MALT saves 1,000 acres 
in Tomales

David Briggs
The Thornton Ranch, which sits between Walker Creek and the Brazil, Sartori and Zimmerman ranches, is MALT’s latest conservation victory. It has been in Gary Thornton’s family since 1852.  

Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) has secured a $2.3 million conservation easement that will permanently protect the 1,013-acre Thornton Ranch in Tomales from non-agricultural redevelopment and subdivision. Owner Gary Thornton, a descendant of the dairy-farming Marshall brothers who founded the eponymous town, inherited the land in 2000. He began exploring the option of a conservation easement with MALT in 2006, after selling his dairy herd to pay part of the $1.1 million estate tax levied by the IRS. 

However, the IRS required that he wait 10 years after the date of the inheritance before selling the easement. “It’s just out of whack,” Thornton said. “I’ve just been borrowing money every year and been in debt.” To get around the restriction, MALT set up an option to purchase the easement and made annual payments. “We’re delighted we were able to structure this transaction in a way that met Gary Thornton’s needs and worked for us,” said Bob Berner, executive director of MALT. The property marks MALT’s 68th easement and brings the total preserved farmland in the Tomales area up to 8,000 acres.