This is the story of Sharon and Richard Kline, a couple in southern California who became unlikely ranchers by buying an unlikely property. They have worked with California Rangeland Trust to keep the land as rangeland and conserve both habitat and ranching. Conservation easements are controversial and must be considered on a case-by-case basis, but agricultural land trusts have made this option much more palatable for working lands.
AoR 105: Richard and Sharon Kline on Conserving Working Lands in California
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>> Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, range and livestock specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at artofrange.com.
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Welcome back to the Art of Range podcast. I'm visiting today with Richard and Sharon Kline, founders of Roncho, Rancho?
>> Rancho San Lorenzo.
>> San Lorenzo, of Los Alamos, California, in the Santa Ynez Valley. And I have the pleasure of visiting with them in person, which is a rare treat. I was referred to them by the California Rangeland Trust, which is one of the older agricultural land trusts, but I'm probably getting ahead of myself. Richard and Sharon, welcome and thank you for welcoming me here today.
>> Happy to.
>> This is a beautiful spot. Of course the sunshine, and the grass is green, because you've had record precipitation, but I suspect it would be pretty even if it wasn't green. Well, you, you've been here, had this ranch for a while, but it's not a place that had been passed down through either of your families. How did you end up here. Where did you both come from, and how did you get interested in either, you know, owning land or running cattle?
>> We came from Los Angeles, where we both had careers, Richard in public relations and me in higher education. And in Los Angeles, we had our three horses, one for each of us and our daughter had a horse. And for years, they lived in Griffith Park, the poor things, in little teeny stalls. And we realized about 36 years ago that we could save a mortgage payment amount of money that it cost us to board the horses in Griffith Park if we bought a ranch, and we had a few mentors that had shown us their ranches, and we had the burning passion to buy a place of our own. And we came up here, saw Rancho San Lorenzo the first day we looked at ranches, and it took us about, oh, four months to negotiate and put together the down payment, and we became the owners of this 1100-acre ranch. And we, we were real property burgeons. We had no sense expect that we thought it was a beautiful place and that we would be happy here. We had no sense of how to make it an economic success.
>> But we learned reasonably quickly a lot of the issues that we were facing. You know, we, as Sharon alluded to, Sharon was a native of California, of LA, and had ridden since she was a child, and so horses were kind of our, our vehicle to get into the ranching business. And I was brought up in Massachusetts, strange as it may seem to end up in a ranch in Santa Ynez Valley. But, you know, I was one of the ones, kids who loved everything cowboy. You know, I used to be able to name every horse that belonged to any famous movie star.
>> Oh yeah.
>> The brain has forgotten most of them now, but you know, but I always loved that concept of living kind of that cowboy life. So, and I rode some, somewhat as a kid, and got serious 35, 38 years ago about riding, but when we bought the ranch, we weren't cattle people at all, and we [inaudible] people. I mean, we're like, I think, a lot of the new ranchers out there, people who, you know, we were part-timers here, by the way, for about 25 years, living in LA primarily, earning a living, and then coming up to the ranch to escape. And so we had a vision that golly, you know, we thought this would be something we would enjoy. So you know, first thing we did is build new, new corrals and pastures and fix up an old barn, and we were the beneficiaries of, and I hate to put it this way, but of an old Spanish land grant family who had owned this property and most of this area, about 30,000 acres in total, that was part of the Mexican land grant. And the, one of the family members who was part of the, the De La Guerra and Orena, which are famous old Spanish or Mexican families in, in, in Santa Barbara area. He was the last in a line of descendants to own this particular property. And in fact he, he passed away on this property. And what the family would do, is when they needed more money, they'd just sell a chunk of land. And then they'd travel or do whatever they needed to do to fix up the properties that they remain, that were remaining. So he ended up on this last 1100 acres, from the 30,000 or so that was originally there, and it went into an estate. And there were no direct descendants. And we came along, and this had become a derelict ranch. I mean, it was a mess. We, we couldn't drive to the back of the ranch because the roads weren't passable. I mean, it was, it just desperately needed work. So we were fortunate enough to be able to get in, and Sharon had the vision to be able to do what we've done, and ultimately to make it a, you know, a, a, a, an, we think attractive, viable operation. We, we, there was always some farming that went on here. There was always some cattle that were raised on the land. And, and one of our neighbors at one time asked Sharon, well, why did you buy that ranch? And she said, well, we wanted a place to put our horses. And this wonderful character of a lady said, wait a minute, you bought a cattle ranch because you wanted a place to put a couple of horses.
