Nature Conservancy Receives $165 Million to Preserve Ranchland

Nature Conservancy Receives $165 Million to Preserve Ranchland

The Nature Conservancy has announced a $165 million gift — the largest in its history — from Jack and Laura Dangermond for the purchase of twenty-four thousand acres of coastal California ranchland.

The gift will fund the purchase of the Cojo-Jalama Ranch, which comprises eight miles of Santa Barbara County coastline, including Point Conception. Situated where the state's southern and northern ecosystems meet, the two parcels include oak woodlands, coastal prairies, and pristine beaches that are valued by surfers and home to nearly forty endangered or rare species. The property, which includes two working cattle ranches and is distinguished by its ecological health, has great ecological, historical, and cultural value and boasts several sites sacred to the Chumash people.

To be renamed the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve, the property has been used for cattle ranching for more than a hundred years. The conservancy intends to maintain the cattle operations on the property and keep it closed to the public while, in partnership with the University of California, Santa Barbara, it conducts an eighteen-month study of the preserve's resources and develops a long-term management plan. Michael Bell, director of TNC's California Oceans Program, told the Los Angeles Times that the organization plans to manage the property in the same way it manages the land it owns on Santa Cruz Island, where habitat and wildlife are monitored and visitation is limited to research and environmental education programs.

According to the Times, the land was sold in 2007 to a group of investors that included the Baupost Group, a Boston-based hedge fund. The investors ran afoul of the state's Coastal Act after they authorized the digging of wells and grading of roads on the property, however, and Baupost, which took over management of the parcels in February, had been in negotiations with the California Coastal Commission's enforcement unit. The Dangermonds, who signed the Giving Pledge in 2016, founded Esri (Environmental Systems Research Institute), a developer of mapping and analytic software, in 1969 and had been interested in acquiring the land for the last twelve years.

"Most people think of conservation in terms of the iconic places like Yosemite or the redwood forests or the Grand Canyon," Jack Dangermond told the Times. "For us, this oak woodland is the equivalent. It may not be as iconic, but California's oak forests are just as important ecologically, and there are not many of them left."