LAND USE HISTORY
Hollister Ranch is a 14,500 acre private land holding located on the South Coast of
Santa Barbara County, California, Although the ranch was subdivided into 100-acre parcels
in the 1970's, most of the land remains undeveloped and continues to be managed for cattle
grazing. As in much of coastal California, introduced plant and animal species have altered
portions of the landscape, as have agriculture and other human activities. In spite of these
alterations, Hollister Ranch continues to support a surprising variety of native habitats, and
an unusual and interesting native flora.
The Pre Euro-American Landscape and Land Uses. Native Americans inhabited the Santa Barbara coastal region for thousands of years. At least two villages were settled by Chumash Indians on Hollister Ranch lands prior to Spanish settlement of the Santa Barbara coast in the late 18th Century. Erlandson et al. (1993) have studied archaeological sites and their environmental context for the region of Gaviota to Point Conception as part of the investigations for the Chevron Point Arguello Project. Much of the information contained in this discussion is condensed from their work. They report on 26 sites ranging from 11,500 years to about 50 years, and conclude that the area has ... one of the longest and most complete records of human occupation yet documented for any small area of the California coast (Eriandson et al. 1993). Two village sites were located on Hollister Ranch (Nancy Ward, pers. comm. 1998).
Following the last glacial episode approximately 17,000 years ago, sea levels rose and flooded the coastal plain creating many coastal wetlands in estuaries, the evidence for which occurs in the form of estuarine shellfish at archaeological sites of the region, the earliest of which dates from ca. 9,600 years ago. Following a decline in post-glacial sea level rise, wetlands for the region west of Gaviota apparently declined, and based on the paucity of shellfish at archaeological sites, Erlandson et al. (1993) report that, Data from the Chevron sites suggest that productive estuaries virtually ceased to exist along the western Santa Barbara coast by about 6,000 years ago. Although there are not many well-documented archaeological sites in the region for sometime thereafter, shellfish documented from at least one site ca. 4,000 years old is dominated by rocky coast species (Erlandson et al. 1993).
Erlandson et a]. (1993) suggest that by ca. 3350 years ago .... the western Santa Barbara coast seems to have been assuming many of the characteristics associated with its modern geographic setting. Sea level had very nearly reached its modern level by this time, and coastal erosion progressively approached the current position of the shoreline ... In layers dated between 2600 RYBP and the present, however, the complex interdigitation of beach, marsh, fluvial, and soil deposits clearly indicated that the land/sea interface in the [Agua Caliente] canyon mouth was extremely dynamic.
The historic Chumash village of Estait at Santa Anita Canyon reveals a greater exploitation of diverse marine resources as compared to the seasonal site at Agua Caliente (Erlandson et al. 1993). Various researchers have suggested that contrary to the opinions of some investigators shellfish may have been an optimal food for some Santa Barbara coastal peoples and could be exploited by all members of society' whereas land mammals such as deer are mobile, relatively difficult to locate and capture, and require more complex tools to capture and process (Erlandson et al. 1993). Erlandson et al. (1993) emphasize that, Archaeological data from the study area suggest that shellfish can, in fact, serve as a staple if incorporated in a mixed economy where plant foods provide an adequate source of calories. The fact that shellfish seems to have provided much of the meat consumed by Early Period groups of the western Santa Barbara coast testifies to their potential productivity compared to terrestrial and marine alternatives.
Erlandson et al. (1993) suggest that a combination of population growth and resulting impacts to shellfish beds, coupled with the declining "intertidal productivity" caused an economic shift to increased hunting, fishing, and plant collecting among peoples of the western coastal Santa Barbara region. These researchers conclude that, the role of shellfish and other marine and terrestrial resources appears to have changed through time depending on the variation in the demographic, environmental, technological, and social contexts of any given period. An increased dependence on botanical resources such as acorns and other fruits and seeds in the Hollister Ranch area is likely. East of Gaviota, in the vicinity of Goleta Slough and Carpinteria Salt Marsh, where large productive estuaries continue to function today, the Chumash culture apparently had sources for estuarine shellfish that no longer occurred to the west of Goleta. These estuaries are situated in large structural basins called synclines, which have not formed estuaries along the coast of Hollister Ranch.
Humans have exploited the natural resources of California since the earliest arrivals. Starting with the immigration of Native Americans in prehistoric times, this influence on natural resources increased with the arrival of European peoples. Native American cultures interacted with their environment by utilizing plant and animal resources that were available to them, such as the acorns that provided meal and shellfish that provided meat. They also arc thought to have altered the landscape by setting or causing fires.
