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Land Conservation Playbook

john muir land trust conservation

A few weeks ago, driving back to the Bay from Sacramento, I took in the passing hills and wetlands and thought…things could be worse.  Years ago, as developers began tearing into the land and building shopping outlets and tract housing on I-80, I doubted any patch of land would survive. Despite the build-up, though, some areas are more beautiful than ever, thanks to land trusts surrounding that stretch of highway.

This conservation thing doesn’t just happen. Savvy groups protect land and its resources, including water, through persistent fundraising and advocacy. John Muir Land Trust, formerly Muir Heritage Land Trust recently unveiled its Saving Contra Costa campaign to raise $25 million. “We have already protected over 2,000 acres of prime Contra Costa open space that would have otherwise been developed. With this campaign, we aim to more than double that number,” said Linus Eukel, Executive Director of JMLT.

The campaign began with efforts to acquire a 44-acre property called West Hills Farm, immediately adjacent to the Mount Wanda section of the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez. Mount Wanda is a 325-acre parcel, which was protected by the fledgling land trust in 1991. The West Hills Farm acquisition is scheduled for completion at the end of May, as $1 million in project costs are raised. Eukel says, “If not for protection by JMLT, the property would be developed as residential housing.”

Eukel also announced the next major element of the Saving Contra Costa campaign, a large, historic property called Carr Ranch. The ranch is located in central Contra Costa at the southern boundary of Lamorinda (Lafayette, Moraga, & Orinda), adjacent to Alameda County. The total property covers more than 600 acres of land.

Discussing the importance of regional water Eukel said, “The past four years in California have been the driest on record in 80 years, and perhaps the last 400. Ongoing drought, climate change and population growth pose significant threats to our local water supplies. Situated in the Upper San Leandro watershed, adjacent to the Upper San Leandro Reservoir, JMLT acquisition of Carr Ranch provides a onetime opportunity to permanently protect high quality Bay Area drinking water at its source.”

Nearly all of the property is critical habitat for the threatened Alameda whipsnake. Likewise, Buckhorn Creek and numerous ponds on the property provide breeding and foraging habitat for the endangered California red-legged frog. Carr Ranch is also home to golden eagle, mountain lion, American badger, western pond turtle and many other species.  In addition to water and wildlife benefits, stewardship of the ranch will result in opportunities for hiking and biking, birding and equestrian activities.

The Playbook. At BayMozaic we feature organizations like JMLT that improve our lives. We hope in featuring them, we can spread strategies that work. The Playbook highlights these.

What are your core strategies? JMLT begins by considering a property for potential acquisition, a long and rigorous process of investigation, review and negotiation. After the research and negotiation phase is complete, JMLT arrives at an agreement with a willing seller to acquire their property for a certain price, not exceeding the objective appraised value. At that point we turn to the community — foundations, sponsors and individual donors — to raise the necessary funds for acquisition.  We are a determined group, having raised well over $20 million for land acquisition and stewardship since 1989. Once we acquire a property, our philosophy is to responsibly manage and care for these resources — now and going forward. JMLT utilizes traditional and innovative stewardship techniques to carefully maintain, restore and enhance the unique conservation values of each property.

How have you connected successfully with supporters to raise funds for your work in the past? By clearly demonstrating our work ethic, our rigor, our willingness to take risks, our belief in permanent land protection, our belief in providing access, our embrace of life — these are the strands of JMLT’s collective DNA that link supporters of all ages.  While members of the JMLT community may be from vastly different socioeconomic circumstances, or hold different religious or political beliefs – they feel kinship.

How do you raise the visibility of land trust issues? Our supporters want to make the world a better place.  They demand a high level of accountability for themselves and our organization.  They expect the organization to support them in their endeavors.  We often do.  And by doing so, trust in the organization and visibility for our projects increases.

How do you network or collaborate with others? John Muir Land Trust always networks, collaborates and partners with a wide range of individuals, organizations, private donors, private foundations, corporate sponsors, and public agencies to permanently protect and care for open space, ranches, farms, parkland and shoreline in Contra Costa County.

Impact: West Hills Farm represents the eleventh property to be protected by JMLT. Their previous acquisitions since 1989 include Fernandez Ranch, Franklin Canyon, Acalanes Ridge, Sky Ranch, Dutra Ranch, Gustin Ranch, Mount Wanda, Contra Costa Goldfields, Pacheco Marsh, Bodfish Preserve and Stonehurst. Carr Ranch will represent the twelfth property under John Muir Land Trust’s protection. (Photo courtesy of JMLT)

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