Bill Parker, family member
Winding through the Tehachapi Mountains just one hour north of Los Angeles exists what is arguably the most vital wildlife corridor in North America.
A vast collection of open landscapes, the corridor links the 2,000-mile-long Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain Ranges to the east, and the 800-mile-long Sierra Madre, Traverse and Peninsular Mountain chain to the west.
At the base of this corridor is Parker Ranch — nearly 10,000 acres of rangeland dotted with blue oaks, buckeyes and scores of wildflowers each spring.
Working closely with the Parker family, The Nature Conservancy recently purchased a conservation easement on the ranch to protect it from development, regardless of future ownership. The easement will ensure this key segment in the wildlife corridor — and the Parker family’s ranching heritage — are preserved for generations to come.
Wildlife corridors are like nature’s highways, connecting open lands where animals like the kit fox, mountain lion and black bear can thrive in their natural habitat. With enough room to roam, animals can seek food, find mates and escape threats such as flood, fire, encroaching development and climate change.
“Parker Ranch is truly a biological crossroads, linking meadowlands to valleys and hillsides to mountain ranges,” said E.J. Remson, project director with The Nature Conservancy.
But land development near Parker Ranch is pressing in from all sides.
"If this ecological link is broken, the repercussions on wildlife could be felt well north of the Canadian border, and deep into Mexico,” said Remson.
Five generations of exceptional stewardship by the Parker family, who will continue to own and operate this working cattle ranch, have created an environment where plants and animals flourish.
Rare species like the Bakersfield cactus, Piute Mountains navarretia, golden eagle, coast horned lizard, Cooper’s hawk and Tehachapi slender salamander all live here. And animals that require large, intact wild lands to survive — like the San Joaquin kit fox — cross through here.
“We consider ourselves land stewards first and ranchers second," said Bill Parker, a fourth generation rancher at Parker Ranch. "Knowing that this ranch will remain just as it is now, for our children, their children and the generations to come, is a dream come true.”
With their strong relationship to the land, ranchers are often excellent land stewards. Ranchers are natural partners of conservation, helping to keep land in the hands of private owners while protecting California’s most threatened and prized natural resources.
The Nature Conservancy purchased the conservation easement with grant funding from the California Wildlife Conservation Board and Audubon Society.
“The passion and commitment of landowners like the Parkers make this work possible,” said Reed Tollefson, manager for Audubon California’s Kern River Preserve. “For years, protecting this amazing property has been a dream of the Parkers. The Audubon Society is honored to partner with The Nature Conservancy on a cause that supports the traditional heritage of this region while protecting this vital wildlife linkage.”
With the funding, the Parker family plans to create an endowment to keep the ranch running through the lean years and allow more time for father and son, Bill and Tom Parker, to work the land together.
“I don’t know what I’d do without this ranch. This place is a part of me,” said Tom Parker, a fifth generation rancher at Parker Ranch. “Knowing that it will always be protected is an amazing feeling.”February 26, 2011