Euro-American Exploration and Land Uses. In 1769, Don Gaspar de Portola, governor of Baja California, and Father Juan Crespi, expedition diarist, traveled through the Santa Barbara region during the first major Spanish expedition to Alta California (Hvolboll 1990a). Captain Portola's expedition included three ships and two land parties, which set out from Baja California to explore the lands from San Diego to Monterey (Hvolboll 1990a). This action places a baseline for aboriginal conditions at approximately 1770 (M. Glassow, pers. comm. 1996). Europeans demonstrated little interest in the region prior to this time, or after the first expedition headed by Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo, who sailed along the coast in 1542 (Hvolboll 1990a). Cattle have grazed on Hollister Ranch lands at least since Captain Jos6 Francisco de Ortega, chief scout on the Portola expedition, leased the property in the 1790s. Members of the Portola and subsequent De Anza expeditions named the major canyons of the Hollister Ranch area, including Alegria, Cuarta, Sacate, Santa Anita, Agua Caliente, El Bulito, San Augustin, Del Gatos, and Arroyo de Cojo (Hansen-Gates 1977).
A presidio, or fort, was founded by Ortega in Santa Barbara in 1782, and a mission was established by Franciscan Friars in 1786. A detailed account of the activities of Jose Francisco de Ortega and his family is presented in Hvolboll (1990a). Captain Ortega was given a "grazing permit" retirement gift by Spain in 1791 for Ortega's contributions in 30 years of service to the King. Ortega established "Rancho Nuestra Senora del Refugio", which included Hollister Ranch in its western half, and various, adjacent lands eastward to Refugio Canyon. The land included a coastal strip approximately 25 miles long (east to west) and 2 miles inland (south to north), from Refugio to Cojo canyons (Nancy Ward, pers. comm. 1998). This "occupation permit" was the only civilian land concession delivered under Spanish rule within the current boundary of Santa Barbara County (Hvolboll 1990a). The Ortegas' original settlement date at the Rancho is suggested as November 1794; however, the family did not obtain legal title from Spain for the land until 1822, after a compromise was reached with Mission padres regarding lands adjacent to the Ortega hacienda in Refugio Canyon (Hvolboll 1990a). Captain Ortega died in 1798.
The Mexican revolution began in 1810, and Spanish rule was overthrown in 1822. With the formation of the Republic of Mexico, Mission lands were secularized by the Mexican Government in 1834, and these lands, various royal ranchos, and leases were given to families and soldiers loyal to Mexico. In 1929, the Ortega family petitioned Mexico for legal title to the land, but this was not granted until 1834. To the cast, the ranch extended to the crest of the divide with Venadito Canyon; and to the west, it extended to Cojo Canyon. In general, these boundaries respected those established under Spanish rule (Hvolboll 1990a).
Following conquest of California by the United States in 1847, California became a state in 1850. The U.S. Government formed a Land Commission to decide the validity of claims to land under Mexican deeds. In 1853, a map of the Pueblo Lands of Santa Barbara was drawn up to establish ownership. Lands not confirmed to owners were open for claims by Americans, and the remaining land was open to homesteading under the National Homestead Act of 1862. In 1866, the United States patented the claim of the Ortega's to their 26,529 acre Ranch (Hvolboll 1990b). After declining cattle prices and a serious four-year drought in the 1860s, many parcels originally owned by Mexicans were sold to "Americans" (Hvolboll 1990b). The first sale of lands (i.e., the Gaviota ranch) belonging to "Rancho Nuestra Senora del Refugio" to non-family members occurred in 1858 (Hvolboll 1990b). In 1866, Thomas B. Dibblee acquired several parcels originally included in the Rancho, and he eventually owned approximately three-quarters of the original lease. With the sale of Arroyo Hondo in 1889, all Rancho lands had been sold by the Ortega's (Hvolboll 1990b).
European cultural activities have influenced the landscape in more definitive ways than aboriginal cultures. Europeans brought with them (purposely and also by chance) many of the plants and animals of their homelands, and they introduced intensive agriculture and heavy grazing. Few ecological systems have been so altered as the grasslands of California. The annual Mediterranean grasses introduced during the Mission period were favored by the heavy grazing practices, and now dominate California grasslands almost totally, often excluding the native perennial grasses. The dense, dried-out annual grasses are more flammable than the native perennials and tend to carry fires into other vegetation such as coastal scrub or woodlands, potentially converting these into annual grasslands. Such fires were set deliberately by ranchers until quite recent times, with the aim of increasing forage for the cattle.
