Federal wildlife grant brings Banning Ranch $11 million closer to goal

A decades-long community effort to conserve Banning Ranch as a coastal wildlife refuge and public park is closer than ever to its finish line, thanks to a big boost this week from the federal government. Local conservationists, property owners, education leaders, and community advocates celebrated a $11 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to support the protection of endangered species habitat.

“The dream of protecting Banning Ranch took a huge step closer to becoming reality,” said Guillermo Rodriguez, California State Director for The Trust for Public Land. “It’s great to see national leaders in Washington invested in this vision, as have local private philanthropists and our state leaders in Sacramento.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant is funded by the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund to protect important wildlife habitat. The program is part of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which now receives a total of $900 million per year after Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020. The California congressional delegation, including Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, have supported these federal funds for habitat protection projects in California like Banning Ranch. The funding will go towards the acquisition of almost 400 acres at Banning Ranch, which includes the estuary of the Santa Ana River. The parcel provides habitat for rare animals and plants, including a small songbird called the California gnatcatcher and a tiny creature called the San Diego fairy shrimp. Other remarkable birds including burrowing owls and peregrine falcons use Banning Ranch.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enjoys a long-standing partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Through this strong tie, our agencies were able to provide more than $21 million to support TPL’s efforts to conserve the largest remaining piece of privately owned wildlife habitat along the Southern California coast,” said Jonathan Snyder, Assistant Field Supervisor for the Service’s Carlsbad Office. “It is a truly momentous achievement.”

The Banning Ranch Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land and the current owners of the land have the shared goal of turning the property into a public park and nature preserve in Orange County. Under this vision, Banning Ranch would greatly enhance local communities’ access to

nature and outdoor recreation. There are roughly 8 million people living within 50 miles of the land, and access to parks and open spaces remains a challenge to many of them.

“We need to support projects like Banning Ranch, and I’m proud to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognize its potential. This funding will not only preserve one of the last large-acre coastal properties in Southern California critical for climate resilience and habitat restoration, but will also create new public outdoor space,” said U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Too many Californians lack outdoor recreation opportunities close to home. That’s why I introduced the Outdoors For All Act and the PUBLIC Lands Act to increase equitable access to the outdoors and protect nature and critical habitats.”

While the push to conserve Banning Ranch started decades ago, the efforts gained serious momentum in 2019 with an unprecedented gift of $50 million dollars from local Orange County philanthropists Frank and Joann Randall. Since then, state agencies and the California legislature have also made contributions. The latest grant of $11 million brings the total raised to $83 million of the asking price of $97 million. The Trust for Public Land and the Banning Ranch Conservancy are working with The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), a public agency with deep expertise managing complex projects, to serve as the interim public owner of Banning Ranch when the acquisition is finalized in 2022.

“An idea this good is hard to stop,” said Rodriguez. “We now have local, state and federal funding to help acquire and make Banning Ranch public, but success still takes a lot of work and we are still shy of our funding goal. With a strong wind in our sails, we feel confident we will soon reach our goal in the coming months.”

About The Trust for Public Land  

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live within a 10-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit www.tpl.org