The Last Perfect Place in California
Understanding the 24,000-Acre Dangermond Preserve’s High Hopes and Huge Hurdles
“The last perfect place” is what many are calling the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve, the nearly 25,000-acre property that the billionaire tech moguls saved with a $165-million donation to The Nature Conservancy in December 2017.
The land — which extends roughly from Vandenberg Air Force Base to Hollister Ranch and surrounds Jalama Beach County Park — was formerly known as the Bixby Ranch, when it was ruled by cattle for nearly a century, and the Cojo-Jalama Ranches, when developers resurrected the original Spanish names while waiting in the wings with grand plans. No matter what you call it, the nearly untouched property — about the size of the entire City of Santa Barbara — hugs California’s most prominent corner at Point Conception, where the lands and seas of the north meet those of the south.
Because of that unique geographic convergence, the preserve is an ecologist’s wonderland of biodiversity. Across its sprawling collection of oak woodlands, pine forests, coastal prairies, wetlands, and beaches live 14 threatened or endangered species, such as Lompoc yerba santa and the western snowy plover, and 54 “special status” species, including recently discovered populations of the tricolored blackbird, rarely seen along the coast.
More important than the numbers, though, is the entire equation. The preserve represents the last intact ecosystem for the Southern California coast, where even our protected areas are more focused on human recreation than ecosystem conservation. “This place is different,” is what ecologists say upon exploring the preserve. That’s according to The Nature Conservancy’s Michael Bell, who is the preserve’s director and played an integral role in saving the property, working toward that goal since the early 2000s.
“This is a place where mountain lions and bears still hunt and forage on the beach. They use their full natural habit, from the nearshore ocean to the beaches to the ridges,” explained Bell last week. “It’s an extraordinary system, and the observation and perspective of ecologists tends to be that it is the last of its kind. It is the last and best representation of a wild Southern California ecosystem.”
But it’s also drool-inducing for evolutionary scientists, as it represents a hotspot where evolution happened faster than elsewhere; environmental educators, who are already bringing classrooms out to explore the pristine nature; archaeologists, for the untold messages still buried by the untouched soils; and the Chumash people, who see the property as a chance to finally honor their sacred lands in the right way.
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