>> And, and so, you know, we came into the cattle business, and we run a relatively small herd, but into the farming business sort of by the back door. And we learned, you know, that we loved it. A lot to learn, but you know, we certainly think, you know, we've had a good experience.
>> Yeah. I want to go back to the land grant. I've, I've heard that term before, and I'm aware of some big ranches, like in New Mexico, that were land grants. I don't know from Spain or Mexico, I think I've heard them called from. Oh, from Mexico land grants, but who was granting land, and to whom, and why?
>> Mexican government.
>> Well, no.
>> When they owned.
>> No, no, not quite.
>> The history of California, early California, parallels Mexico. So first of all it was Spain. And literally the fathers, [foreign language] and company, came up from, well, they came from Spain to [foreign language] in Mexico, and were trained, came north, and sadly, a lot of the missionary work was done to conscript peons here and send them back to central Mexico to work in the silver mines. So Spain, then Mexican independence, and that of course affected land ownership here, and then finally, American conquest. So in that period between American conquest and, and the Mexican, land grants were given to prominent leaders who had been Spanish, Mexican, and now were American. So this was part of Rancho Los Alamos, and it was a 64,000-acre land grant that was a parcel of, of this valley. And this is, this is part of it. And when we talk about the De La Guerra's, he was, I think, head of the Presidio in Santa Barbara. There's a De La Guerra.
>> Adobe down there. We have the country house a mile down the road. So it's really a historic passing and evolution of basically Spanish, Mexican, finally American. And there were all the same people that passed through the governance of the area.
>> In what years were those land grants happening?
>> Oh my gosh.
>> In general.
>> They started in the late 1700s.
>> With the Spanish and the mission system. And we are between, let's see, a couple of missions. La Purisima actually is in Lompoc, and they used these hills and ranches as grazing land for the mission system. So La Purisima, Lompoc, was, was here. And then there's Mission Santa Ines, and there isn't one.
>> The mission system was established basically a, a, a one-day horse ride between each of the missions.
>> Yeah, of course.
>> When it was finished.
>> And so, like, we're kind of halfway between La Purisima and Mission Santa Ines.
>> Yeah. And Santa means saint, right? So those, like, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, all were named after somebody who was a.
>> Yeah, patron saints, except this named, we found out, after Lorenzo. San Lorenzo, so it was Saint Lawrence, who gave the name to one of the De La Guerra uncles who remained in northwestern Spain. And it was a family name, so, and we felt strongly that we needed to keep the original name of the ranch, because, I mean, it's bonded through history.
>> And actually, Decoe, the person we brought this from, had married into the De La Guerra family, and our neighbors were direct descendants of the De La Guerra's. So the roots go very, very deep.
>> And we were, we love the fact that we found out that Eduardo Decoe, who was the person whose estate we bought the ranch from, ran a brand for his cattle on this ranch, the bench K. Well.
>> It fit.
>> Recline with a K. Yeah, we said, wow, so we re-registered the brand.
>> I mean, it was available for the right rib, which we took.
>> It wasn't our first choice, but it was second choice, and it was available. And so we have the same brand on this ranch now that's been here for almost a century.
>> Well, two centuries.
>> Well, yeah.
>> Well, we don't know what brand.
>> Yeah, that's true. That's true. Anyway.
