In 1959 the Conservancy acquired its first property in California: 3,100 acres of pristine old-growth Douglas-fir forest in Mendocino County. More than 50 years later, the Conservancy has doubled the size of the Angelo Coast Range Reserve, and today it serves as a research site for topics ranging from salmon to food webs to climate change.
The story begins in 1931, when Heath Angelo, a San Francisco box and basket manufacturer, traveled north to find a cheaper source of wood. Instead, he found the Mendocino woods and fell in love with the region. Heath bought 160 acres, with the South Fork of the Eel River running through them, and he moved his family north.
Over the next 20 years Heath and Marjorie Angelo bought as much land as they could to protect it from being logged. They increased their holdings to 3,100 acres.
But in the 1950s, tax laws changed and landowners with timber on their property were taxed for the value of their timber every year, whether or not it was harvested.
The Angelos found themselves in danger of losing their land if they resisted logging it.
The family turned to The Nature Conservancy and negotiated a life estate that would let them sell their land and protect it from development, while retaining the right for their children and grandchildren to live on the property.
Over the next 35 years, the Conservancy, in collaboration with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, increased the size of the reserve to 7,500 acres. In 1994 the Conservancy transferred its lands to the University of California’s Natural Reserve System.
Today, the reserve harbors the state’s largest remaining old-growth Douglas-fir forest, providing habitat for spotted owls, gray foxes and black bears. River otters play along the banks of the river, which serves as a spawning stream for salmon and steelhead trout.
Heath Angelo’s grandson, Peter Steel, manages the reserve. “My grandfather’s love for the north woods rubbed off on me,” Peter says.
He’s the only one of his generation to exercise his right to the life estate established by his grandfather. And, as his work as reserve manager attests, he didn’t just go to the property to live there; he went to further his grandfather’s vision for land preservation.
The Angelo Coast Range Reserve is part of a 7,915-acre living laboratory managed by the University of California’s Natural Reserve System. The property features numerous creeks that feed into the Eel River as well as towering redwoods and Douglas-firs that provide shelter for ringtails, voles, Pacific giant salamanders and many other forest inhabitants. Listen and watch for pileated woodpeckers and northern spotted owls.