The National Park Service recently acquired a cluster of four privately owned parcels adjacent to Circle X Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, preserving roughly 45 acres in perpetuity.
Between Sandstone Peak and Triunfo Peak, the land’s steep upland slopes, rocky outcroppings and oak woodlands are part of the view from the nationally recognized Backbone Trail.
The 67-mile trail traces the ridge lines and canyons of the Santa Monicas and was completed in 2016, patched together piece by piece over more than four decades.
Preserving additional nearby parcels adds another piece to the puzzle, said Justin Yee, an outdoor recreation planner for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
“Habitat fragmentation is one of the biggest threats to wildlife and acquiring undeveloped parkland is a critical piece of that conservation effort,” he said Monday as he walked along a dirt path overlooking the recent acquisition.
A privately owned island
Over the years, the park service has acquired several properties in the Circle X Ranch area off Yerba Buena Road near the southeastern edge of Ventura County.
But the four parcels remained a sort of privately owned island in the steep, craggy hillsides.
From a lookout on one of the parcel’s rolling hills, metal remnants of what was likely an old water tank lay on the ground. Nearby, plants had grown through the middle of an old tire.
Years ago, a resident lived in a temporary trailer on the property, but no homes were ever built on the land, Yee said. Now, the trailer is long gone and vegetation has grown over an old dirt access road.
Much of the land appears undisturbed with lichen-covered rocks, native shrubs and waist-high grass.
The park service doesn’t plan to add any trails on the parcels, saying land preservation provides a natural viewshed for trail-goers and benefits wildlife.
A sense of wildness
Connectivity allows animals from mountain lions to lizards to move through wild spaces and maintain healthier populations, said Tiffany Yap, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
She called the acquisition a win for wildlife in the area.
“Anytime there’s habitat being protected that generally allows more permeability,” Yap said.
The park service closed escrow on the parcels this summer, ending a roughly five-year process with multiple owners. The effort was delayed by the Woolsey Fire in November 2018, which burned through the property and nearly 90% of federal parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Native vegetation is slowly recovering from the fire, though some burned, skeleton-like branches still poke out from the grass and brush that has grown back.
With the purchase of the four parcels, only a sliver of privately owned land remains in the immediate area.
Yee called Backbone “one of the marquee trail experiences” in Southern California. Not far from large metropolitan areas, the trail allows people to experience a stretch of wilderness.
Protecting nearby undeveloped land helps preserve an important sense of that wildness, he said.
Cheri Carlson covers the environment for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at email@example.com or 805-437-0260.