Seven thousand acres of largely pristine wildlife habitat surrounding Vail Lake – long dreamed of for conservation – were acquired for watershed protection purposes.

Southeast of Temecula, the Vail Lake property is one of the largest and most ecologically significant land holdings in Southern California. Mostly intact Riversidian sage scrub, but also containing oak woodlands and its own endemic plant, the Vail Lake ceanothus, the site is a cornerstone of the “Wilson Creek” linkage between the Santa Ana and San Bernardino Mountains. The entire area is a meeting point of the coastal and desert ecosystems.

Originally part of the historic 87,500-acre Vail Ranch, the property was later owned by Kaiser Development, which developed the Temecula Valley. In the 1990’s, an insurance company that was liquidating assets offered the property at a bargain price. With an inability to consummate a conservation sale, development interests scooped up the property and proposed thousands of homes. Various recreational operations – some not suited for resource protection – have taken place in the interim.

Following actions by creditors, the property fell into bankruptcy court with much accumulated debt. The Rancho California Water District – which owns the Vail Lake drinking water reservoir at the center of the property – stepped in, buying the property for nearly $50 million to protect the quality and reliability of its most important asset. The District has now embarked on a planning process for the property. Even though the District is not a signatory to the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, we hope that the property can eventually become part of the reserve system.

We congratulate the District for its forward-looking investment in the region’s future, made even more prescient by the drought. EHL will continue to closely monitor this unique property.