Santa Barbara Ranchers: The Historic & Contemporary Coming Together at Reunir 2019

March 11, 2019 by Mary Bondar

Reunir is the Spanish word for “gather,” and on February 21, 2019 nearly 200 people in Santa Barbara County did just that. Dating back to the Spanish and Mexican land grants, California has a unique history with ties to the land and traditions we all love. Purposefully hosted at the Santa Barbara Club—formed in 1892 to serve as a meeting place for area businessmen, especially the widespread ranching community— the event welcomed guests from both historic and contemporary ranching families to celebrate California’s strong vaquero heritage, the community’s deep connection to open space, and the California Rangeland Trust’s role in keeping our working landscapes just as they are, forever. “Just like pioneers of the past, we are pioneering new frontiers into the future to serve the land and to serve our community,” said Nita Vail, Rangeland Trust CEO. Nita reflected on her own experiences growing up on her family’s ranch on Santa Rosa Island, which was legislated into a National Park in 1979. Her experiences with the island are a big reason for why she does what she does today—through the Rangeland Trust she aims to help ranchers who want to conserve their ranches, so they will remain private working landscapes for years to come. While honoring the ranching traditions of the past, Nita also expressed her optimism for the future. She stated, “Today, conservationists, scientists, and ranchers are working together to achieve common goals that will benefit all Californians through safe and healthy food production, open space, clean air and water, carbon sequestration, soil health and quality of life.” Event co-hosts Eric Hvolboll of La Paloma Ranch, and James Poett and Marianne Partridge Poett of Rancho San Julian kicked off the evening by sharing stories of their own ranching backgrounds. Eric introduced speakers whose ranching families dated back to the original Spanish and Mexican land grants, like the Ortega and de la Guerra families. The first speaker, Brandy Luton Branquinho, is a descendant of Jose Francisco Ortega who established the first land grant in Santa Barbara County during the Spanish colonial period. Brandy, a former Rangeland Trust board Member, greeted the audience by sharing the values that she and her husband John gained on the ranch and instilled in her own three sons, Tony, Casey, and Luke, and their families: To treat the land and western traditions with a great reverence. The next speaker was Jim Poett, a descendant of the de la Guerra family. José de la Guerra was Comandante of the Presidio of Santa Barbara in the 1800s and obtained the land grant now known as Rancho San Julian. For over 200 years the ranch has remained in the family and is the largest in the region. Jim listed three main challenges for keeping the ranch together: testosterone, money or the lack thereof, and trustees. His advice for overcoming these challenges is to deal with problems one by one, rather than corralling them all together. Jim concluded by emphasizing the importance of reading and sharing stories with younger generations. “Read to your grandkids while they are little. Read to any little kids,” said Jim. “Because someone who is getting old, telling a story to someone very young goes miles towards holding a family or ranch together.” To wrap up the evening, the Rangeland Trust showcased its new short film A Common Ground by rancher and acclaimed filmmaker Chris Malloy. The film tells the story of how ranching and rangelands can offer hope and healing for a better future and healthier planet. Guests got a special treat when Katie Isaacson Hames, a featured rancher in the film, spoke of her experiences growing up and now raising her two children on the El Chorro Ranch. Katie is carrying on the family tradition of ranching on the former Spanish land grant property that her great-grandfather purchased in 1939. Other young ranchers like Elizabeth Poett Campbell from Rancho San Julian and Russell Chamberlin from Ted Chamberlin Ranch also shared stories about their work in stewarding these historic landscapes and their plans to keep them viable in this new age. Throughout the evening, energy remained high. Guests enjoyed the opportunity to visit with like-minded “neighbors”, while learning about the organization that is working to preserve the state’s beautiful open spaces and natural habitat. To date, California Rangeland Trust has permanently protected approximately 140,000 acres of private rangeland between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and a total of 330,000 acres statewide. This Reunir was a true celebration of the ranching way of life and brought together people who are passionate about preserving the best of our state now and into the future. Mark your calendars to Reunir with the Rangeland Trust next year on February 20, 2020 at the Santa Barbara Club in Santa Barbara, CA!