Richard and Sharon Kline, current owners of Rancho San Lorenzo, were “city folk” by circumstance, but they are ranchers by choice.
Despite their urban upbringings, each held an appreciation for agriculture and the western way of life, and it was this shared appreciation that brought them together over 38 years ago.
Richard grew up outside the metropolitan area of Boston, Massachusetts. Although he was raised in the city, he developed an affinity for the pioneers of the American West through the stories he read and watched. “Like many young boys in my generation, I was weaned on cowboy TV,” Richard reminisced. “I loved it, and I had this vision that someday I wanted to be a cowboy.”
Because of this adoration for the lifestyle, Richard spent his early years riding horses as much as he could. Though he rode less as he got older and busier, his desire to be a cowboy never faded.
Richard eventually moved to Los Angeles, California where he ran a successful marketing and public relations firm. It was there where he first met Sharon.
Sharon grew up in Southern California, where she too had spent time riding horses and found value in working landscapes. She studied fashion design at UCLA; it was around this time her love of the land and fashion intersected through a unique experience.
In 1964, Sharon was selected as the California Maid of Cotton — serving as an ambassador and advocate for the cotton industry. She travelled up and down the state, waking up many times before the sun rose, to meet with producers and manufacturers within the industry.
“While previous maids of cotton hated getting up in the morning and hated learning about cotton, I loved all of that,” she exclaimed.
After her reign, Sharon jumped into the fashion industry designing clothing, teaching, and even writing five textbooks on fashion design and business.
Hers and Richard’s paths first crossed when Richard’s business partner set them up on a breakfast meeting, under the pretense that Sharon needed help preparing for an upcoming television interview. After chatting for two and a half hours and Sharon’s mention of a horse stable, the two realized a proper date was in order. Richard joined Sharon and her daughter for a ride through Griffith Park on their first “official” date.
“Once we knew he could ride, he was a keeper,” joked Sharon.
The couple got married and continued to spend their time horseback. After a few years of boarding in Los Angeles, they decided it was time to explore further out of the city and acquire a place of their own for their horses.
They visited the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County and were mesmerized by the beauty of the area. After looking at different properties, a realtor showed them Rancho San Lorenzo, and the search was over.
“Finding this ranch and being able to purchase it was just ‘dumb luck,’” Sharon said. “It was a hidden gem that not many would have taken a chance on.”
Rancho San Lorenzo was originally part of Rancho Los Alamos, which was granted to Don Jose Antionio de la Guerra by Mexican governor Juan Alvarado in 1839. As time progressed, the once nearly 49,000-acre rancho was broken up into numerous parcels and sold. The San Lorenzo portion was the last to be owned by one of de la Guerra’s descendants, prior to the Klines purchasing it in the 1980s.
Over their 35 years of ownership, Richard and Sharon have poured themselves into stewarding the land and preserving the historical value of the property. They kept the name “Rancho San Lorenzo,” a decision their neighbors (a few of whom are decedents of the de la Guerra family) overwhelmingly approved of. They also reregistered the same cattle brand that had tied cows to the land for generations and restored the bunkhouse and main home on the ranch to their original glory.
“Virtually everything we do is a nod to the history and tradition of this area and the ranch,” Richard explained. “Because we are fortunate to be the beneficiaries of having this beautiful place to live, we want to do everything we can to keep that tradition alive.”
Beyond honoring the history, they also set out to revive the health of the landscape. “When we bought the ranch, we never saw the back portion because it was so overgrown there was no way to get to it,” Richard explained. “Now, we are constantly back there riding our horses on the trails.”
Through rotational grazing, their cattle herd helps clear out noxious weeds, which allows native plant and wildlife species to thrive. Grazing also helps them reduce the probability of fire on the landscape by removing dry shrubs and grasses that could act as fuel to spreading flames.
In 2005, Richard and Sharon were introduced to the idea of a conservation easement by a friend. After a little research, they knew they wanted to pursue an easement further to ensure that this precious piece of history would never be lost. They first started working with a government agency, but fearing the agricultural values of the property would be lost, they turned to the California Rangeland Trust.
“The organization was started by ranchers; they understood the importance of good stewardship,” Richard explained. “They just want you to treat the land with respect.”
The Klines completed the easement in 2006 on the back 570 acres of the property. Included in the easement area is a large vernal pool that is critical habitat for the endangered California tiger salamander. The ranch also serves as an important corridor for other wildlife, including bobcats, deer, and a variety of bird species.
Since completion of the conservation easement nearly two decades ago, the Klines have remained active supporters of the Rangeland Trust giving their time, talent, and treasure to support rangeland conservation efforts throughout the state. They serve as ambassadors through their involvement on the Rangeland Trust Legacy Council, and they also make annual contributions to support the mission as Silver Spurs donors.
“When you look at California Rangeland Trust and a lot of the people involved with it, many are multi-generation ranchers. We’re not; we are first-generation ranchers,” stated Richard proudly. “But we absolutely love this way of life, and we want to preserve it, and we want to encourage it, and we want to do everything we can to help it to be there in perpetuity.”
Richard and Sharon didn’t grow up in the ranching industry. Yet, they still formed connections to the land in their own unique ways, and today, those connections are what fuel their desires to help conserve rangeland across all of California. The Klines are proof that you don’t have to be raised on a ranch to become a cowboy or cowgirl conservationist.