has lived her entire life there. Over the decades, the ranch in Venadito Canyon has been a sheep and cattle operation, and farmed for walnuts, tomatoes, lima beans, and most recently avocados. Their love of the land led the Hvolbølls to sell a conservation easement on the ranch in 2002.
The Land Trust arranged grant funding from the State Coastal Conservancy, County of Santa Barbara and State Resources Agency to have this land permanently restricted to agriculture. The family retained the right to build three family homes and two employee dwellings, but gave up the right to further subdivide or develop the property except for agricultural use. Ecologically valuable communities of coastal sage scrub, chaparral and riparian habitat are protected under the easement as well
Thanks to the commitment and generosity of ranch owner Steve Lyons, a key land parcel between Los Alamos and Orcutt has been placed in a new conservation easement with The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. Part of the original Las Flores Ranch, the 653-acre Lyons undeveloped property is on the southern slope of the Solomon Hills just west of the Highway 101.
The ranch is remarkable for being located at a coastal-inland transition zone, and shows both elements of habitats endemic to the western coast of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties (such as Burton Mesa chaparral) and elements of inland plant communities. The property, long used for cattle grazing and some dry farming, is a mosaic of dense coastal sage scrub, oak woodland, stabilized dunes, and open grassland. It is an important link for habitat continuity between the public undeveloped lands to the southwest (La Purisima State Park, the Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve, and Vandenberg Air Force Base) and northeast (Los Padres National Forest), as it has relatively intact riparian habitat and culvert access under US 101 for migration of large mammals like deer, bear, mountain lion and bobcat.
Under the voluntary conservation agreement donated by Steve Lyons in December 2009, the ranch will be limited to one home site and about 100 acres of agricultural cultivation and associated agricultural support buildings. Most of the land will be left undeveloped and available for livestock grazing. The Land Trust is working with Lyons and two adjacent ranch owners on a conservation plan that ultimately should include over 4,500 acres of land, stretching from San Antonio Creek along Highway 135 to the Solomon Hills. The Careaga Canyon/Las Flores Creek project area includes ponds (both natural wetlands and man-made livestock ponds) that provide known and potential breeding habitat for the endangered California tiger salamander (CTS).
Based on two years of field studies of CTS breeding and movement patterns, the Land Trust’s conservation plan will protect important aquatic and upland habitat for CTS and other water-dependent species, while allowing residential and commercial agriculture to continue outside of the defined habitat corridors. The Land Trust hopes to secure federal and state grants to purchase conservation easements on these ranches. If successful, this project will show that it is possible to protected habitat for sensitive wildlife species in a way that supports will-planned commercial agriculture and limited residential development for ranch families and employees.
La Purisima Conservation Bank, the first of its kind in Santa Barbara County, provides a mechanism for local developers, county, state and federal agencies, utilities and energy producers to mitigate their impacts to habitat of the included species, as required by law. For example, instead of onsite mitigation for the impacts created by a project, the project proponent can instead purchase mitigation credits from the conservation bank since that land is protected as habitat in perpetuity by the Conservation Bank and easement. The Bank completed its first credit sale of 69 acres to the City of Santa Maria, which had needed California Tiger Salamander (CTS) mitigation for several years.
Rancho Purisima, LLC acquired the 2,800-acre La Purisima Ranch in early 2012 in order to pursue a conservationeffort to protect a number of threatened and endangered species that occur on the property. The owner and Conservation Land Group then began working closely with the Land Trust, the local community, and federal and state wildlife agencies to obtain certification of the Conservation Bank. The Conservation Bank is now selling mitigation credits to parties that impact habitat for CTS and western spadefoot toad.
Only three miles north of Buellton and alongside Highway 101, the eastern rolling hills of Rancho la Purisima are what people see for over a mile traveling north from Buellton. Paul & Tina McEnroe have owned the 1,000 acre ranch since 1994, and run a successful cattle and horse breeding/training business.
The McEnroes have made active efforts to protect Valley Oak seedlings on their ranch, and to control an outbreak of invasive yellow star thistle, working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service and a neighbor. “We support the principles of conservation easements,” says Paul McEnroe. “We love our ranch as it is, a large singular parcel made up of a central valley surrounded by hills and ridges containing farm fields, open range and canopy oak land. This conservation easement will ensure our ability to live on the ranch as far as we can see into the future.”
The largest conservation easement ever created in Santa Barbara County was negotiated by the Land Trust with the owners of Rancho Monte Alegre, a 3,109 acre historic ranch in the Carpinteria foothills. Since the late 1900s, the land has been used for cultivation of olives, citrus, loquats, figs and apples, as well as dairy farming.
The conservation easement permanently limits development to 24 home sites on the ranch. The homes are required to be located and designed to minimize their visibility from the Carpinteria Valley. Outside of the 24 home sites, which cover less than one percent of the property, about 300 acres are in an agricultural easement, mostly where orchards now exist. All of the land outside the farm areas and home sites, about 2,750 acres, are governed by a conservation easement that allows no agricultural, residential or other development. The upper watershed of Santa Monica Creek and Sutton Canyon Creek, made up of coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and riparian woodland habitat, will be protected in perpetuity as natural, scenic open space.
Point Sal (130 acres)
The dramatic, windswept coastline near Point Sal near Guadalupe is home to some of the Central Coasts more unique geological, botanical, wildlife and archaeological treasures. Point Sal’s coastal dunes, steep oceanside bluffs and wetland habitats support over 300 native plant species, many at the northern or southern extent of their California range. The mingling of two major ocean currents offshore results in an ecologically rich interface of northern and southern marine species (Steller sea lion, northern fur seal, Guadalupe fur seal, northern elephant seal). The eleven different types of habitat found at Point Sal sustain a rich array of breeding and overwintering birds and other wildlife.
