From: Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News
Published November 25, 2004 12:00 AM

Land Adjacent to California's Yosemite Park Bought by Conservation Group

A picturesque landscape of sugar pine, incense cedar and white fir trees adjacent to Yosemite National Park's western boundary near El Portal will be protected from development under a deal announced Monday.


Owned by the same family since 1925, the 730-acre Ransome Ranch was purchased by the Pacific Forest Trust, an environmental organization based in Santa Rosa.


The property was part of the original boundaries of Yosemite that Sierra Club founder John Muir proposed in the 1880s, as Congress was first establishing it as a national park, said Laurie Wayburn, president of the Pacific Forest Trust. But because of lobbying by a timber company that owned the land then, Congress opted not to include it as part of the national park.


"By protecting this property we can help fulfill John Muir's original vision, and help restore the values that he recognized were worthy of park protection," Wayburn said.


Today, the ranch sits directly to the south of another property, Yosemite West, a collection of privately owned condominiums and vacation rental homes located just outside the park's boundary about five minutes south of the turnoff to the Badger Pass Ski Area.


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Under its current zoning, 19 ranchettes could have been built on the ranch. Such development could have strained water systems, sewage systems and traffic, environmentalists and parks officials worried.


"Protection of this land was one of our highest priorities," said Yosemite superintendent Mike Tollefson.


Also, the property links the Sierra National Forest with Yosemite, preserving unbroken habitat for great gray owls, deer, mountain lions and other species.


"For the wildlife that connection is critical," Wayburn said. "Preserving this property also limits development pressure on the park. If this were developed it would add to the traffic, and homes there would be visible for people driving into the park."


Using only private donations, the Pacific Forest Trust purchased the property from Jim and Bob Ransome, whose grandfather bought it in 1925. Jim Ransome is a Colorado resident; Bob lives in Lodi. Terms were not released, although public records filed with the Mariposa County Assessor's Office indicate the land was sold for about $1.3 million.


"This land and landscape have been in our family for many years," said Jim Ransome. "We have seen the impact of development here, and want to ensure that this special place is protected for generations to come."


Historic public access, mostly hiking, will continue, Wayburn said. Her organization hopes to thin out the white fir, which grew thick after heavy logging a century ago, as part of restoring the forests to their original ponderosa and sugar pine stands.


The ranch cannot be added to Yosemite park, however, without an act of Congress to adjust park boundaries.


Founded in 1993, the Pacific Forest Trust has preserved 35,000 acres of timberland across Northern California and Oregon.


Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


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