June 2020 California Cattleman

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FULL CIRCLE BUFFORD RANCH IN KERN COUNTY by GoWest Marketing for the California Rangeland Trust Ernest Bufford stands on his own land in Kern County— protected forever in partnership with California Rangeland Trust. Growing up in inner city Los Angeles, at age 12 Ernest knew he wanted to be a rancher. “As soon as you cross that hill, you’re in another world,” he says. “You’re stepping back in time. It’s the Wild West out here.” Ernest has lived many lives. He’s worked as an officer for the California Highway Patrol, an undercover investigator, a bodyguard for luminaries such as Ronald Reagan. For a period of time, he exchanged guide and patrol services for hunting rights on a large Southern California ranch. “I was a U.S. Marshall in 2001, sitting in the judge’s chambers, telling the judge about the ranch I was guiding at,” Ernest recalls. “He was reading a newspaper and pointed to

a listing. He said, ‘Why don’t you buy your own ranch? Here’s one for sale.’ So I bought it.” On the north side of the Walker Basin 35 miles northeast of Bakersfield and 25 miles south of Lake Isabella, that initial 330-acre parcel seemed rundown. Ernest knew it was just overgrazed. He saw clear water, hot feed and potential. Through careful management, he brought the ranch back to life. Then he expanded. “Working with the Rangeland Trust has been nothing but the best,” Ernest says emphatically. “They really try to help me all the time.” After putting that initial parcel under easement with the Rangeland Trust, Ernest used the easement money to save neighboring land from development. He is a man with a mission: Not simply to own land, but to protect it. The locals call it “Ernieville:” 900

acres of patchwork parcels stitched into a spread of open space, a free passageway for sensitive wildlife— Ernest Bufford’s corner of the stillwild West. “I’m a curious person,” he says. “I like to see everything.” At 76 years old, on his ranch Ernest is a boy again. He frequently shares his discoveries with visitors, from Los Angeles friends to his grandson’s youth football team. He knows every hidden secret, every treasure, every idiosyncrasy. He knows each of the seven different ecosystems on his property. He knows where to find the traces of an ancient Kawaisu

Ernest Bufford on his Kern County Ranch.

36 California Cattleman June 2020

Nearly 850 acres of the Bufford Ranch have been conserved through the California Rangeland Trust.