Sprawling Mendocino County ranch set to be preserved

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Larry Mailliard grew up in San Francisco, but his childhood weekends were spent exploring the expansive forests, meadows and streams of his grandparents’ sprawling Mendocino County ranch south of Boonville.

He built forts and dams with his four sisters and hunted squirrels. He recalled the joy he took in watching their fence-stick dams being blown out by stream flows and how they’d play in the mud if it was raining.

“It was wide open freedom, the best playground God ever created,” said Mailliard, 64, who has lived on and managed cattle and timber operations on the property since 1986. Other family members also have homes on the land.

Now, his family and conservationists are taking measures to forever protect the stunning 14,898-acre ranch, including some 1,000 acres of old-growth redwood forest and 28 miles of salmon- and steelhead-bearing streams. It is the largest remaining family-owned redwood forest in the world, said Sam Hodder, president of Save the Redwoods League.

The League is buying an 11,178-acre conservation easement on the Mailliard property for almost $13 million and has plans to acquire an easement for the remainder once it raises an additional $7 million, Hodder said. The family is selling the easement for millions of dollars less than its value, he said.

“This is a really exciting opportunity to partner with a family who has done right by this property for a long time,” he said.

The deal is the latest to protect a vast swath of North Coast forest straddling southern Mendocino and northern Sonoma counties.

Spanning more than 60,000 acres, those properties include the so-called Garcia River and Gualala River forests, and Buckeye Forest — formerly Preservation Ranch — now owned and managed by The Conservation Fund. Taxpayers have contributed millions of dollars to those deals.

The current Mailliard generation is proud of their conservation efforts, which have included adding 40 additional parcels to the ranch since it was purchased by John Ward Mailliard and Kate Mailliard in 1925 as a place for them to hunt deer. The most recent, an 80-acre addition, was purchased about four years ago, Mailliard said.

The family — which includes Charlotte Mailliard Schultz, wife of former Secretary of State George Schultz — has a history of managing its forests and rangeland sustainably and of caring about the environment, Hodder said.

John and Kate Mailliard served on the League’s board. Kate Mailliard was very protective and wouldn’t let the family cook within an old-growth forest where they held family gatherings, Larry Mailliard said. In 1954, the family donated 242 acres of forest to Save the Redwoods League. It is now a state parks reserve. The ranch will continue to be owned, logged and grazed by the Mailliard family, but it cannot be subdivided or developed, preventing future generations from selling it off, Mailliard said. There currently are 31 family members with interest in the property, but only three have a controlling interest, including him.

“My mantra has been, I’m saving the ranch from my family,” he said.

The conservation easement prohibits logging on the property’s old-growth redwood forest and limits logging and ranching operations near streams. Funding for the easement purchase came from League donors, a California Natural Resources Agency grant and, most recently, the California Wildlife Conservation Board, which helped close the deal last week by granting the project $4.75 million from state bond funds through Proposition 84, approved by voters in 2006.

The project fit perfectly the board’s forest program, which is aimed at maintaining economic and ecological stability of forest lands, said its executive director, John Donnelly. It also meets its goals of protecting streams and fish, he said.

While the general public won’t have access to the property, Hodder said everyone benefits when watersheds, fish and forests are protected from development. The ranch, which contains headwaters to the Navarro and Garcia rivers, abuts the 23,780-acre Garcia River Forest, owned and sustainably logged by The Conservation Fund, which also sells carbon credits off its properties.

“This was exactly the kind of project that program was designed to support,” Hodder said of the state bond funding.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 707-462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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