Love and Foresight Keep California Land Forever Wild
"To wake up here every morning… it’s just incredibly beautiful, and we feel very fortunate to be here,” says Ken Able of the 400-acres in northeastern California that he and his wife Mary purchased in 1999 for their retirement years. Though it took a five-year search to find a property that they felt was “reasonably pristine and home to lots of wildlife,” when they first saw this property’s meadows, woodlands, and rocky outcrops they knew that it was exactly what they wanted.
It didn’t hurt that a bald eagle happened to fly over on that visit. But the property’s spring-fed stream winding through the meadows and its five ponds were sure signs that wildlife would be plentiful. As the land is on a flyway, its many water features are a powerful draw for migrating birds. In all, the Ables have seen 185 bird species there, including 75 species that stay for the nesting season. During migration sandhill cranes pass overhead by the thousands, as do snow geese, white-fronted geese, and tundra swans. Two seasons a pair of sandhill cranes even stayed to nest.
Enjoying the land and wildlife, even when inside, was an important goal when the Ables built their home, so it has lots of large windows. “It’s amazing what you see, even when you happen to just be looking out the window,” says Ken, recalling the time they watched as a bobcat who padded into the yard late one afternoon, sat down on a large rock, and waited expectantly until he caught a vole. After his dinner, the bobcat stayed a little longer, enjoying and adding to the view, then quietly departed sometime after dusk.
This sanctuary is also home to mule deer, coyotes, jackrabbits, yellow-bellied marmots, and grey foxes. “River otters occasionally wander upstream in pairs or small groups to spend a couple days feeding on crayfish and frogs in the ponds,” says Ken, “and on one hot August afternoon, when we were out with our horses, they suddenly became focused on one of the ponds. When we looked, we saw what had caught their attention—a black bear cooling off!”
“A part of our retirement plan was always to find good land with habitat value for wildlife and protect it,” says Ken. “For most species that get into trouble, it’s almost always loss of habitat that does them in. What can I do about climate change or other major ecological problems? But one thing we could do was try to set aside some habitat and see that it’s protected forever.” After the Ables researched several land trusts HSWLT became their top choice, and they permanently protected their property as a wildlife sanctuary in 2006.
“We don’t want hunting or trapping on this land, ever, so we were in agreement with the basic philosophy of the Wildlife Land Trust, and we found it very easy to work out the details of the agreement,” says Ken. “We can now sit back and take satisfaction that this place that we love is preserved forever.”