McDowell Ranch: 723 Acres Protected Forever

August 29, 2022

We are thrilled to announce the protection of the 723-acre McDowell Ranch just east of Tomales near the Marin and Sonoma County line. Earlier this month, we acquired an agricultural conservation easement from the ranch owners, ensuring this land’s verdant, organic-certified grasslands are safeguarded from the threat of development and will forever remain in agricultural production. 

Since our founding in 1980, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (folks just call us MALT) has protected more than 55,000 acres of ranch and farmland in the county. This latest easement builds upon a block of more than 9,000 acres of contiguous MALT-protected land, stretching from the county border to the mouth of Tomales Bay.

As a cornerstone for conservation efforts locally, these large blocks of protected land offer ideal refuge for a host of vital biodiversity and are essential in our work to build regional resilience in the face of a rapidly changing climate.


Since 1980, we have protected more than 55,000 acres of farm and ranchland in Marin County, the land that helps sustain our regional food economy. The McDowell Ranch (pictured here) is a key piece in this complex mosaic of agricultural land.

The Wilson family, the ranch owners, have depended upon this land — first a dairy, now home to organic beef cattle — since owner Kenny Wilson’s great-grandfather, an Irish dairyman, purchased the ranch in 1900. Today, nearly every acre of this property has been deemed “Farmland of Local Importance” by the California Department of Conservation, indicating its critical role in contributing to Marin County’s robust food economy.

You don’t need to have visited this ranch to appreciate its value. Chances are you have enjoyed the view of its expansive open space while driving the Tomales-Petaluma Road which bisects the property. Every acre of this landscape is a key part of the iconic backdrop for our North Bay communities and a critical ingredient to the quality of life for millions of Bay Area residents.

The ranch also includes a 1.5-mile stretch of Stemple Creek. As one of the main waterways in the northern portion of the county, the creek offers refuge for a host of special status species including California freshwater shrimp, northwestern pond turtle, tidewater goby, Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly, and California red-legged frog. “Stemple Creek is one of the main arteries for life in this landscape,” shared Zach Mendes, acting director of land protection. “Careful stewardship of this habitat is key to sustaining local biodiversity.”

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

There is a growing awareness that land conservation is one of our greatest tools to stabilize the planet. Scientific research has confirmed and public policy now reflects that our farms, ranches and open spaces provide the best means with which to capture and store greenhouse gasses, protect biodiversity, and head off mass extinctions. Protecting agricultural landscapes like the McDowell Ranch extends beyond our local responsibility, it is also our global imperative.

Visionary Women

This work would not have been possible without the audacity of Ellen Straus and Phyllis Faber—two hard-working, visionary women that pulled together a broad coalition of local ranchers and environmentalists to solidify our organization. As the first land trust in the nation focused specifically on protecting farmland from the threat of suburban development, MALT has become a model that has since been replicated across the nation. The protection of the McDowell Ranch builds upon this legacy of innovation and bolsters our growing network of protected agricultural land.

Stronger Together

This easement was funded through Marin County’s Farmland Preservation Program (Measure A) and through the generous support of MALT’s donors. Since its passage in 2012, Measure A has allowed Marin County to invest $15.1 million in grants for farmland preservation. With this county partnership, our team here at MALT has protected 12 farms and ranches totaling 7,414 acres through the acquisition of agricultural conservation easements. For this immense support, we at MALT and our partners are truly grateful.

Protect Farmland Forever

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