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Cows, Cooper's Hawks And Calippe Silverspot Butterflies, Oh My!

How ranches safeguard California's natural environments

SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 22, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Tim Koopmann is every bit as protective of the endangered California tiger salamander that live on his 850-acre ranch in Sunol as he is of the cattle. Scott Stone is a loyal steward of thousands of acres of native grasslands and riparian habitats he helped restore on his beef ranch in Yolo County. Jack Varian is a fierce guardian of the water that runs over his V6 Ranch in Parkfield, which feeds headwaters of the Salinas River and Monterey Bay. These ranches and the ranchers who protect them are safeguarding the last, best remaining habitats in California.

More than ever, ranches are where the Golden State's most cherished open spaces lie. To protect their land from development, Koopmann, Stone and Varian have all placed conservation easements on their properties through the California Rangeland Trust. A conservation easement ensures their working ranchlands can never be subdivided or lost to development. More than 277,000 acres of private lands have been protected through the California Rangeland Trust since 1998.

"Many people don't realize how critical ranches are to California's environment," said Nita Vail, Chief Executive Officer, California Rangeland Trust. "By protecting private ranchlands through conservation easements, we ensure that California's most important resources are protected as well. That includes the water we drink, food we eat, air we breathe and wildlife we treasure."

Ranches are critical to watersheds
Just how important are private ranches to California's environment?  Consider that more than 90 percent of California's drinking water runs over ranches like Varian's V6 Ranch. Even through our current drought, Varian is taking every step to manage the water on his land that feeds critical watersheds. He also is enacting conservation methods, such as managed grazing, to protect natural habitats as well.

"For me, taking care of the land and the watersheds is a moral responsibility that includes all the critters like raccoons, deer, trees and flowers and microscopic organisms that dwell below the soil surface," Varian said.

Ranches provide habitat for endangered and threatened species
Like Varian, Koopmann guards the water on his land as well as some important endangered species. Surprisingly, 95 percent of federally threatened or endangered species spend at least part of their lives on private ranches like the Koopmann Ranch. Koopmann has spent years not only studying wildlife on his ranch, but restoring habitat as well, working with biologists, government entities and universities to help endangered species, like the California red-legged frog and Callippe Silverspot Butterfly, thrive. He easily recounts draining a pond filled with invasive bass and bullfrogs and restoring it to its original state, only to see a proliferation of red-legged frogs the next year.  

"The ranching community has a natural resource ethic as stewards of the land," said Koopmann. "We have a real respect for wildlife and its resources. It's our job to perpetuate habitats for them."

Ranches are much of California's open space
At the Stones' Yolo Land and Cattle Company in Yolo County, sustainably managing their ranch has become a primary mission, in addition to a cattle business. For them, maintaining their ranch involves restoring native habitats, installing solar pumps, practicing managed grazing, and establishing a watershed protection system.

"We are caretakers of a working, functioning landscape that is a habitat for wildlife, watersheds, and livestock. It's our passion," said Stone. "The conservation easement has given us long-term sense of protection, knowing it will remain as it is for our family and for future generations. We live for this land."

More than 105,000 acres of grazing lands were lost to urbanization between 1990 and 2004 and 750,000 more are in danger of being lost by 2040*. While the California Rangeland Trust has been able to help many families conserve their ranches, more funding is needed to help the more than 100 families and 500,000 acres awaiting protection on the organization's waiting list.

"These ranches are the last frontier for California's environment," said Vail. "Through conservation easements, we are taking care of our environment, our agricultural economy and generations of families that have managed these cherished open spaces."

About The California Rangeland Trust
The California Rangeland Trust, a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation, was created to conserve the open space, natural habitat, and stewardship provided by California's ranches. To date, the Trust has protected more than 277,000 acres of productive grazing lands across the state through the use of conservation easements. For more information, visit www.rangelandtrust.org.

*Source: Mark W. Grunson and Lynn Huntsinger (2008), Ranching as a Conservation Strategy: Can Old Ranchers Save the New West? Rangeland Ecol Manage, 61, 131-147

SOURCE California Rangeland Trust

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