>> So the history, we bought into the history, and it's part of the thrill of owning the place.
>> Yeah. And there's enough grass around, a couple of horses wouldn't do much to.
>> Exactly right.
>> Take care of the grass.
>> Well, there's a lot, enough grass this year.
>> That's right.
>> Whereas you should have seen us about a year ago.
>> Oh, I can imagine.
>> It was a, a little less spartan.
>> Yeah. Have you had trouble with fire? Trouble can mean lots of different things, but.
>> Fortunately we, knock on wood, have had very little difficult in this immediate area, but just over the hills in Lompoc, there have been some serious blazes, and down in Santa Barbara, and even, to a lesser extent, Santa Ynez. So we've been, you know, we, we, we thank our lucky stars that, you know, it, it's been less of a problem for us than a lot of folks in the area.
>> And it's an important reason for keeping mouths literally on the soil.
>> To keep the grass down and the, and the brush down.
>> Uh huh.
>> So that's important, and we move the cows around based upon food and, you know, I mean, do just basic.
>> Grazing management.
>> Yeah, grazing management to, to make the most productive use of.
>> You mentioned in the article that California Rangeland Trust published about the place, that it was a hidden gem. What did you mean by that? Was it that it wasn't otherwise, wouldn't have been considered very desirable as a ranch? It is pretty steep. I can, when I look at the map.
>> Or, yeah, part of it is steep.
>> When I look at the map, topographically challenging.
>> 40 acres in the front, facing the river valley, are arable and irrigated. The rest of it is really ranchland. And we benefit from being able to ride over it and enjoy the rather mountainous area, but it, it certainly wouldn't be good for cultivation.
>> But yeah, and you know, we have about 90 acres in back that we dry farm, and what, what Sharon kind of meant by hidden gem was when we found this ranch, as I mentioned, it was a derelict. You know, it was a mess. And it, we kind of scraped our money together at the time to, to be able to afford the ranch, and it was when, it, it was in such a shape that when people looked at it who were serious ranchers.
>> They said oh my god, you'd have to put a fortune into that place to make it a credible working ranch.
>> And people who were looking just for, you know, the, the weekend escape, said god, that's a mess. I mean, you know, I, I don't want to have to deal with all that. And so, since we were, at the time, had relatively limited resources, and we were able to scrape our money together, and you know, part of what, in fact, having the conservation easement, the economic benefit of having that, has helped us to put money back into the ranch to redo, you know, do lots of fences that have needed to be, needed to be rebuilt, to build.
>> You know, water. Yeah. Critical issue. But put in a couple of wells that we really needed to be able to rehab an old barn. I mean, you know, it, it, it.
>> On and on.
>> It helped us to basically revitalize what was a, had the potential to be a rather nice property.
>> Yeah. What, how did you initially hear about the California Ranchland Trust, and what made you become interested in the conservation easement?
>> Yeah, a neighbor actually told us about the, the CRT, and told us about the conservation easement concept. And we said, well golly, let's look into this. So initially we were put in touch with one of the state agencies, State of California agencies, and, and they said, well, just give your proposal for conservation easement. And they explained a little bit about it to us. And we had some knowledge from having done a little bit of research, and we ended up getting a proposal that I swear had to have been three or four inches thick, you know, in paper. And it was incredibly restrictive. And we said, well God, if this is what a conservation easement is all about, I, you know, I don't know if, yeah, we're, we're not really interested. And so one of our, our friends who was a member of the, the California Cattlemen's Association said, well, a number of years ago the Cattlemen's Association started this group called the California Rangeland Trust. Why don't you talk to them? So we met with them, and met with then Nita Vail, who was the executive director, and Andy Mills, who's now chairman of the board. And they said, well let us give you a proposal. And it was, you know, all of about 12 or 14 pages, and it basically, when we looked at it, said just be a good steward of your land. And you, you, you know, the restrictions, as you know, was the limited development, and in fact no development for us in the 500 acres that we put into the conservation easement. But it was really what we kind of thought about continuing doing from the beginning, but it allowed us to continue to farm. It allowed us to continue to, to run cattle. It allowed us to continue to ride our horses, you know, over, over the ranch and do what needed to be done to be good stewards of the land. And we thought, wow, you know, this is, this is doable, and of course, as we've talked about, there was some economic benefit to it.
