Our History

Founded by and for ranchers in 1998, California Rangeland trust has a long and rich history of protecting what matters.

Years of Partnering with

Rancher Conservationists

What would a conservation solution look like for California’s ranching community? What would happen if ranchers came together, regardless of differences with a vision to preserve our shared way of life and protect the rich resources inherent to rangeland? In 1997, these questions inspired a group of forward-thinking ranchers from the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) who put forth an idea to develop a land trust that was by and for ranchers.


The California Rangeland Trust was born in 1998. We came together to seek solutions that honor ranchers, preserve ranching operations, and protect California’s natural resources. We know that once rangeland is converted to other uses, it doesn’t go back. We recognize that rangeland is critical to air quality, water quality, wildlife habitats, and local food supplies. We believe in the importance of protecting rangeland and the life it sustains.

Founded in 1998:
By Ranchers, For Ranchers

Our Mission

Our mission is simple: The California Rangeland Trust exists to conserve working ranches in the state that provide stewardship, open space, and natural habitat for future generations. We share the values that matter to ranching families, and have always focused on cultivating our relationships with landowners. From the start, our team sought to bring together experts from many fields to preserve the Golden State’s rangeland, and to spark a larger movement to save working landscapes.

In our first five years, we were able to place conservation easements on over 75,000 acres on 12 privatelyowned ranches throughout the state. From 2004 to the present day, we have more than tripled this number, with 342,815 permanently protected acres in our portfolio to date. Our staff grew, our acreage under easement grew, and our ability to communicate our message grew.


Acres Permanently Protected

The California Rangeland Trust is able to work alongside leaders in state, regional, and national coalitions toward a common purpose. In 2004, we helped establish the Partnership of Rangeland Trusts (PORT), an association of agricultural-focused land conservation organizations who saw the benefit of raising a shared voice in pursuit of our mutual goals.The member organizations of PORT hold over 1,300 conservation easements on more than 3.1 million acres of land between us.


We were also among the founding members of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition—an alliance of over 100 agricultural organizations, government agencies, academia, and environmental organizations that recognize the importance of ranchers and rangeland in preserving the state’s larger ecosystem. Through this endeavor, cowboys and environmentalists work side-by-side in a shared passion for the well-being of the state’s working landscapes.

Celebrating Milestones

Over the years, we’ve achieved some amazing things and celebrated big changes.

  • In 1998, the first ranch, Touch the Earth ranch in Calaveras County, was conserved
  • In 2001, Nita Vail officially moved from the Board of Directors to the role of Executive Director.
  • In 2006, we received the Environmental and Economic Partnerships Award from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for our work in the Hearst Ranch Project, a big moment that resulted in the permanent protection of the Central Coast’s largest working cattle ranch.
  • In 2010, the California Rangeland Trust became one of just 120 land trusts in the United States to achieve accreditation from the Land Trust Alliance. This benchmark was exciting and validating for us as an organization.
  • In 2011, we were invited to the White House as a leader in agricultural conservation as part of President Barack Obama’s Great Outdoors Initiative.
  • In 2017, 300,000 acres were surpassed with the conservation of the Avenales Ranch.
  • In 2015, “Where Your Food Grows and Grazes” ranch tour program launched (Sponsors: Raley’s, Newman’s Own, AT&T)
  • In 2020, Michael Delbar was appointed to serve as Chief Executive Officer, after having served 10 years as Chief Operating Officer.

Thank you for being part of our story here at the California Rangeland Trust. We are so thankful for your support! Together, we can help protect the open spaces and resources of California for generations to come.