Las FloresLas Flores Hunt Property, Los Alamos

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.