>> One, one of the things I was missed worried about, because we have a vernal pond, and in that vernal pond, it's, it's a wonderful habitat for the tiger, California Tiger Salamander, CTS.
>> Describe what a vernal pond is, because I'm familiar with that, because I'm in the range science world, but you know, vernal just means spring. What is a vernal pool?
>> Well, a vernal pond, and it's a very typical landscape in California, maybe in the west, but I know in California, it's a place where water collects with no stream that infills it.
>> Alright, that means.
>> Nothing going in, nothing going out.
>> Yeah. Nothing goes in or out except through evaporation.
>> Okay. That means that it goes dry periodically, based upon rainfall. And we have had many, many years of a dry, well, we call it the lake, [laughter], and kind of grimace because it's.
>> Right. Probably not a pond right now.
>> Yeah. And it's a very unique type of, of environment. The benefit for the tiger salamander is that it does go dry, and they can live without water for many years, because they live underground in squirrel holes.
>> That was my next question, is where do the salamanders go when the pools dry up.
>> Oh, well, they don't breed.
>> But they're there, and they survive.
>> But they, they are there, and, and they carry through the drought. That's what, the way they're acclimated.
>> And it is an issue, it is an endangered species by, I believe the feds or the state.
>> Yeah, at least it was.
>> And, and, yeah, not sure if it still is. But, you know, the, the, the lake, quote on quote, as we, you know, reference it, is this vernal pool that on the area maps has long been known as Laguna Seca.
>> And it's been Seca, dry, almost as often as it has been.
>> Laguna. So that's just a feature of our particular ranch, and it was, was actually one of the major motivators between, for the Rangeland Trust to do a conservation easement with us, because it met a need that the state had put out to preserve this endangered species.
>> And because it goes dry, things like red-legged frogs, for example, eat the newts. It clears out predators and allows, when the rain returns, the salamanders to breed. And I, we had stocked the pond before the easement.
>> And I was terribly worried that we would have a big mosquito problem without critters in there, fish.
>> Stocked meaning fish.
>> We put fish in the, in the lake.
>> Yeah. And it was a little difficult to see the fish die when the, when the lake went dry, but the birds benefited, and we did not restock it because of, of the salamanders.
>> That was one of the requirements.
>> Yeah, a major requirement.
>> Yeah, we could not restock it because they would eat the.
>> Feed on them.
>> Yeah, the salamander eggs.
>> And in fact, we've never had a mosquito problem. So somehow the environment balanced out, and my worry about that was for naught.
>> Yeah, before we, we started this podcast interview, we were talking a little bit about, you know, benefits and challenges of conservation easement. One of, as I mentioned, you know, ours says we cannot develop that area. We have to maintain all the, the, the proper rangeland management techniques, which is fine. We had no problem with that. When our neighbors said, uh oh, you're doing a conservation easement? What's that going to mean to me? Is the state and other authorities going to come in and start knocking on our door and saying, we want to talk to you, and we, we don't want you to do this, X, Y, and Z. And we, we explained to them, and it's absolutely turned out to be true, that not only would they not be knocking on their door because of this, this helps protect them from the, the, the urgency of preserving land and, you know, the necessity.
>> Trying to prevent take and everything.
