Working closely with the Gould family, a fourth-generation ranching family, The Nature Conservancy purchased a conservation easement on Los Vaqueros Ranch today to protect it from future development. The ranch is located along the Arroyo Seco River, a hidden treasure nestled into the hills west of Salinas Valley. The easement will support continued ranching activities while protecting its natural resources regardless of future ownership, thereby preserving the family’s ranching legacy for generations to come. The easement will also help protect prime steelhead and golden eagle habitat as well as important wildlife-movement corridors.
“The Gould family’s deep commitment to this special place is shown by their stewardship over four generations and their recent decision to protect the ranch and its plants and animals for the long term,” said The Nature Conservancy Monterey Project Director Christina Fischer. “The Nature Conservancy is proud to be part of this effort, which is a wonderful example of how conservation and ranching can work together to help both people and nature thrive.”
The Gould family spans nine generations in America—their immigrant ancestor, Francis Gould, arrived in Boston in 1639. The family settled outside of San Juan Bautista in the late 1850s. Sumner Gould assembled the ranch through purchases from its original homesteader and other owners in 1916, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren have quietly and capably managed the ranch ever since. The family will continue to own and operate the ranch as it has for nearly 95 years.
“Ranching can be a tough business, but we love this land. It became clear that a conservation easement would keep the ranch in the family and ensure that the wealth of natural beauty we have will remain here for future generations,” said Lloyd Gould, one of three grandsons of Sumner Gould who still lives and works on the ranch.
The conservation easement protects 1,337 of the ranch’s 2,100 acres, and the funding was provided primarily from private sources, including the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and donations to The Nature Conservancy. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service also provided public funds. The family and the Conservancy hope to protect the rest of the property when additional conservation funding becomes available.
“Some of the best wildlife habitat is found on privately owned lands, and ranchers are natural partners for conservation. Grazing on rangelands plays an important role by decreasing fire hazards, protecting watersheds and keeping non-native plants in check. Easements keep land in private ownership, helping families stay in ranching and supporting the community as a source of local food and jobs,” said Fischer.
“This cooperative venture between a private landowner and The Nature Conservancy provides great benefits to our community—it helps protect an important water supply for the Salinas Valley while ensuring that the Gould family can continue to run their ranch as they have for generations,” said local vineyard manager and a member of the Board of Directors of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency Roger Moitoso. “And, as someone who fished for steelhead along Arroyo Seco for much of my life, I'm pleased to see important spawning habitat preserved.
” Los Vaqueros Ranch’s oak savannahs, streams and grasslands provide habitat for an array of native animals including foxes, bobcats and cougars, as well as a great diversity of birds such as migratory songbirds, roadrunners, wood ducks and California condors. The ranch forms a natural buffer between new development and the Los Padres National Forest and is also an important ecological stepping stone within Monterey County’s network of protected lands—allowing plant and animal species to move and adapt to new threats such as climate change.
The ranch is also located along the Arroyo Seco River, one of the last viable steelhead runs in the Salinas watershed, and with this easement over two miles of the Arroyo Seco River and significant portions of one of its tributaries, Vaquero Creek, will be protected. The importance of protecting steelhead habitat along the Arroyo Seco River has also been recognized recently through public investments to replace an old stream crossing with a fish-friendly bridge on Thorne Road near Greenfield, completed this spring.
The Arroyo Seco also offers life-giving support to the health and prosperity of human communities—it is one of the most productive headwaters of the Salinas River, providing a clean source of groundwater recharge for Salinas Valley farms and communities and contributing to the health of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Working with landowners to protect private lands and vital streams like the Los Vaqueros Ranch and the Arroyo Seco River will help keep the county prosperous and preserve its natural wonders.
“The Conservancy hopes the family’s decision to protect its heritage through a conservation easement will inspire others to invest in conserving working rangelands throughout the Central Coast,” said Fischer.
Los Vaqueros Ranch media tours and photos available upon request.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.