Big Nature on the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve

The Nature Conservancy Moves Forward with Management Plan

Paul Wellman

A recent outing to the newly minted Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve witnessed pristine coastal wilderness beneath long views and a burst of wind-driven rain while cowboys gathered cattle ahead of anticipated herd-thinning as regional drought persists. The fate of the property’s century-old ranching operation surfaced most recently in December, when the Dangermonds donated $165 million to The Nature Conservancy to purchase the 24,000-acre spread surrounding Point Conception, historically home to the Cojo and Jalama ranches. But according to preserve director Michael Bell on Monday afternoon, it would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that legitimate free-range beef production cannot exist within the bigger picture of preservation and restoration. “You have to lead with respect to how well their stewardship has been,” he said.

The Nature Conservancy is three months into an 18-month effort to piece together the complex puzzle of preserving the property’s flora and fauna while making it a world-class epicenter of research and environmental education. Plus, added Bell, the property’s tiny pockets of civilization — mainly the ranch headquarters and a handful of small homes and outbuildings — are showing wear and tear from 30 years of deferred maintenance. The conservancy is also in the late stages of hiring a full-time preserve manager. Bell’s foreseeable future will include ongoing sit-downs with neighbors, including Vandenberg Air Force Base, Santa Barbara County, and UCSB’s Department of Geography, where the Dangermonds have long funded research in the field of geographic information systems (GIS). In 1969, the Dangermonds founded Esri (Environmental Systems Research Institute), a pioneer and international supplier of GIS software. “We are now establishing a new UCSB chair in environmental conservation that will use the new preserve as a living laboratory for landscape monitoring, analysis, and management techniques,” Jack Dangermond said via email.