The 300-acre Rock Front Ranch east of Santa Maria will be conserved as a haven for wildlife and grazing land for livestock by the California Rangeland Trust’s purchase of a conservation easement on the property.

A Rangeland Trust spokeswoman said the ranch, located approximately 30 driving miles from Santa Maria on Highway 166, remains privately owned.

The conservation easement to ensure its preservation was made possible by contributions from the community, the spokeswoman said.

“The Rock Front Ranch stands as the western gateway to the Cuyama Valley — one of the last remaining untouched valleys in California,” said Nita Vail, outgoing CEO of the Rangeland Trust. “Thanks to the support of the community, this small but mighty ranch will forever function as a strategic buffer to protect the area’s natural resources and vibrant wildlife habitat.”

Vail said the property’s large rock face, the namesake for the ranch, is a sanctuary for migrating birds like peregrine and prairie falcons as well as California condors and Swainson’s hawks.

The ranch also serves as a critical wildlife corridor for animals to reach larger conserved territories in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties via a wildlife underpass for Highway 166 that connects Los Padres National Forest to the Cuyama Valley.

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Ranch owner Alisha Taff holds a rack of bees and honey as her daughter, Kay, works on a hive at Rock Front Ranch on Highway 166 east of Santa Maria in this photo from August 2016.

“To have this ranch be up against and abut to tens of thousands of acres of public lands is an indispensable connection to have in perpetuity,” said Matthew Shapero, livestock and range adviser in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties for the University of California Cooperative Extension.

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Rock Front Ranch is the first California Rangeland Trust conservation project to be 100% funded by private contributions.

“More than 200 donors throughout California rallied together to help make this conservation project a success,” said Michael Delbar, COO and incoming CEO of the Rangeland Trust.

He credited donors for helping safeguard wildlife habitat, natural resources, land for local food production and open space.

“I’d really like to express my appreciation to the people in the community who understood the value of having a conservation easement, what it would mean to us for the future, and what it means to have open working landscapes in California,” said Rock Front Ranch owner Alisha Taff. “It’s beyond one small, little ranch; it’s much bigger than that.”

The nonprofit California Rangeland Trust has conserved more than 342,008 acres of grazing lands across the state through conservation easements.

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