>> Exactly. And, and so in some ways, it has prevented take and prevent, you know, the, the, the state and others from coming in and saying, okay, we want to talk to you, neighbor, and it's worked out beautifully. It's been absolutely the case. It has taken pressure off some of our other neighbors, and there are some who, others in the area who've done conservation easements, either with the Rangeland Trust or Land Trust of Santa Barbara, or there are a couple of other agencies that are working in our area to do the easements. But you know, for us the Rangeland Trust has been terrific. They do an annual monitoring. They did an initial monitoring, make sure they had a baseline, knew what was here. We got a full report that lists all the flora and fauna, and you know, what this property was all about. Every year they come and make sure we're honoring our agreement with them. And that's about as intrusive as it is. It's pretty, it's pretty simple.
>> You run cattle here. I'm a little more familiar with running livestock in places that are dominated by perennial grasses, you know, where they come back from the same plant crown every year and tend to have a little bit longer active growth period in the springtime. Right now it's really green, but you know, if it doesn't keep raining, it won't be this green for very long. How does that work out with keeping, you keep mother cows?
>> Yep. We're, we're cow cache.
>> You've got cows year-round.
>> One of the challenges is managing the feed.
>> Situation. You know, we have had years where we spent an awful lot of money on hay, because we wanted to keep the cows, and we said, oh, next year it will rain. So you know, okay, we'll spend some money now. We won't have to sell and buy again. There was a few years ago we sold everything.
>> On the cattle. You know, and we brought in some stockers. And the grass, you know, the grass was just minimal. I mean, hardly anything. So we could bring in a few stockers, and it worked just fine. And this past year, before the rains came we were in a drought, so we sold about a third of our herd off and kept the balance, and now we look at it and say, uh oh, it's probably going to be time to buy again, and so you just have to do the, accept the, the, what it will be. You know, we, we, we usually end up, you know, sell low and buy high, but you know, that's life. I mean, if we want to, we want to continue having cattle, and of course the advantage for us, as Sharon had alluded to, was range management. I mean, having cattle, you know, and you asked the question about, about fire. Well, you know, we, you know, have our cattle help protect us against the fire danger. So it's just a matter of knowing, you know, how many head we can keep to feed hopefully without hay, although we give them hay at breeding season, and you know, we supplement, but it's minimal versus what we had to do last year, feeding truck and trailer load at a time just to keep them going for several months.
>> Yeah. And, and we've done a few other things like put water sources at the top of the mountains too.
>> You know, encourage them to, the cows to, to take care of the whole area and graze it all. And you know, those kind of pretty simple things, moving them around, we sometimes have several areas we can dry farm and then feed them off. So you know, kind of common sense management to make what we do have go as far as possible.
>> And, and you know, from an owner's standpoint, we, again, we talked about this a little bit before the podcast. You know, the economics. Doing conservation easement, you, you, depending how you structure it, but most often you'll get a certain amount of cash to do the conservation easement.
>> In compensation for.
>> Compensation, right?
>> Extinguishing the development rights.
>> So, okay, you won't develop it. You get some cash now. Well, you know, for some families that's saving them from, you know, losing the land, because they don't have the, the, the money to pay for.
>> Inheritance taxes and all the rest. And that's wonderful. In, in our situation, we've got some cash, it wasn't as much as a lot of people need, as fortunately, you know, we still had jobs and were doing other things to supplement our, our, our, our ranch life. But we did also get a rather credible amount of tax, tax write-off. Or actually it was tax credit, and so that moneys were saving us from paying taxes at a higher level. And we took basically that, and it allowed us to, to do things like put in some water tanks at the tops of hills.
>> Infrastructure investment.
>> Infrastructure. Absolutely. We really worked on reinvesting on the ranch and building an infrastructure, and, and it gave us the ability to put it back into, you know, what we think is reasonably attractive shape. And so it was a tremendous financial benefit that we put back into the land, and you know, win-win. You know, we weren't the fourth, fifth, sixth, tenth generation family inheriting the ranch and now had to pay all those inheritance taxes. We came in and bought the ranch and, you know, didn't quite know what we were getting into, but you know, we, we, we worked our way through it, and the conservation easement gave us some, some, some real economic benefit that we were able to put back, by and large, in, into our, into our ranch.
