Nearly 800 acres of vital habitat in southern California’s Volcan Mountains gained permanent protection as a Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust sanctuary. A diverse array of wildlife species thrive here because of the sanctuary’s many vital habitats. Among these varied habitats are sparkling streams and a spring-fed pond, magnificent oak trees in savanna woodland, scrub and chaparral, riparian and wetland areas and steep mountainous terrain with hardwood conifers.

Landowners Michael and Meili Pinto established a conservation easement on their land to ensure it will remain forever wild, and to protect the wildlife through the Trust’s commitment to humane stewardship. Set within the San Felipe Valley, the Pinto Wildlife Sanctuary is adjacent to the Peckham-Keenan Wildlife Sanctuary, protected by the Trust in 2018. These neighboring Trust sanctuaries are part of a wildlife corridor known to be particularly important for mountain lions.

They also support a number of imperiled birds. Both adjoin or are near several publicly protected lands, including the San Felipe Valley Wildlife Area, which in turn adjoins Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest state park. To the south, the Volcan Mountain Foundation protects another 20,000 acres. Three streams on the Pinto Wildlife Sanctuary flow into San Felipe Creek, one of the region’s last natural perennial desert streams, ensuring ample water for the area’s wildlife. Together, Michael and Meili fell in love with the land and its wildlife.

After purchasing the first parcel of their property in 1988, and adapting to their new surroundings, they both began to feel a personal shift toward peace and tranquility. Far from the city lights, they discovered the sanctuary’s dark indigo night skies, which allow a vast sea of stars to be visible, stirring the spirit and imagination.

“The inner self got to a deeper place as a result of being among the trees, seeing the night skies, and all the fascinating things we see happening here,” says Meili. “You learn so much living in wilderness,” adds Michael, “and you learn to live in harmony with wildlife.”

This includes a friendly striped skunk, who apparently favors the crawlspace under the house as her home, especially below where the piano sits. In the early morning, the Pintos enjoy watching the deer foraging. They often see roadrunners and bobcats running around and barn owls perching on fence posts. Mountain lions have a more secretive nature, but the Pintos see their tracks on the land, and researchers from the University of California–Davis are currently tracking them here.

Over the years, the Pintos watched and waited for opportunities to add to their acreage, and they expanded its boundaries three times, as they wanted to protect as much land and wildlife as possible. As active members of the local conservation community, they devote much of  their time, energy and support to protecting wildlife and habitat through the Volcan Mountain Foundation and the Laguna Canyon Foundation. It was after learning about the Trust from their neighbor, Ann Peckham-Keenan, that they decided to work with the Trust to accomplish their goal of permanently protecting both their land and wildlife.

“I’ve had this wonderful feeling of peace since we’ve protected our land,” says Michael, and Meili agrees. Perhaps that feeling reflects a sense of having expressed deep gratitude and given meaningful thanks to the land and the wildlife they love.

One thing is certain, there is no more perfect gift for wildlife than protecting the lands where they live.

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