Conway Ranch: Looking Forward
Conway Ranch, just north of Mono Lake, has a long and colorful history, in addition to being a beautiful gateway into the Mono Basin. Long used by Native Americans, sheep ranchers, and more recently for commercial fish-rearing, Conway Ranch also holds important wildlife habitat, wetlands, and incredible scenic vistas. In 2000, Mono County secured the final phase of grants that allowed it to purchase Conway Ranch (811 acres) from The Trust for Public Land, who had acquired the land to prevent a major proposed development.
Since the acquisition, the property has been maintained as habitat, grazing lands, public open space, and a fish-rearing area that raised the famous Alpers Trout. Unfortunately, one of the major grant funders, Caltrans, found that Mono County had not followed the strict terms of their grant in the fish rearing area, which the County disputed. As part of a settlement agreement, Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) has been invited to advise Mono County and Caltrans about the feasibility of placing a conservation easement on the property that would reiterate and clarify the existing Caltrans grant restrictions while providing for the limited expansion of an enhanced aquaculture facility. The recreational and economic benefits of developing a viable fish-rearing operation are a top priority for the Eastern Sierra region.
Because ESLT has worked successfully with similar grants, including Caltrans’ Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program, and because Conway Ranch is a very important and beautiful property for the visitors and residents of the Mono Basin, we have been meeting with Mono County and Caltrans over the past eight months to help develop this concept. With the recent support of the Mono County Fisheries Commission and the Mono Basin Regional Planning Advisory Committee, Caltrans and Mono County are going forward with negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding that identifies ESLT as a potential easement holder. Next steps for Mono County include meeting with the two other funders, CA Dept. of Parks & Recreation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to discuss the scope of the proposed easement, along with ideas for expanding the fish rearing facility. The public and stakeholder groups will have the opportunity to provide input about the easement, if it goes forward.
If all the grantors are in support, ESLT looks forward to working on a conservation easement for Conway Ranch that permanently preserves all its incredible resources and provides for the enhancement of aquaculture facilities and continued historic uses. A conservation easement could be the frosting on the cake for a property that has been a priority to many people over the years.