Photo by Dwayne Leonard, Ranch Memories Photography

Garnering the support of local, state, and federal agencies over the course of years, we have now secured a conservation easement in perpetuity for the historic Hunewill Ranch (est. 1861). This working ranch is located in the heart of beautiful, expansive Bridgeport Valley, and is framed by the mountain peaks that border Yosemite National Park. It is now preserved forever for wildlife and sustainable ranching.

This historic agreement marks our largest conservation easement to date and ensures a bright, secure future for Bridgeport Valley. A conservation easement property continues to provide economic benefits for the region in the form of jobs, productivity, and property taxes, while protecting conservation values such as wildlife habitat. You can learn more about conservation easements on our Conservation FAQ webpage.

Esther and Napoleon Bonaparte Hunewill married, crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and came to California in 1859. That same year, W.S. Bodey struck gold. In 1861, Esther and Napoleon founded Hunewill Ranch to begin supplying timber, hauled by teams of oxen, to build the young mining town of Bodie.

When Mono Mills and the Bodie & Benton Railway began operations in 1881, the ever-enterprising family built a thriving business supplying beef to workers and residents in the burgeoning area instead. Then in 1931, the Hunewills added a guest ranch on the property to welcome paying visitors to learn to ride horses, herd cattle, and appreciate the majestic beauty of the area.

The Hunewills are one of the region’s longest-established ranching families. Over the course of seven generations, the family has owned and operated the ranch and have proven themselves to be exceptional stewards of the land.

“This conservation easement on Hunewill Ranch is excellent for all kinds of wildlife that live throughout the spectacular Bridgeport Valley,” said John Donnelly, Executive Director of California’s Wildlife Conservation Board. “From black bear and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, to mule deer and Bi-State sage-grouse, many species will benefit tremendously from this outcome for generations to come. I congratulate all the parties who had a role in this successful project.” Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management

Their ranch protects habitat for Bi-State sage-grouse, which raise their chicks in the ranch’s wet meadows. By agreeing not to subdivide and develop the ranch, the Hunewills are preserving a critical migration route and securing habitat for a variety of wide-ranging wildlife such as sage-grouse, black bear, American badger, and mule deer. The ranch provides animals with room to roam, by connecting neighboring public and private conserved lands. Hunewill Ranch also provides a buffer for alpine habitat used by the federally-endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.

We worked closely with the Hunewill family over the course of several years to craft the conservation easement, and to secure the federal, state, and local funding needed to complete the project. Funders include National Resources Conservation Service, California Wildlife Conservation Board, California Deer Association, and California Department of Conservation.

“We are deeply grateful to the fine people that are Eastern Sierra Land Trust. It is very important to our family that this ranch be preserved and remain green and productive forever,” said landowner Jeff Hunewill. “Through their steadfast commitment to the preservation of the Bridgeport ranch, ESLT has helped us to realize that goal.”

“The Hunewill family’s longstanding care for the land embodies how the strong agricultural tradition of our region works hand in hand with conservation goals,” said ESLT’s Executive Director/CEO Kay Ogden. “The Hunewill family’s vision for the future of their ranch has been protected by the conservation easement. Working with the family to achieve this result was incredibly inspiring for everyone at ESLT. Preserving Hunewill Ranch is a win for the wildlife that rely on this valley. And it’s a win for future generations who will always be able to enjoy this area’s beauty, history, and peace.”

About the funders:

National Resources Conservation Service provides financial and technical resources that help landowners and partners protect the nation’s most productive grasslands, wetlands, and agricultural lands by providing funding to purchase easements on private working lands. NRCS’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program that protects grasslands of special significance provided funding for the Hunewill Ranch conservation easement because of the habitat the ranch provides for Bi-State sage-grouse. “We extend our sincere congratulations to Hunewill Ranch,” said Carlos Suarez, State Conservationist for NRCS. “We are excited to help protect these working agricultural lands.”

California Wildlife Conservation Board protects, restores, and enhances California’s spectacular natural resources for wildlife and for the public’s use and enjoyment in partnership with conservation groups, government agencies, and the people of California.

California Deer Association’s principal goal is to improve California deer herds and other wildlife through direct financial support for habitat improvement and research projects.

California Department of Conservation balances today’s needs with tomorrow’s challenges and fosters intelligent, sustainable, and efficient use of California’s energy, land, and mineral resources.

Read about the over 18,000 acres that have now been protected through your support for ESLT.