The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County finalized the largest conservation easement gift in its 32-year history March 24.
The 3,000-acre expanse at Eagle Ranch in Atascadero is preserved from development after a 10-year process between Eagle Ranch, LLC and the land conservancy.
Representatives from both groups and local dignitaries celebrated the agreement at the Santa Margarita Ranch, which overlooks parts of the property. Roger Lyon, a land use attorney who founded the Cayucos Land Conservancy and died in 2010, was honored at the event.
The owners donated the easement to the land conservancy in perpetuity.
“We didn’t have to raise and grant funds or ask for any contributions,” said Kaila Dettman, executive director of the conservancy. “The landowners donated it outright. It’s been in the family a long time and they wanted to see it protected for the future.”
Eagle Ranch is an agricultural easement, leaving the land open for its current use as a cattle ranch and allowing for orchards and row crops on small portions of the property where it is most appropriate. Sheds and barns that are needed to support the property can also be constructed under the contract.
“It’s definitely an easement that supports both the natural land and the agricultural environment and ensures that it can remain viable,” Dettman said. “We always want to make sure that the projects are a win-win. While we want to get the best deal for the public, it also has to work for the landowners.”
The property is also home to Eagle Peak, a corridor for wildlife moving through Los Padres National Forest, a waterfall and tributary streams that lead to Atascadero Creek and ultimately the Salinas River.
Working through all the details of the contract and strict appraisal standards made it a longer process than usual, in part because of the size of the donation, Dettman said.
“It’s a big deal for a landowner to consider doing this. It’s not a small thing.”
The death of Lyon in a plane crash while taking humanitarian aid to Mexico put a pause on the project as well, she said.
“It’s important to note that he was instrumental in it and it’s a part of his legacy as well as all the other people who made this happen,” Dettman said. “It’s truly visionary what they’re doing and quite a contribution to the community.”
Similar projects are already in the pipeline for the group.
“We have a lot of very exciting projects throughout the county,” she said, including pending easement projects totaling up to about 30,000 acres. ”It’s fun to pause and celebrate this outstanding gift that the landowners have given to the community.”
Since 1984, the nonprofit Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County has worked with local agencies and landowners to conserve more than 15,000 acres of land in the county. It acquires land with historic, cultural or scenic value, plant or wildlife habitats and agricultural use, with funds from donations as well as state, local and regional government grants.
Properties in its portfolio include the Pismo Preserve, which currently has an 11-mile trail system under development, and the 530-acre Highland Ranch, which preserves farmland and wildlife corridors in the Los Osos Valley. Restoration projects like the Nipomo Creek Watershed project retain land for cleanup and revegetation.
• Contact Marissa Nall at [email protected]