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Lompoc neighbors, Hibbits Ranch owner say goodbye to 3,000 historic walnut trees

walnut trees
Posted at 4:08 PM, Jul 26, 2023

Lompoc neighbors say the roadway leading into the eastern part of town feels a bit lonelier after thousands of walnut trees were recently cut down.

Art Hibbits says for multiple generations, his family ranch was home to more than 3,000 walnut trees that lined the shoulders of Highway 246, but following four years of dwindling prices and new foreign competition, the iconic strip of walnut trees is no more.

“At the time, organic walnuts were worth almost $5 in shell, and last year I got $.65. You can’t keep doing that,” Hibbits explained.

He says his grandfather first acquired the land back in 1906 and developed it into a 112-acre walnut orchard.

In recent years, however, the vast Hibbits Ranch had also served as a regular spot for locals to explore the outdoors and capture family photos among the forest of walnut trees.

Locals say they had stunning views of the trees every time they drove into town, and a few weeks ago, they were surprised by the change in scenery.

“You knew you were close to home when you see it, that is for sure,” recalled Lompoc mother Christina Hackett.

“You get used to seeing them after a while, and when I saw them down, I was kind of shocked,” added longtime resident Robert Zura.

Hibbits adds that in the past half decade, competition from international, high-tech walnut producers in China drove down the demand for walnuts locally, hindering his family ranch.

“They went from zero exports to the biggest exporter in the world in about six years,” Hibbits said.

In the time since the walnut trees came down, locals have been left wondering about the future plans of the property.

“I would like it to stay agricultural, but I don’t think it is going to happen,” Zura told KSBY.

And though some neighbors expressed concerns that the 100-plus acre farm could be turned into future housing or hotel developments, according to an agreement with the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County, the area has been preserved for agricultural uses.

Hibbits says the land will likely be leased to a nearby local farmer to grow produce, but he admits, departing with his 3,000 walnut trees has felt like saying goodbye to an old friend.

“When you work in this orchard all your life, you have got three generations. It is just very, very sad,” he said, adding that the oldest walnut tree on his farm was planted all the way back in 1930.

Hibbits tells KSBY it will likely take two years to clear the entire ranch of its cut down trees, adding that the ones that are salvageable will gradually be processed into lumber.

Santa Barbara and Ventura County were some of the first areas where walnut orchards flourished in California. Hibbits say his ranch was one of the last standing large walnut farms, adding that smaller ones can still be seen near Santa Ynez off Alamo Pintado and the Santa Ynez Airport.