How Conservation Easements Protect Land on The Preserve

Over 90% of the 20,000-acre Preserve is protected, while the other 10% is zoned for residential development and amenities. Photo by Adam White. 

May 24, 2022

By Andrew Nguyen, Stewardship Manager

With a residential community at its core, The Santa Lucia Preserve is built on a model of collaborative stewardship with the Santa Lucia Conservancy serving as a guide and resource for individual landowners and Preserve leadership to protect biodiversity, manage the encroachment of invasive weeds, create wildfire and climate resilience, and conduct biological research. 

This framework of partnership makes The Preserve a particularly unique case of private land conservation, where landowners are inspired to become active stewards and the Conservancy studies and adapts strategies to promote ecologically sensitive living. 

The Preserve Design

Preserve Lands

18,000 acres of The Preserve that are permanently protected, including:

  • Wildlands: 10,000 acres owned by the Conservancy and permanently protected.
  • Openlands: 8,000 acres owned by individual Preserve landowners and protected by conservation easements held by the Conservancy.

Settled Lands

2,000 acres of The Preserve zoned for development, including:

  • Homelands: the residential building envelopes, which maximize privacy and opportunities for viewing wildlife
  • Rancholands: the collective amenities including the Ranch Club and Golf Club facilities and roads.

What is a Conservation Easement?

Each individual lot contains a conservation easement known as an “Openland” located outside of the building envelope, or “Homeland,” forming a buffer between residences and the surrounding Wildlands. 

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently limits the use of a property to protect its conservation values, which on The Preserve include natural, scenic ecological, cultural, open space, agricultural, scientific, and aesthetic values.

These easements are beneficial because they protect areas of significance, such as sensitive habitats, ecologically valuable wetlands, Rumsen Ohlone cultural sites, and wildlife corridors that allow our non-human neighbors to move freely across the landscape.

Conservation easements also protect a landowner’s investment in this conservation community by preventing negative impacts to the property such as construction, landscaping, viticulture, motor vehicle use, agriculture, dumping, and other adverse footprints. Each landowner holds what are known as reserved rights in their Openlands, which encourage them to use the land for low-impact activities like wildlife camera trapping, picnicking, and hiking.

Management in the Openlands

Openlands provide landowners with an opportunity to become an active steward of the land in partnership with the Conservancy. Through Openlands Management Plans (OMPs), we work with Preserve residents to customize habitat restoration proposals that aim to accomplish shared conservation goals within the Openlands. OMPs may include prescriptions for invasive plant removal, native planting, owl nest box installation, hazard tree removal, or grazing through our Conservation Grazing Program. 

The Openlands are also managed, in part, through lot-specific fuel management plans (FMPs), which are prepared by a wildland fuel and fire behavior expert and updated every 5 years. FMPs provide the best available guidance to not only create defensible space around structures where firefighters can safely defend the home, but to protect the natural integrity of ecosystems on The Preserve.

We assist Preserve homeowners in obtaining FMPs in collaboration with the Santa Lucia Community Services District (CSD). These plans are designed to exceed state standards, taking into account the natural environment, topography, architecture and other unique features of each home.

Monitored by the Conservancy’s Stewardship Department annually, conservation easements “run with the land” to forever secure the ecological health and beauty of The Preserve. 

If you have questions about protections within the Openlands, please contact me at anguyen@slconservancy.org. For inquiries about Openlands Management Plans, please contact Senior Manager of Climate Change Adaptation Jenna Allred at jallred@slconservancy.org. To acquire a lot-specific fuel management plan (FMP), please contact Fire and Fuels Management Specialist Emily Aiken at eaiken@santaluciapreserve.com