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SLO County rancher asks conservancy to help protect land from development

By   /   Thursday, August 11th, 2016  /   Comments Off on SLO County rancher asks conservancy to help protect land from development

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A San Luis Obispo County cattle ranch owner is a step closer to protecting her land from development.

The 1,800-acre Hill Ranch is about 12 miles west of Templeton in San Luis Obispo County along Highway 46. The owner has asked the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County to help preserve the highly valued property as ag land.

The conservancy applied to the Department of Conservation’s Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program. State agencies invest cap-and-trade auction proceeds in projects that fund ag conservation easements. The program aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions from more intensive developments.

The conservancy applied for about $2 million in SALC funding, but the project has been listed as one of two alternatives that will be funded if one of the other 20 projects falls out of contention. The property has an estimated easement value of nearly $5.4 million.

“If you look at the area, there is a great deal of ranch development happening,” said Daniel Bohlman, the conservation director of the SLO County Land Conservancy. “There is a great deal of vineyard expansion into West County — this particular property is ripe for that type of expansion.”

The owner receives inquiries at least once a week from interested buyers who could develop the property into housing developments or wine cultivation operations, Bohlman said.

The family rotates an average of 75 cows through six pastures and maintains a handful of bulls in a seventh pasture as well as some row crops. They have owned the property since the early 1900s when it was originally a dairy ranch.

“The average age of the farmer rancher is almost 70 years old. It’s a quiet little time bomb that very little people recognize,” Bohlman said. “As those people retire or pass away, the next generation faces a real and serious dilemma in what to do with the property.”

If the SALC funding doesn’t come through, the conservancy has a variety of backup plans ranging from private funding to other government grants, Bohlman said.

This $37.4 million in grants awarded by SALC this year will protect about 19,000 acres of ag land and is projected to reduce emissions by nearly 47 billion vehicle miles. That’s equivalent to keeping more than 4 million cars off the road for one year, SALC said.

• Contact Alex Kacik at [email protected]

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