Easement Protects Oak Woodlands Near Yosemite (CA)

Mariposa, CA, 2/3/2005 — The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the Sierra Foothill Conservancy announced today the protection of 2,941 acres, a portion of the Long family ranch in Mariposa, just?50 miles from the west entrance to Yosemite National Park. The Ranch’s vast pine and blue oak woodlands make it one of the largest oak habitats under single ownership in Mariposa County. TPL purchased the property’s development rights in the form of a conservation easement, and transferred the easement to the Sierra Foothill Conservancy as a way to permanently protect the ranch’s wealth of natural resources and to help sustain a historic way of life in the heart of California’s gold country. Long Ranch is located at the intersection of Highways 140 and 49, an area of rapid residential and commercial development in the Sierra foothills.

“We appreciate the Trust for Public Land’s partnership in protecting this important oak woodland,” says Chuck Peck, executive director of the Sierra Foothill Conservancy. “The coniferous forests of the High Sierra are mostly protected by the National Park and Forest Service, but these woodlands are just as worthy of protection as the sequoia—a whole host of species are dependent on them. Fifty years from now, folks will wish we had done more to save the oak woodlands.”

“When oak woodlands go, we don’t just lose scenic views and attractive trees,” explains Rich Morrison, a member of the TPL’s California Advisory Board, “we also lose open space, healthy watersheds, species continuity from alpine environments to the valley floor, and quality wildlife habitat that is home to nearly all of the Sierra Nevada’s endangered species.”

Like other Sierra foothill communities, Mariposa is currently experiencing a period of rapid suburban development. Due to its size and location at the intersection of two heavily traveled scenic routes, Long Ranch constitutes a highly attractive opportunity for residential subdivision. The construction of the new University of California campus in Merced, less than an hour away, and pending changes to the property’s zoning status under the proposed update to the county general plan made the threat of development imminent.

“All the way around us the land is classified for residential, five-acre lots,” said ranch owner Frank Long, “I couldn’t stop the development around me, but I wanted to see the ranch protected.”

Working with the Trust for Public Land, the Sierra Foothill Conservancy applied for a Wildlife Conservation Board Oak Woodland Preservation Program Grant to purchase a $1.465 million conservation easement. Conservation easements are an excellent land protection tool for landowners who wish to permanently protect their property’s natural or historic resources while retaining ownership and use of the land. A conservation easement allows the landowner to sell their land or pass it on to heirs.

In addition to its biological importance as oak woodland habitat, Long Ranch is significant from a historical perspective. The area was once home to Me-Wuk Native Americans, and, in 1852, formed part of the original 44,000-acre Rancho de Las Mariposas land grant owned by Captain John C. Fremont, one of the central figures in 19th century California history.

“The purchase of this conservation easement will permanently protect Long Ranch’s considerable natural, cultural, and archeological resources,” says Reed Holderman, executive director of the Trust for Public Land—California. “Mr. Long has shown tremendous leadership in the foothill community by protecting the land that he loves. We are grateful for his vision and commitment.”

To date, TPL has helped protect more than 48,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada. TPL is a national land conservation organization dedicated to conserving land for people as parks, greenways, wilderness areas and natural, historic and cultural resources for future generations. Founded in 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.9 million acres nationwide.

Posted 02/2005