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May 7, 2018


Cayucos, CA – The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County has permanently protected the 1,779-acre Hill Ranch along Highway 46 West through a voluntary agricultural conservation easement.

The Hill Ranch features 1,779 acres of coastal grazing land and oak woodlands in the hills above Cayucos. The property is part of an iconic scenic vista along Highway 46 West. Travelers who stop at the highway turnouts above the ranch are met with an endless view of Estero Bay, Morro Rock, and the Irish Hills in the distance. The property contains the headwaters of Villa Creek, including more than 2.5 miles of the stream and 10% of its watershed.

Deer, bobcat, red-tailed hawk, and a host of other wildlife also make their home here. The Hill Ranch is one of many family ranches between Cerro Alto and Big Sur that provide homes for wildlife. Protecting ranches within this “wildlife corridor” is a major goal for The Land Conservancy.

The Hill Ranch has been owned and operated by the same family since the late 1800s. Conserving the ranch is part of their commitment to support sustainable agriculture and protect natural open space for wildlife and people alike. “I’d like to keep this an open land for ranching, for the animals that are here. There’re lots of other native animals here that [will stay] if it stays in ranching,” said the landowner. The long-standing sustainable livestock operation will continue as part of the conservation easement. Future residential development is reduced to two homes and subdivision of the property is prohibited under the easement terms.

“Over the years I have spoken with many people who wistfully talk about Highway 46 West being their therapeutic route to the coast from North County. There are plenty of reasons why we all love this landscape. The iconic vistas, the happy cows, the abundant wildlife, and the hard-working families that have worked the land for generations; they are all emblematic of why we love to live, work and play in this county. I am grateful that we have been given the opportunity to protect a big piece of this incredible place. And there is more to come. Completing this easement has brought more landowners to us, and it is possible that we could protect the majority of the lands along Highway 46 West in the next five years.” said Kaila Dettman, Executive Director of The Land Conservancy.

The Land Conservancy is able to host multiple docent-led hikes on the ranch each year with the support of the landowner. However, the Hill Ranch is still privately owned and without public access.

The Hill Ranch agricultural conservation easement was funded in part by the California Strategic Growth Council’s Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) Program using California Climate Investments funds and the California State Coastal Conservancy using Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 (Proposition 1) funds. The SALC Program is administered on behalf of the SGC by the Department of Conservation. This conservation easement would not have been possible without a significant charitable contribution from the landowner.

The SALC Program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing GHG emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment—particularly in disadvantaged communities. The Cap-and-Trade program also creates a financial incentive for industries to invest in clean technologies and develop innovative ways to reduce pollution. California Climate Investments projects include affordable housing, renewable energy, public transportation, zero-emission vehicles, environmental restoration, more sustainable agriculture, recycling, and much more. At least 35 percent of these investments are located within and benefit residents of disadvantaged communities, low-income communities, and low-income households across California. For more information, visit the California Climate Investments website at: www.caclimateinvestments.ca.gov.


June 16, 2017

Imagine traveling west out of Templeton, ocean-bound on Highway 46. You pass housing developments, ranchettes, and eventually a few wineries.

As you approach the crest of the mountains and drive through a pass that cuts through the Santa Lucia range, the wineries give way to open range and wild oak woodlands.

Suddenly, the Pacific Ocean comes into view. Oak-studded hills cascade into the ocean, Morro Rock stands out in the distance, and Point Sal drops into the sea.

Do you notice the cattle quietly grazing in an open meadow; a hawk perched in a tall Sycamore tree? Or do you imagine dozens of houses connected by freshly-paved driveways, with power lines obscuring the ocean view and trimmed lawns in place of open range?

Believe it or not, you have a choice. A choice between these opposing, but distinctly possible, futures for Highway 46 West. This landscape is iconic and historic, but that doesn’t mean it’s forever. Unless we act now, a very different view may be in store for SLO County.

Let’s look back at that landscape. It may be hard to imagine that these hills are already fully developed. Can you see it? They aren’t covered in condominiums or sprawling vacation rentals, but this land is already home to thousands of species of birds, insects, reptiles and mammals; not to mention the steelhead trout swimming up the streams that flow to Cayucos below.

This land belongs to the mother bobcat, raising her young. To the golden eagle perched in a golden Sycamore. To the woodpecker carefully storing acorns in an ancient oak tree. Many more homes will be made here as climate change forces California’s wildlife to migrate north.

In fact, 46 West represents the southern edge of a crucial wildlife corridor, stretching from Cerro Alto to Big Sur. We have the opportunity now to protect these homes, to make sure that the mother bobcat still has a place to raise her young and the golden eagle can still leave its perch to soar through clean skies.