>> Yeah. You, you alluded earlier about some vegetation improvements that you made, and I think in the, the CRT article, you said there were places you couldn't even ride through.
>> Uh huh.
>> Is that chaparral or similar kind of brush?
>> That you.
>> We had a lot, as you could see if we, we, if we were in back of the ranch, lot of chapparal.
>> We did do a, a, a, what's they call it now, a prescribed burn. It was then a called a.
>> Control burn. And but we, we were able to [inaudible] do that about 25, 30 years ago, I'll bet now. And it's become increasingly challenging via permits to do what.
>> To take care of chapparal.
>> Now, theoretically they're, they're loosening those regs and taking what we think is a very logical approach to range management by doing prescribed burns, but yeah, we've had to clear a lot of chaparral. We've had to put in, we had to put in trails to make it so you could get to where the cattle would be, off in the, you know, the back of the ranch. So it's all part of the, you know, we think the proper management of, of being a good steward of your property.
>> Uh huh. Maybe one more unrelated question. Sharon, you were the California Maid of Cotton back in 1964.
>> Oh yes.
>> What is a Maid of Cotton? Is this like Miss America for agriculture?
>> Back, that was in the days of Polly and Ester.
>> Polyester was just.
>> You know, rearing its.
>> Right. Dupont's marketing taking over.
>> Yeah. Artificial little head, and I was a fashion design student, so I went into the apparel industry. And I went, I became California Maid of Cotton as a college senior, and I was just about to graduate, and of course, because of, of horses and all of, all of our connection to the country, I loved, I loved the country. So I was able to go in central California. We were based in Fresno, I know you know that, and I would travel throughout the state with two chaperones, who were cotton wives, and they were the sponsors of this thing, and we promoted cotton as a wonderful fiber to make, or to use in fashion.
>> And so we were in the business of fashion shows. It was, it was just so much fun. And I found out, because one of the things I had to learn all about cotton, it was fascinating, and I can remember getting up at 5 in the morning to do the farm reports. And my chaperone said, oh, the other maids hated this. Well, it was so much fun. I got to go out and talk about cotton, visit the farms, visit the cotton gins. It just, it just was wonderful. I had so much fun doing that.
>> That's fascinating. I didn't know that history. I didn't know there was much cotton here.
>> Oh, you don't, is there still cotton here?
>> Oh, yes. Yes.
>> In those days, I think it was, it was the second largest crop, agricultural crop in California.
>> It was hugely important, and primarily in the San Joaquin Valley. You know, the, the central valley. And Imperial County, we went all over the state. Not the north so much, because it has to be in, in the warmer part, but oh, I loved being Maid of Cotton.
>> That's neat. Yeah, it feels like those natural fibers are making a comeback.
>> They are. They are.
>> I think.
>> I'm so pleased to see that.
>> Results. Yeah, I mean wool is an amazing fiber, and cotton is as well, and in many ways they're superior to any synthetics that we come up in the meantime.
>> Well, and blends are, blends have become more important, but back, I mean, this is in the 60s. And polyester was really threatening the cotton worker. So.
>> It's balanced out more now.
>> Well, I think we'll wrap up there. I've, really thank you for your time today. It was, this is a, maybe an increasingly rare landscape, and it was great [inaudible].
>> Glad you came.
>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for art of range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at artofrange.com. Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at artofrange.com. This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
>> The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not apply Washington State University's endorsement.
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California Rangeland Trust, rangelandtrust.org/
Rancho San Lorenzo: Blazing & Grazing Their Own Trail, https://rangelandtrust.org/2023/03/10/rancho-san-lorenzo-blazing-and-grazing-their-own-trail/
Article on the importance of private land to wildlife: onland.westernlandowners.org/2023/direc…-wildlife/
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