In a move aimed at protecting critical habitat for the federally endangered California tiger salamander species, the nonprofit Land Trust for Santa Barbara County recently purchased a 118-acre conservation easement near Lompoc from the Bob Campbell family.
The purchase was made in early April with $2 million that had been earmarked by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for state conservation efforts.
The easement is a legal agreement between the Campbell family and the Land Trust to permanently conserve a portion of the Campbell Home Ranch with habitat vital to California tiger salamanders.
Per the agreement, the Campbells’ ownership of the land remains unchanged and the family is free to continue the cattle operations it has conducted 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 for 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 [Campbell] at fair market value for every acre he conserved. We could not have asked for better partners. Everybody wins.”
Bob Campbell noted that he and his family had previously been unable to reach agreements with agencies in charge of issues surrounding the tiger salamander. One of the main sticking points for the family, he said, was that current and future generations of the family be able to continue their farming and ranching operations.
Campbell credited the Land Trust and U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials with helping to get the deal completed.
“[They] 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,” he said. “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,” he added.
Listed in 2004 by the U.S. 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,” read a portion of a statement from the Land Trust. “Ponds like this are rare, and that makes the Campbell property particularly important. But, 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.”
Rachel Henry, a habitat conservation plan coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, worked closely with the Land Trust and Campbell family on the easement agreement. Henry said she was hopeful the deal could be used as a model for future collaborations between government agencies and private landowners.
“The only way to ensure this species persists in the wild is through collaboration with local landowners and understanding their needs and objectives,” Henry said. “We came together to protect natural resources, while supporting the success of the private landowners who are stewards of our agricultural and wildland legacy.”
The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County was formed in 1985. The organization works with landowners, nonprofits and government agencies to conserve land while also respecting the landowners’ financial considerations.
To date, according to the Land Trust, the agency has worked with more than 50 families and community groups throughout the county to conserve nearly 30,000 acres of agricultural land, wildlife corridors and vistas of rolling hills.
For more information on the Land Trust, visit https://www.sblandtrust.org.
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.
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