The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County joined with private equity firm Homestead Capital and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a mitigation agreement that provides a clear pathway to develop vineyard on the 684-acre property, while it conserves 320-acres of prime habitat in the Purisima Hills important to many wildlife species, especially the federally endangered California tiger salamander.
Numerous farmers, ranchers and investors have come to view the presence of the seldom-seen California tiger salamander as an obstacle to agricultural operations, but a growing number of landowners see potential to balance agribusiness opportunities with conservation of critical habitat.
This conservation easement allows ranchers, farmers, vintners and others a cost-effective way to increase production on valuable parts of their land while they offset impacts by protecting other habitat for the rare amphibian.
The elusive salamanders live most of their lives in ground squirrel burrows, but they also depend on aquatic habitat — vernal ponds, natural sump,s and even stock ponds and some ag reservoirs.
The agreement protects a wildlife corridor connecting a regional system of upland habitat and breeding ponds vital for California tiger salamanders that are already protected by other conservation easements.
“The Endangered Species Act was key in providing a mechanism for collaboration between our agency and a private landowner,” said Rachel Henry, a fish and wildlife biologist with the service in Ventura.
“We worked with the Land Trust and the landowner to come up with an innovative project that not only provides great conservation benefit for the California tiger salamander, but also meets the needs and objectives of the local landowners,” Henry said.
The Yellow Foxtrot conservation easement protects grazing land and oak woodlands that are crucial to the salamander’s survival, while it ensures landowner’s rights to continue cattle ranching operations that are compatible with preservation of this endangered species.
These mutually beneficial relationships offer unexpected paths to innovative solutions, ultimately helping willing landowners increase their bottom line while helping to conserve habitat for wildlife.
The Land Trust continues to prioritize a long view of conservation outcomes for Santa Barbara County agriculture, wildlife and communities.
“We need to continue building strong partnerships that support thriving local economies and protect land for agriculture and habitat.” said Meredith Hendricks, Land Trust executive director. “The costs of not protecting natural resources for long-term resilience are astronomical, so are the costs of losing local agriculture that is essential to our food system.”
For more about the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, visit https://www.sblandtrust.org. For more about the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, a field station of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit http://www.fws.gov/ventura.