PD Editorial: Redwoods at Mailliard Ranch are safe forever

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

Mailliard Ranch in southern Mendocino County will never be subdivided into lots for big-city refugees or high-end resorts. Wilderness preservationists worked with the family who own the 15,000-acre ranch to ensure that it will survive intact for future generations. It won’t be a park, but it will be safe. Sometimes it’s enough just to know the wilderness is there, even if most people never get to visit.

The Mailliard family amassed the ranch property over nearly a century. Its most precious surviving tracts are two old-growth redwood groves. Those, combined with mature second-growth redwoods, total nearly 1,000 acres.

The ranch also has meadowlands, waterways, mountains and canyons. The headwaters of the Garcia River and tributaries to the Navarro River are there, too.

Those natural spaces are an essential linchpin in the greater California and even global ecosystem. Redwoods capture carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, helping to fight climate change. Twenty-eight miles of streams are populated with salmon. Dozens of animal species — including some endangered ones — find refuge among the trees and open spaces. And native plants flourish.

Yet all that natural treasure was safe only so long as the Mailliard family wanted to keep it safe. The family today, especially San Francisco civic leader Charlotte Mailliard Shultz, understands the importance of conservation and responsible stewardship, but there is no guarantee some future generation would hew to the same ideals. The temptation to sell off parts of the land could be strong someday.

The deal announced this week removes the temptation. The Save the Redwoods League, a nonprofit that raises money to protect and restore redwood forests along the North Coast, will pay the Mailliard family nearly $25 million to place permanent conservation easements on the land.

Save the Redwoods has had its eye on Mailliard Ranch for a long time, viewing it as a critical piece to create a swath of contiguous protected lands.

Sonoma County residents might be more familiar with another Save the Redwoods project, the Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve north of Cazadero.

When people of good conscience work together, wonderful things happen. Small and large donors and grant-giving organizations provided enough money for Save the Redwoods to make a deal possible. It was expensive, yes, but also probably not what the family could earn if it chose to sell off parcels piecemeal for development.

It also wasn’t all taxpayer money. People who believe preserving redwood forests and other natural resources to be important put their money where their priorities are, with grants from federal and state agencies making up the difference. The land will remain private in family ownership. Sure, it would be even better if the ranch became a state park or wilderness area, but preserving it is enough. Maybe someday conservation-minded Californians will raise money to buy the ranch for public use if the Mailliards are willing sellers.

Too often people turn to the state to impose limits on private property owners in the name of preservation. The protection of Mailliard Ranch demonstrates that sometimes the gentler hand of community action and willing partnership is more effective.

Thank you Mailliards and Save the Redwoods for finding common ground to protect these precious lands and the bounty they hold.

Editor’s note: This editorial has been corrected to reflect that state and federal grants were combined with donors’ money to purchase the conservation easement on the Mailliard Ranch.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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