Nelson Cattle Ranch

Preserving rangeland, habitat & history

In July 2002, California Rangeland Trust and The Nature Conservancy completed the purchase of a conservation easement protecting a historic cattle operation on the Nelson Cattle Ranch near Planada in Merced and Mariposa Counties. The 3,861-acre easement on the Nelson Cattle Ranch is home to important grasslands and vernal pool habitat. California Rangeland Trust holds the easement by prior arrangement with the owners, the Nelson Cattle Company. The ranch’s habitat includes pristine vernal pools, unfragmented open space and unimpaired wildlife corridors. The ranch was settled during the Gold Rush by James Cunningham, a sea captain who ventured into the Central Valley while waiting for his wife to arrive from England. The original adobe ranch house, built in 1850, is still in use. The Nelson Cattle Ranch is located on Highway 140, a major route to Yosemite, and is adjacent to three other ranches already protected by conservation easements. Together, the four ranches cover approximately 4,000 acres of productive rangeland and dense clusters of vernal pools. The Nelson Cattle Ranch project shows how flexibility in a mixed-use, productive agricultural operation can also protect and even enhance an environment with a multitude of resource values. Major contributors to this project include the California Wildlife Conservation Board and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.