This area is quite spectacular, but quite remote – today the one public road to the area remains washed out by a storm, so no vehicle access is available. In 2003, the County Parks will release an updated management plan for 863 acres of Point Sal land under county, state and federal ownership. This plan will address management of the area’s sensitive resources, and make recommendations for future public access improvements. For information, contact the County Parks Department.
The Land Trust purchased these 130 acres adjacent to Point Sal State Park from private owners in 1989-90 using Proposition 70 state bond and county Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund grants. We then prepared a management plan for this and other public land at Point Sal before transferring the property to the County Parks Department. The county purchased another 320 acre private holding at Point Sal in 1998.
Modoc Preserve (25 acres)
The Modoc Preserve along Modoc Road is owned by the La Cumbre Mutual Water Company, which serves Hope Ranch and nearby neighborhoods. After reviewing various options for this land and seeking the approval of its shareholders, the Water Company in 1999 granted a conservation easement to the Land Trust, to keep this land in an open and undeveloped for community benefit.
The Water Company retains the right to build facilities like water wells, pipelines and access roads, and otherwise the land will remain as open space. Supporters for the Modoc Preserve are raising money to provide an endowment for maintenance, and also to build a network of pedestrian and equestrian trails through the oak woodland and around a small natural wetland within the preserve.
Rancho Monte Alegre (3,060 acres)
The largest conservation easement ever created in Santa Barbara County was negotiated by the Land Trust with the owners of Rancho Monte Alegre, a 3,109 acre historic ranch in the Carpinteria foothills. Since the late 1900s, the land has been used for agriculture, cultivation of olives, citrus, loquats, figs and apples, as well as dairy farming.
The conservation easement permanently limits development to 24 home sites on the ranch. The homes are required to be located and designed to minimize their visibility from the Carpinteria Valley.
Outside of the 24 home sites, which cover less than one percent of the property, about 300 acres are in an agricultural easement, mostly where orchards now exist. All of the land outside the farm areas and home sites, about 2,750 acres, will be governed by a conservation easement that allows no agricultural, residential or other development. The upper watershed of Santa Monica Creek and Sutton Canyon Creek, made up of coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and riparian woodland habitat, will be protected in perpetuity as natural, scenic open space.
Mar Y Cel (150 acres)
Mar Y Cel (Sea & Sky) is a 350 acre estate in the Santa Ynez Mountain foothills above Montecito. The property includes the well known “Tea Gardens” built by Mr. & Mrs. Henry Bothin in the early 1900s. One of Montecito’s most intriguing properties, the site contains the remains of an intricate array of stone aqueducts and water works, Romanesque arches, and Greek-like statues. In September 2000, the environmental investment group Cima del Mundo LLC offered to donate a conservation easement on the northern 150 acres of the estate, eliminating the possibility of residential development and ensuring protection of the scenic beauty and wildlife habitat on this part of the estate. A popular hiking trail, the West Fork of Cold Springs Trail, has run through this area for many years, but it was not on a legally-dedicated easement. Cima del Mundo agreed to grant a one-half mile trail easement to the Land Trust, so that the right to use this trail is now guaranteed to the public.
Mission Canyon Watershed (134 acres)
Near the top of Mission Canyon, this scenic watershed land was donated to the UC Santa Barbara Religious Studies Department by The Rowny Foundation. Because the Rowny family did not want it developed, the estate gave a conservation easement to the Land Trust at the same time, limiting use of the land to activities of the Religious Studies Department, passive recreation and scientific study. The easement prohibits clearing of the native oak woodland, riparian and chaparral vegetation, and prevents any new development. An important wildlife corridor along Mission Creek, the site features an old, corrugated metal dairy barn. This property is not open to the public, and may be visited only with permission of UCSB.
Mackie Mountain (17 acres)
In the 1980s, when the land around Mackie Mountain (locals also call it “Muffin Hill”) was proposed for development of the Vandenberg Village homes, the county planning commission required that the 17 acre Mackie Mountain site be set aside as open space. The developer offered a permanent conservation easement to the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. Surrounded entirely by homes now, the Mackie Mountain preserve protects regionally unique Burton Mesa Chaparral vegetation, and provides local residents walking trails around and to the hilltop, offering a panoramic view of the Lompoc Valley and the nearby 5,000 acre Burton Mesa Chaparral Preserve owned by the State of California. You can visit Mackie Mountain during daylight hours. Park near one of the four access trails on Galaxy Way in Vandenberg Village.
San Ysidro Oak Woodland (44 acres)
When the Ennisbrook subdivision was proposed in Montecito, the community and the county insisted that the oak woodland and Monarch butterfly eucalyptus grove along San Ysidro Creek be preserved and protect in their natural state. In 1997, the Land Trust accepted a conservation easement on the property, providing that the Ennisbrook Owners Association maintain the area under the guidance of a biologist. A hiking trail easement between San Leandro Lane and East Valley Road provides a lovely walk through the woodland.
More Mesa (36 acres)
The 300-acre More Mesa just west of Hope ranch has been one of the preservation community’s highest priorities for decades. While most of More Mesa is owned by an out-of-state investor who is not interested in selling it for preservation, the Land Trust did succeed in buying one property on the northwestern edge of More Mesa in 1991. The former “Austin/Andrews Property” was purchased with Proposition 70 bond funds, and transferred to the County. With a Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund grant, the Land Trust prepared a 1992 management plan for this property. In recent years, the County Flood Control District has begun planting native riparian plants there, as part of its mitigation program for flood control maintenance along Atascadero Creek. The More Mesa open space includes oak woodland and riparian habitat, and has nice trails that are popular with local birdwatchers, bikers and horseback riders. You can get to the property by driving south on Patterson Avenue, and then east on Shoreline Drive to a trailhead near Orchid Drive.