Desert saved from ‘dingbat’ development

  The Wildlands Conservancy, a California-based nonprofit organization, has wrapped up the largest purchase of private land for conservation purposes in the country’s history.

In March, the Conservancy completed a four-year effort to buy over 600,000 acres in the Southern California desert and turn the land over to the federal government. The land was owned by the Catellus Corporation, a company that manages the former property of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads.

David Myers, executive director of the Conservancy, feared the sections would fall victim to "typical desert dingbat land use — when these lands are sold to hundreds of individuals and those individuals subdivide the land to hundreds of more people."

The deal is good news for endangered species, such as the desert tortoise. "Managing pieces of habitat is certainly not as efficient as managing landscapes of habitat," says Jan Bedrosian, spokeswoman for the California office of the Bureau of Land Management.

The Conservancy raised $45 million from foundations and individuals; the remainder of the $63 million cost came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (HCN, 9/28/98: Congress avoids buying public lands). Catellus gave a $20 million discount on the property, offering some land for as little as $80 an acre.