Chimineas Ranch Foundation
7870 Fairchild Ave Winnetka, California 91306
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The Chimineas Ranch Foundation incorporated in December of 2007 to aid the California Department of Fish & Game (DFG) in capitalizing on the tremendous opportunities presented by the Chimineas Ranch as a center for learning and enjoyment of natural resources. The Chimineas Ranch Units of the Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve were acquired by DFG in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (the Conservancy), the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and other agencies in two transactions.
History of the Chimineas Ranch
The Ranch has a rich and storied history that deepens its significance as a site for enduring public interest and involvement. Signs of prehistoric Chumash occupation of the ranch are quite prevalent. Our first knowledge of the Ranch’s place in modern history concerns the post gold rush cattle-drive system in California. The Chimineas Cow Camp was an identified location within the system of iconic cattle drives that characterize that era of western history. Prior to the opening of a coast route, the Carrizo Plains Trail from the Cuyama Valley across Chimineas was an important cattle-driving corridor. The name “Chimineas” reportedly was given to the camp by early vaqueros who found the remains of an old hearth and chimney present at the current Ranch headquarters location. Cowboys reported the chimney still standing in 1924 and during an El Nino flood in 1978, blackened hearth stones were uncovered by erosion at the reported site.
The area that would become the core of the Chimineas Ranch was federal property until 1883 when 20,000 acres were purchased by J. H. Hollister and Frederick Adams as a private ranch. By 1888 the Chimineas Adobe, which now forms the heart of the Chimineas Ranch house, was erected. In 1891 the first threat to Chimineas occurred when Hollister & Adams tried to market the ranch as a town site and subdivided the land based upon a rumor of a railroad cutting through the ranch. Fortunately nothing came of this scheme. At some point in the late 1800’s, the Reis family acquired the Ranch and held it until the 1930’s. A young man by the name of Claude Arnold came onto the Chimineas in 1924 and fell in love with the Ranch. It took until the 1937 for Claude Arnold to buy the Ranch from the Reis family but he did it and kept the Ranch until the 1970’s, building it up until the deeded and leased property exceeded 50,000 acres. He hand dug the wells, worked the land and eventually married into an old Carrizo Plains homestead family. He raised his family there and even became a county supervisor for many years. Unfortunately, in 1972 family circumstances led to the sale of the Ranch.
The Robertson Family from Texas bought the Santa Margarita Land and Cattle Company that included the Chimineas and the Santa Margarita Ranch in 1973. In 1999 the Robertson Family sells the Chimineas holdings to a veterinarian by the name of Dr. Neil Dow who then initiates a major renovation to the ranch house with the old adobe at its core . Dr. Dow only owned the Ranch for two years before selling the south half (~15,000 acres) to The Nature Conservancy which in turn sold to DFG in 2002. In 2004 the Conservancy and RMEF helped DFG acquire the North half directly from Dr. Dow. Now fully in public ownership, the Ranch facility provides an extraordinary opportunity to conduct outreach and education on natural history, hunting, the role of ranching and other resource related concerns.
Ecology of the Chimineas Ranch
The Chimineas Ranch has profound ecological significance at several scales. The Ranch is situated between the Carrizo Plain National Monument (250,000 acres) and the Los Padres National Forest (more than 2 million acres) and hosts an extraordinary mosaic of habitat types. Annual grasslands and oak savannahs support a significant self-sustaining herd of tule elk that wander between well-managed private lands and other DFG lands to the north. Old-growth juniper woodlands, coastal scrub and chaparral mix with arid lands that show affinities to Mohave Desert communities. Numerous state and federal listed species use the Chimineas and game species like deer and quail are well represented. The significant ecological attributes of the Ranch are now the subject of significant investigation by DFG and volunteers, professors and student researchers.
The Role and Function of the Chimineas Foundation
To fulfill its promise, the Chimineas Ranch has to meet several management challenges and it is the role of the Chimineas Ranch Foundation to aid DFG in meeting those challenges and embracing exciting opportunities. The mission of the Chimineas Ranch Foundation is to protect and enhance the ecological values of the Chimineas Unit of the Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve and to help provide opportunities for wildlife dependent recreation, education, and research activities that are compatible with conserving the biological integrity of the reserve. The Foundation will also support the protection and enhancement of the historic and cultural heritage of the Facility when deemed appropriate. The following are specific core functional areas where private fundraising can provide critical support to the creation of a lasting institution at the Chimineas Ranch.
1. At the core of the issues facing the Ranch is the upkeep of the Ranch facilities. Currently, this maintenance is provided as compensation for the preexisting grazing leases on and adjacent to the Ranch. Estimated at roughly $50,000 annually, these tasks include road and facility maintenance and upkeep, landscaping of the headquarters grounds, maintaining fencing, maintaining the road network and providing security to this remote site. A separate agreement regarding the payment of utilities also provides some support from the lessee. The burden of these costs at a time of severe fiscal constraints in the California state budget create a difficult situation for DFG as they weigh the relative benefits of grazing in this ecological reserve. Currently we are beholden to the lessee for these annual upkeep challenges and the ranch is already showing signs that this arrangement is not adequate to forestall the eventual deterioration of this fabulous facility. The development of an operating endowment is the Foundation’s most critical long term goal.
2. The context of annual costs does not take into account the opportunities for outstanding research, preservation and restoration endeavors on the Chimineas Ranch. The restoration of prehistoric Chumash Indian sites and early homesteads will be featured elements in the development of the historic components of the Chimineas and an important unit of the Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve. Additionally, the story of the original adobe and the evolution of land use and ranching in Central California should be developed as funding is secured. The Foundation is already developing a rich oral history of the Ranch to help tell the story. There is keen interest within the Foundation to tell the historic and prehistoric story of the Ranch.
3. Given the Ranch’s ecological significance, we have a real opportunity to conduct highly successful ecological restoration. The Foundation takes seriously its responsibility to aid DFG in acquiring the funding necessary to restore the integrity of the natural communities of the Ranch. These include fencing projects to limit the potential damage to riparian areas and ponds from cattle grazing while simultaneously demonstrating the positive impacts of controlled grazing as a habitat management tool. Assuring that springs and guzzlers are available to wildlife is also an important management consideration in the arid region. Controlling the introduction and spread of noxious weeds is also an important challenge. Deepening our understanding of both the succession of seral stages and the potential for improving the function of these communities will be an important endeavor on the ecological reserve. Since agency funding is often available for these activities, the Foundation will provide two principal functions: identifying and securing match funding and enlisting volunteers to aid in the work.
4. In an era when children are no longer forging a connection to the natural world, the Chimineas Ranch provides a unique venue for providing opportunities to experience the natural world. Already, hunting heritage groups have been holding apprentice youth hunts as a way to introduce a new generation to the joys, challenges and lessons of the sporting life. Similarly, birding groups see an opportunity to combine “citizen science” with outreach and foster new interest in birding and natural history. Institutions of higher learning are starting to use the facility as an “outdoor classroom” and several valuable dissertations are currently being enabled by the ranch’s diverse flora and fauna.
5. Grazing has been part of the historic ecosystem of the ranch. Grazing is not without its potential for abuse and the Foundation believes that the ranch must be safeguarded first and foremost as an ecological reserve and not viewed as a “grass bank” for cattle operations. That said, we believe that properly sized, scientifically managed, cattle grazing should be one of the management tools available on the Chimineas for use when biological necessity dictates.