Hollister Ranch. Much of the information on Hollister Ranch presented herein was obtained from the Santa Barbara Magazine (Hansen-Gates 1977) and in two articles published in Noficias (Hvolboll 1990a,b). By 1866 much of the Ortega land grant had been purchased by Thomas and Albert Dibblee, in partnership with Col. William Welles Hollister. The partnership was disoloved in 1881 with the Dibblee taking San Julian Ranch and W.W. Hollister taking the coastal ranches, including the present Hollister Ranch. The Hollister Ranch as discussed herein is a portion of this land. Hollister's four sons (Will, Harry, Stanley, and John) grew up on the Ranch. During the 1870s, William Hollister made many contributions to the Santa Barbara area including helping to finance or develop the Santa Barbara College, Arlington Hotel, the local newspaper, Steams Wharf, and the Lobero Theater (N. Ward, pers. comm. 1998). Col. Hollister also was an avid horticulturalist, and during this period he and his wife Annie developed their homestead east of Hollister Ranch in Glen Annie (N. Ward, pers. comm. 1998).
John James (Jim) Hollister, youngest son of William and Annie Hollister, became superintendent of the Ranch in 1899 (Thompkins 1976). Jim and his wife Lottie Steffans Hollister moved to the "Big House" in Bulito Canyon by 1910. As the frame of their family home went up in the Bulito Canyon, Jim supervised the restoration of the overgrazed and sadly neglected ranch lands, and Lottie filled the fields of the family home with fruit bearing trees; experimented with vines and vegetables; and introduced exotics and ornamental plants to the soil ... Wildlife flourished on the ranch as no one hunted for sport ... Although their ranch was one of the richest ranching atmospheres in California, its capital needs were overwhelming; and in fact, in combination with the obstacles of nature, made it impossible to make a profit (Hansen-Gates 1977).
Also in 1899, a deal was made with the Southern Pacific Railroad to provide an easement across Hollister Ranch to construct a portion of the gap connecting northern and coastal California along the "Coast Route". According to Tompkins (1976), Jim and the other heirs agreed to allow the Southern Pacific Railroad to have 60 feet right-of-way across Hollister Ranch as part of its new Coast Route, with the understanding that they would trestle across Santa Anita Canyon so as to not spoil the superb marine view from the ranch headquarters. In addition, the Hollisters were to have the privilege in perpetuity of flagging down S.P. trains and riding them free to San Francisco or Los Angeles .... The railroad betrayed the Hollisters at Santa Anita, however, by building a 1.500-foot earth fill which not only blocked their ocean and island views, but ... ruined the ecology of the area. In disgust, Jim Hollister moved up the coast to El Bulito where he built a magnificent redwood mansion....
Others also have written on the construction of the railroad through Hollister Ranch. Chestnut (1993) states that, The railroad required a sixty-foot right of way along Hollister's twenty mile stretch of coast and built sidings at San Augstin and Drakes, which would also have a depot and section house .... A viaduct across Santa Anita Canyon also was part of the agreement, but large controversial fill of 1,500 - 2,000 cubic feet was put there instead; this obstructed the view so the family home was moved two miles westward to El Bulito Canyon. Other impacts to the area included a large cut of 83,000 cubic yards in the divide between Gato and San Augustin canyons; a 715-foot tunnel between Drake and Secate (taken out in 1943), trestles at Alegria and Agua Catiente (Chestnut 1993), and various other cuts, fills, and seawalls. The Coast Line opened in 1901. Today, the railroad corridor continues to be one of the significant impacts to natural resources at Hollister Ranch, and among other things serves as a vector for the spread of invasive exotic plants and as an obstruction in riparian corridors.
Another impact on the Ranch's environment, from external influences, has been the emplacement of buried pipeline lines. Extraction of crude oil by offshore platforms and the transportation of oil and gas in onshore pipelines are other activities that have affected the natural resources. Major oil companies conducted explorations in state and federal leases in 1956, and with the discovery of oil, platforms (Harry, Herman, and Helen) and onshore support facilities were constructed (Chestnut 1993). Production from these platforms began in the period 1961-1964, and the onshore pipeline was constructed through the Ranch in 1961. Production from two of these platforms eventually ceased, and they were removed by 1988. Groundbreaking for the pipelines operated by Chevron to transport oil and gas from the Chevron/Texaco Point Arguello field (platforms Harvest, Hidalgo, and Hermosa), took place in 1985. Two pipelines (a 24-inch oil pipeline and a 20- inch gas pipeline) made landfall at Point Conception and extended eastward across the coastal terraces and canyons through Hollister Ranch to the processing center in Gaviota (Chestnut 1993).
