DSP3650-LupinesOnAdler Ranch

A view of Adler Ranch in peak lupine season. 

The Esselen tribe is getting nearly two square miles of its ancestral lands in the heart of Big Sur back with the closing of a complicated real estate deal that has been in the works for more than a year.

Ownership of a 1,199-acre undeveloped private property long known as the Adler Ranch is being transferred to the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, a newly founded nonprofit dedicated to preserving tribal heritage. 

“We are back after a 250-year absence—because in 1770 our people were taken to the missions,” says Tom Little Bear Nason, who heads the Esselen Tribe. “Now we are back home. We plan on keeping this land forever."

The property is located along the Little Sur River, upland from coast among old-growth redwood trees, grasslands, oak woodlands and chaparral and madrone forest.

The sale was funded primarily through a $4.5 million grant from the California Natural Resources Agency, awarded in October of 2019. 

Western Rivers Conservancy, a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit, helped broker the deal in an effort to protect the Little Sur River, which is a near-pristine spawning stream for endangered steelhead. 

The Esselen Tribe plans to build a traditional village on the property, which is in view of Pico Blanco peak, or Pixchi, the sacred center of creation in tribal culture. The land will open for ceremonial and educational use by an assortment of Central Coast tribes, including the Esselen, Rumsen, Chalone, Sureño, Chunchunes and Guatcharrone people, Nason says. 

“This would not have been possible without the incredible partnership we have forged with the Western Rivers Conservancy," Nason says. "We are perfectly aligned in our values and our shared vision."

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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