In early April, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County purchased a 118-acre conservation easement near Lompoc from the Bob Campbell family, protecting critical habitat for federally endangered California tiger salamanders. California Department of Fish and Wildlife earmarked nearly $2 million in state conservation funding for the acquisition.
The easement is a legal agreement between the Campbells and the Land Trust to permanently conserve a portion of the Campbell Home Ranch with habitat vital to California tiger salamanders. The Campbell’s ownership of their land remains unchanged, and they are free to continue the historic cattle operations they have undertaken for five generations.
“The California tiger salamander has drawn a lot of heat in the last decade for getting in the way of development and intensive agricultural activities,” said Bruce Reitherman, conservation director at the Land Trust. “We just felt there had to be a better way, and with the help of both federal and state wildlife agencies, we figured out how to compensate Bob at fair market value for every acre he conserved.
“We could not have asked for better partners. Everybody wins.”
Working with farming and ranching families to improve their agricultural and economic viability while also achieving important conservation goals is at the heart of what the Land Trust does.
“For years, we experienced nothing but frustration and disappointment when dealing with the agencies in charge of issues surrounding the salamander,” said Bob Campbell. “Our family needed assurances that current and future generations would be able to continue the farming and ranching heritage that Veril and Gertie Campbell started almost 100 years ago on our ranch.
“We were unable to make any progress toward a mutually beneficial solution, until we started working with Bruce and Chet at the Land Trust. They, along with Rachel Henry from U.S. Fish & Wildlife, understood our concerns and worked very hard to help bridge the gap and build trust between our family and the agencies tasked with saving the salamander.
“Our family will be able to continue running our farm and cattle ranch, as we have for generations, and a large portion of wildlife habitat has been protected from any potential future development.
“We feel like this arrangement is a great example of how solutions can be found when representatives from government agencies listen and consider private property concerns and are genuinely willing to work towards a reasonable agreement,” Campbell said.
Listed in 2004 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as critically endangered, the California tiger salamander needs water to breed. The Campbell property is home to the largest natural vernal pond in Santa Barbara County. Ponds like this are rare, and that makes the Campbell property particularly important.
However, because these unusual amphibians also inhabit grasslands where cattle graze and stock ponds are found, rangeland and normal ranching operations play a significant role in in the salamanders’ ability to survive.
“The only way to ensure this species persists in the wild, is through collaboration with local landowners and understanding their needs and objectives,” said Henry, Habitat Conservation Plan coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who worked closely with the Land Trust and Campbell family.
“We came together to protect natural resources, while supporting the success of the private landowners who are stewards of our agricultural and wild land legacy,” she said. “We hope this accomplishment can be used as a model for future collaborations.”
The Land Trust brings together private landowners, nonprofits, and government agencies to pave the way for families like the Campbells to conserve their land while respecting their bottom line. Adapting to the challenges farmers and landowners face is an integral part of land conservation, working to preserve a way of life as much as the land itself.
Conservation easements permanently protect property rights to further landowners’ conservation goals and livelihoods.
Since 1985, The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County has worked with community groups, willing landowners and others to conserve, restore and manage open space, wildlife habitat, and family farms and ranches throughout the county.
To date, the Land Trust has worked with more than 50 families and community groups to conserve nearly 30,000 acres of prime agricultural lands, critical wildlife corridors, and vistas of rolling hills. For more, visit https://www.sblandtrust.org.