The Hollister Estate Company was incorporated in 1910, with Jim Hollister serving as President until his death. He also served twice as a State Senator. Jim and Lottie raised four children: Jane Hollister Wheelwright, Joseph Steffen Hollister, John James Hollister Jr., and Clinton Bennett Hollister. After the Hollisters' deaths in 1956 (Lottie) and 1961 (Jim), their heirs agreed to sell the Ranch; and in 1964, while the State of California was considering buying it for a State Park, an option to purchase the Ranch was obtained by a group of twelve attorneys (The Hollister Company), who planned to develop the property. Because the development plans were determined to be unsuitable for the site, and because many local individuals wanted to preserve the important natural resources of the Ranch, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution in 1966 asking the U.S. Department of Interior to undertake a study to determine if the property could be developed into a National Seashore. The Department rejected this idea and in 1969 a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad (Macco Realty) bought the property, whose plans were to divide the land into 6,700 residential lots for ca. 20,000 people, and some commercial development including an RV park. The financial collapse of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1970 helped bring to a halt these extensive development plans.
Title to Hollister Ranch passed to the Mortgage Guarantee Insurance Corporation in 1970, which undertook a study of the site and revealed the Ranch's place in history, its overwhelming natural beauty, and its production capabilities (Hansen-Gates 1977). To sell the land, a development concept was implemented that resulted in the Ranch being divided into 135 parcels approximately 100 acres each, with 8.5 miles of coastline set aside for common ownership. Approximately 120 miles of roads were cut into the land, many of which followed existing cattle trails. According to the project supervisor, Dick LaRue, efforts were made not to split in a clumsy manner the various valleys, meadows, waterfalls, creeks, and rock formations (Hansen-Gates 1977). A "Declaration of Conditions, Covenants, and Restrictions" (CC&Rs) was adopted that prohibits further division of the Ranch and insures that the land can be used only for agricultural purposes, personal residences, and auxiliary buildings. The Hollister Ranch Owners' Association (HROA) took control of the Ranch in 1976, and manages the property in its current organization. The Hollister Ranch Conservancy, a committee serving the HROA, assists with the management of the natural and cultural resources of the Ranch.
In spite of the intentions of some to develop individual farms or ranches at the site,
Hollister Ranch is not an ideal place to farm because of the lack of flat farm land and
because of factors such as strong wind, soil, and limited water quality and quantity.
Because removal of native vegetation and wildlife habitat is discouraged, there are few sites
available where it is possible to make a living off the land and not disturb the natural
resources. Furthermore, the cost of infrastructure, equipment purchases and upkeep, and
high harvest-to-market costs make "for profit farming" difficult to achieve. In the past,
attempts have included Christmas trees, which failed because wind affected tree symmetry,
the market was not sufficient, and the trees used large amounts of water; a honey bee
apiary, which failed due to losses from mites and drought; and avocados, which have been
unsuccessful due to damage from wind and salt spray and a limited water supply.
The Hollister Ranch Cattle Cooperative farmed for a number of years starting in the 1970s. Activities included recent farming of Sudan Grass(Sorghum bicolor), which has been discontinued due to cost and the desire to grow perennial grasses for grazing; wheat (Triticum aestivale), which was grown for its grain during the 1970s and 1980s, but which was difficult to do with coastal conditions such as fog and wind during the harvest; oats (Avena sativa), which was grown for oat hay in the late 1970s until ca. 1990, but the fields were composed of easily eroded shale soils that were not sufficiently productive. Oats also were planted along Rancho Real, the main road through Hollister Ranch, for beautification by early developers. Barley (Hordeum vulgare), wheat, and oat combinations also have been planted on the Ranch. Garbonzo beans were unsuccessful in the mid- 1980s because of damage caused by feral pigs, fog that hampered the harvests, and strong winds.
Current farming and ranching activities and crops include the following: wine grapes; lemons (salt spray and wind damage plus high water use are limiting factors); protea farms (plants do well at Hollister Ranch, but production is at the expense of native habitat); annual and perennial "truck crops" such as garlic, tomatoes, lettuce, and guavas, which are affected by feral animals and wildlife, wind, and marginal soil conditions; and macadamia groves. Cattle ranching remains the single most consistent (since at least the 1790s) and productive agricultural activity at Hollister Ranch, and is currently managed through the Hollister Ranch Cattle Cooperative.
Land use practices have had various impacts on the natural resources of Hollister Ranch, including the following general categories: (1) reduction and fragmentation of natural habitats; (2) introduction of invasive exotic organisms; (3) impoundment of streams; and (4) erosion of soils. In spite of these and other impacts, the Ranch supports many relatively pristine examples of natural habitats and vegetation types, as well as a rich and unique flora that includes many plant species of special interest.