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Cows don’t belong on 2,445-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch or its logo, conservationists say

A debate over a logo for the conservation authority managing Tres Hermanos Ranch, a 2,445-acre swath of open space on the borders of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties, has raised questions about the land’s future.

When the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority board pored over sample logos from the staff last month, the board and the public were divided. Two of the five options prominently featured a longhorn steer, angering conservationists, who see cattle grazing as a damaging practice. More pastoral designs featuring rolling hills, a stream and trees placated a moderate contingent.

A Facebook bruhaha emerged as some accused the board of not focusing on its mission to return the land to its natural state. Even though the board put off a logo choice until its next meeting on Nov. 17, the controversy has continued to simmer.

A logo option for the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority includes a cow and horns, a reference to the history of cattle ranching and grazing on the Tres Hermanos Ranch. The logos were considered at an Oct. 25, 2021 meeting of the Conservation Authority board. (Image from screenshot of a Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority report)

“Are they really leaving cows on or are they actually hoping to conserve the land? Cattle and conservation don’t really go together,” wrote Claire Schlotterbeck, co-founder of Hills For Everyone and one of the creators of the nearby Chino Hills State Park in a Facebook post from the group Save the Tres Hermanos Ranch.

Jim Gallagher, one of the founders of Save the Tres Hermanos, said he favored a logo showing natural hills and trees but no cows, also favored by some on the Authority board.

A logo option for Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority shows hills, greenery and a lake but no cows. Whether the animals should be included in the logo is a matter of debate for the Conservation Authority. (Image from screenshot of a Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority staff report)

The Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority is a joint-powers entity in which City of Industry, Chino Hills and Diamond Bar share ownership of the land. The seven-member board is made up of city council members from those three cities.

Ray Marquez, Chino Hills vice mayor and chairman of the Authority board, said the board could not decide on a logo after a healthy discussion. He leaned toward a logo that included a reference to cattle grazing and steer-roping.

“To me I’m looking at the history of the property,” he said Thursday, Nov. 4. “There has been cattle there for many, many years.”

Gallagher said the board asked its staff to create a modified design that featured the natural elements with a small cow in the distance as a nod to the past. He said the cow image “wouldn’t be prominent,” and said the new logo would “show the intent of the Authority to move away from the land being destroyed by cattle.”

Troubled history

About 1,750 acres are in the city of Chino Hills and 695 acres are in Diamond Bar. The land is located on both sides of Grand Avenue at Chino Hills’ western border and extends into Diamond Bar to the north.

The land was previously owned by City of Industry but after a failed attempt at a massive solar farm and numerous lawsuits, a settlement agreement in February 2019 resulted in the shared ownership with the goal of preservation.

The energy project, which never broke ground, resulted in corruption charges filed in September 2021 against a former state senator, a former City of Industry top administrator and a San Diego-based developer for the alleged theft of up to $20 million in taxpayer funds.

Back in the early 20th century, the land was owned by newspaper magnates and oil men. Industry purchased the ranch nearly 45 years ago from Southern California business barons who acquired it generations earlier.

The original three owners — the Tres Hermanos — were Harry Chandler, former publisher of the Los Angeles Times; William Rowland, son of John Rowland, who led pioneers over the Santa Fe Trail to California and the San Gabriel Valley in the 1840s; and oil man Tom Scott.

The ranch was a retreat where “the vaqueros for the day were fat and wheezing lawyers, doctors, capitalists, bankers who came out in limousines with liveried chauffeurs; put on their bearskin chaps; roped steers, branded calves,” according to historical notes from a 1981 state report on the land.

Industry continued many of the cowboy traditions, often allowing friends and city officials and their families to attend old-fashioned cattle roundups every spring even as late as 2018 but never opening the land to the public.

‘Cart before the horse’

In the two-and-a-half years since the land became the property and responsibility of the Authority, some say little has been done.

“Doing a logo is in a way like putting the cart before the horse,” Gallagher said. “I haven’t seen a full mission statement or a goal statement come out yet.”

Even Marquez said preservation and recreation efforts have been slow.

“We should be farther along as to a vision for the property,” he said.

Gallagher said he’s talked to the Authority about authorizing docent tours and wants to get feedback from conservation groups on how to restore the land to its natural state.

Schlotterbeck suggested the Authority place a conservation easement on the land.

“They haven’t taken any steps on how they will enact conservation of this land,” she said.

Her group wrote a letter to the Authority, suggesting it do a biological assessment of the property.

“Then they will know what they have and can plan for public uses,” she said.

Map shows the Tres Hermanos Ranch property managed by the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority. The property is not contiguous to Chino Hills State Park. (Map courtesy of Hills For Everyone)

Originally, the ranch was planned to be part of Chino Hills State Park, established in 1981. But in between the park and Tres Hermanos is property known as the Boy Scout Reservation, which was recently purchased by City of Industry, making any transfer to the park of that land to connect to Tres Hermanos unlikely, Schlotterbeck said.

Holding onto the past?

During recent visits to Tres Hermanos, Schlotterbeck saw cows pooping in Tonner Creek, polluting the stream, she said.

“They trample the green plants and the stream bed,” she explained. “They create more silt just by walking in the water. The water flows down with the silt in it and that creates erosion problems in Upper Tonner Canyon.”

The hooves of the cows create divots in the soil, inviting invasive plant species that suck up high volumes of water and crowd out native plants, Schlotterbeck added. Cows also eat willow and brush saplings, native plants that support rare birds, such as the least bell’s vireo.

When Schlotterbeck’s group put together Chino Hills State Park, cows were eventually removed from parcels. In the following years, willow trees, native plants and wildflowers returned to the park.

Wildflower blooms began showing up in 2005, she said. Before, when cows still grazed some of the land, there weren’t blooms because cows ate the wildflowers.

Chino Hills State Park is proof that over time, with the proper care, land can be revitalized, conservation experts say. Hills For Everyone and Save The Tres Hermanos Ranch both want to see that happen in the ranch once used as a private getaway for city slickers.

“The cows in Tres Hermanos are a relic of the past,” Schlotterbeck said. “I thought what they were trying to do was create a new future for the land.”

Source: Orange County Register

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