A piece of land – a view, a vital migration path, a home – will be preserved as such forever. Bob and Lee Naylon have basically sold their development rights on their 104 acres in Swall Meadows to the Eastern Sierra Land Trust. Known as a conservation easement, the deal ensures that no matter who owns the land in the future, there can never be any development on the property.
The easement is a unique opportunity for the land owners to retain ownership and management responsibilities for their land while designating how the land will be used now and in the future, according to ESLT.
The ESLT has been helping to preserve lands on this side of the Sierra Nevada for 10 years. Through grant funding and other partnerships, the organization may acquire land or set up land protection agreements with land owners. According to its mission statement, ESLT works with willing homeowners to preserve the “scenic, agricultural, natural, recreational, historical, and watershed values” of the Eastern Sierra.
Bob Naylon said in a press release, “I have always been interested in land conservation, and it finally came to where we wanted to do something to protect our land.”
Karen Ferrell-Ingram, ESLT’s executive director, said the easements are secured only after careful consideration by the county and other entities such as the state Department of Fish and Game. She added that ESLT is not anti-development and would not impede on growth for available housing, but rather works to preserve part of the reason many live in the area – the open space, wildlife and beautiful vistas.
The easement brings with it tax breaks and other financial attractions for the Naylons and the future land owner, Ferrell-Ingram said. She added that the easements also add to the area’s economic vitality by preserving the viewshed.
“Considered the heart of Swall Meadows, their 104-acre ranch gives residents of Swall Meadows and visitors to nearby public lands dramatic views of the Wheeler Ridge,” Ferrell-Ingram said in the press release.
The Naylon property is part of the migration corridor of the Round Valley Mule Deer. The herd, numbering as many as 3,000, uses Swall Meadows as a pathway twice a year during migration, said Ferrell-Ingram. She said the corridor pinches down to less than a mile wide at Swall Meadows.
She explained that the Naylons’ land has been identified by the DFG as a critical area for the mule deer, and Mono County has also identified the area as important to preserve for the deer.
Alisa Ellsworth, associate wildlife biologist for the DFG, said in the press release, “The preservation of the Naylon property demonstrates a high level of environmental stewardship by the Naylons and their conservation partners by promoting responsible use and protection of a highly sensitive migration corridor. Not only will the Round Valley mule deer herd benefit, but many other wildlife species as well.”
The California Deer Association also provided funding for the easement purchase. Ferrell-Ingram said that the hunters’ group is also aware of the critical habitat the area is for the migratory deer. Doug Brown, of the Eastern Sierra CDA Project Committee, said in a press release, “The California Deer Association is committed to protecting critical deer habitat. Because the Naylon conservation easement is part of the deer migration corridor, it is very important to the Round Valley mule deer herd.”
Jim Lidberg, projects chairman from the CDA, passed away before the project was complete, but was instrumental in the beginning stages of this project.
“The incredible part about this project is that we are not only preserving important wildlife habitat, we are also preserving the unique history of our area,” said ESLT Lands Program Coordinator Aaron Johnson in the press release. “Originally homesteaded by James C. Sherwin, the property was granted to Sherwin under the Homestead Act on August 20, 1881.” The 1,000 acres of land in the area was slowly purchased over time by Joseph Swall.
The ESLT was able to secure the $540,000 for the easement purchase with a generous grant from the California State Wildlife Conservation Board.
For more information about this and other conservation easements, visit ESLT’s website at www.eslt.org  or call (760) 873-4554.