The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), in partnership with Vandenberg Space Force Base, have announced the execution of a $15 million conservation easement that maximizes conservation protections and secures funds for long-term land management of the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve.

Located along the Gaviota Coast, the largest stretch of undeveloped coastline remaining in mainland Southern California, the 24,341-acre Dangermond Preserve is a nature preserve and living laboratory focused on conservation, scientific research, education and protecting cultural resources.

Vandenberg, TNC, and other conservation partners have been working together since 2004 to establish this easement, which will be enforced by the Land Trust with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program (REPI).

The easement secures the maximum legal protection of the property in perpetuity through the elimination of development and subdivision rights, and in return generates the financial resources needed to manage the preserve’s irreplaceable habitats in this ecologically significant landscape.

“With one deal — one wildly beautiful and complicated deal — we nearly doubled the number of acres under easement by the Land Trust,” said Meredith Hendricks, executive director, Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.

“This collaboration with TNC and DoD is a win for science, culture, and climate resilience and a model for future permanent legal land protection.”

Some History

The Dangermond Preserve was created through decades of effort by an array of groups and local organizations that fought against the development of this and other environmentally critical properties across the Gaviota Coast.

The Nature Conservancy first attempted to acquire the property from the Bixby
Corporation in 2005, but it was purchased by a private buyer and came under threat of development.

In 2015, the conservancy led a two-year negotiation that resulted in an agreement with the new owners to buy the property.

The acquisition and establishment of the new preserve was made possible by an unprecedented $165 million philanthropic donation to The Nature Conservancy from Jack and Laura Dangermond and support from other conservation donors, including many from Santa Barbara County.

“Securing a conservation easement on the Dangermond Preserve has been a critical part of our plan to place enduring long-term legal protections across one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world,” said Mark Reynolds, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Point Conception Institute, a conservation research institute based at the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve.

“The extraordinary ecological richness of the preserve provides scientists a rare look at how wildlife and natural systems can adapt unfettered to climate change, sea level rise, and other pressing issues for California and the world,” he said.

“We are grateful to our partners at the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and to the Department of Defense for their commitment to conservation, as well as our donors, for their tremendous support in this shared mission,” Reynolds said.

The preserve is part of the culturally important ancestral land of the Chumash and was stewarded by the tribe for more than 10,000 years.

The coastline merges the natural crossroads of southern and northern California, where the warm water of the Santa Barbara Channel meets the cold currents of the Pacific Ocean, creating diverse marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

The preserve also connects eight miles of wild coastline to the Santa Ynez Mountains, providing habitats and wildlife corridors for at-risk species including the mountain lion, snowy plover, red-legged frog, western monarch butterfly, Gaviota tarplant, and coast live oak.

Ongoing research suggests the preserve’s protected coastlines and wildlife corridors allow animals such as mountain lions, coyotes, and black bears to forage and move in the coastal zone in ways that are unique in all of Southern California.

“The cultural and ecological value of the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve is unparalleled in California, and I’m proud that my team and I were able to contribute to this historic partnership,” said U.S. Congressman Salud Carbajal, whose 24th District includes the preserve.

“The partnership protecting this land will preserve a key portion of our region’s storied open spaces, and improve the quality of life for our residents and the local ecosystems along the Central Coast now and well into the future,” he said.

The $15 million in funding from the Department of Defense’s REPI program to purchase the conservation easement reflects a significant discount compared to the easement’s true cost, taking into account the preserve’s existing conservation protections. It also pays for additional REPI-specific requirements and ongoing safety and land management needs of the preserve defined within the agreement.

The easement has the added benefit of facilitating military missions by helping remove or avoid land-use conflicts critical to public safety. The Dangermond Preserve and Vandenberg Space Force Base share a roughly four-mile border, and the agreement formalizes an ongoing collaboration on conservation and national defense.

This method of conservation builds on the collaboration of trusted partners who want to maintain the unfragmented nature of the Dangermond Preserve while directly funding ongoing sustainable stewardship.

Since 2019 The Nature Conservancy has hosted over 200 scientists from 40+ institutions and 1,150 local students at the preserve, with additional programming under development.

Additionally, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians has partnered with the preserve to provide guidance on cultural resource management, tribal access activities, and cultural fire management training.