A recently completed mitigation agreement will conserve 320 acres of California tiger salamander habitat while allowing development of a vineyard that's currently underway on the 684-acre property in the Purisima Hills near Lompoc.
The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, private equity firm Homestead Capital and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked out the agreement with the unidentified land owner that will conserve prime habitat for the federally endangered salamander as well as other wildlife species.
“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,” said Rachel Henry, a fish and wildlife biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service field office in Ventura.
Katie Szabo, marketing and communications coordinator for the Land Trust, said the Yellow Foxtrot conservation easement protects grazing land and oak woodlands crucial to the survival of the tiger salamander.
Elusive tiger salamanders live most of their lives in ground squirrel burrows, but they also depend on aquatic habitat, including vernal ponds, natural sumps, stock ponds and some agricultural reservoirs, for breeding.
The Yellow Foxtrot agreement will protect a wildlife corridor to connect a regional system of upland salamander habitat and breeding ponds that are already protected by other conservation easements, Szabo said.
At the same time, it will ensure the landowner’s right to continue cattle ranching operations compatible with the salamander’s preservation, she said.
Szabo noted many farmers, ranchers and investors view the presence of the seldom-seen California tiger salamander as an obstacle to agricultural operations.
But some landowners are starting to see such conservation easements can provide them a cost-effective way to increase production on valuable parts of their land while offsetting the resulting impacts by protecting habitat, she said.
In fact, Szabo said "30 out of our 44 easements have ongoing agriculture, including cattle grazing."
Such innovative solutions can ultimately help willing landowners increase their bottom line while conserving wildlife habitat.
“We need to continue building strong partnerships that support thriving local economies and protect land for agriculture and habitat,” said Meredith Hendricks, executive director of the Land Trust.
“The costs of not protecting natural resources for long-term resilience are astronomical [but] so are the costs of losing local agriculture that is essential to our food system,” she said.
Szabo said the Land Trust is currently working on agreements to conserve an additional 20,000 acres of wildland habitat this year.
To date, the Land Trust has helped preserve nearly 30,000 acres of natural, working and recreational land, including 130 acres of Point Sal near Guadalupe and the 653-acre Las Flores Hunt Property near Los Alamos.
The organization also helped preserve the 17-acre Burton Mesa Chaparral/Mackie Mountain Preserve, the 95-acre Burton Ranch Preserve and the 780-acre Jordan Ranch, all near Lompoc.
Other sites the Land Trust helped preserve include the 2,727-acre Midland School Ranch and the 9-square-mile Sedgwick Reserve research, conservation and education facility, both in Santa Ynez Valley, as well as the 1,007 La Purisima Ranch north of Buellton.