By Jenni Perez, Communications Intern
Farmers and ranchers would not be able to operate their land without water. It feeds their animals, waters their crops and provides healthy pastures for animals and wildlife to roam. California’s drought has shown these ranching families the importance of water availability by reducing its amount, leaving them in a state of panic, lost productivity and even lost jobs. While an end to the drought may not be coming soon, the impacts of the drought can be monitored and managed.
In the midst of one of the most severe droughts on record since the 1930s Dust Bowl, California’s current water shortage has cost the state $2.2 billion and put 17,000 agricultural workers out of a job this year, according to a report published by NBC news.
“Drought is a deficiency in precipitation over an extended period of time, usually a season or more, resulting in water shortage causing impacts on vegetation, animals and people,” according to the National Weather Service [NWS].
81.49 percent of the state of California is currently in extreme or exceptional drought, the two highest categories on the United States Drought Monitor.
While ranching families are panicking, losing grazing capacity, profit and looking for new forage options, the National Drought Mitigation Center [NDMC] proposed a solution to help ranching families as well as others affected, to be able to monitor the drought and its impacts at a state and national level. At the University of California Davis on November 7 2014, the NDMC shared the importance of the United States Drought Monitor [USDM] and how local citizens can have an impact in their area that may affect the map’s data selection.
The USDM was established in 1999 as a weekly map of drought conditions that is produced jointly by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the United States Department of Agriculture and the NDMC at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. The map provides a general summary of the current drought conditions by measuring the severity of the drought through five percentiles: D0 abnormally dry, D1 moderate drought, D2 severe drought, D3 extreme drought, and the highest category, D4 exceptional drought.
“We need the current data compared to long term rankings and compared to historical averages,” said NDMC Climatologist Brian Fuchs, “Percentile ranking is very important because those directly relate to the different drought intensity categories.”
The data is collected for the map by local experts such as local NWS and USDA offices, State Climate offices, the State Drought Task Force, University Extension and regional climate centers. After the data is collected it is then used by the USDA to trigger disaster declarations and eligibility for low interest loans, the Farm Service Agency to determine eligibility for their Livestock Forage Program and the Internal Revenue Service for tax deferral on forced livestock sales during drought.
NDMC Climatologist Brian Fuchs also encourages people to report regional, state and local data on their own that the NDMC may have missed in its data collection.
“A lot of the times we are focusing on these larger data sets; weather and climate data, hydraulic data, hydrology data, reservoir, data, soil moisture and a lot of it’s on a national scale,” Fuchs said. “We also know there’s some regional, state and local data available that sometimes doesn’t get pushed out in front of us.”
Fuchs encourages the public to look at conditions such as lake and reservoir levels, water availability, supply and quality, plants and wildlife, agriculture, ground water and well information, natural landscape conditions, seasonal data, forage shortages and to compare the results to long term data, then report them to the USDM.
“Nature does a good job telling us when something is wrong,” he said. “We start hearing about a lot of animals coming into town for water or food, these are the types of impacts we are looking for. If this is happening in your area, it really helps fill in the story about what’s going on with the drought.”
Fuchs presented a variety of different methods the public can use to report their impacts to the authors of the USDM, such as using their weekly message board, the USDM Listerv. On this feed, local experts can view the drafts of the map and provide local feedback into the process.
Similar to the USDM Listerv is the Drought Impact Reporter. Here, anyone can submit a report and describe an impact they are seeing on their ranch or in their area and let the USDM know how long it’s been affecting their property. The drought impact reporter can be found at droughtreporter.unl.edu along with an archive of drought related impacts listed since 2005.
“Basically at that point in time we weren’t understanding how important impacts were at that time because nobody was keeping track of them,” said Fuchs, referring to years before 2005, “They would come and go but there was no archive. The drought impact reporter is really that archive.”
Daily precipitation ratings can also help measure the impact of a drought in the area. The Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network [CoCoRaHS] is a non-profit community based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds that works together to measure precipitation, according to CoCoRaHS.org. The public can participate in the USDM’s data flow by going online to their main website and submitting their daily precipitation ratings.
“The authors love to hear from people,” he said. “Our ears are open; we’re willing to come and hear what’s going on and take suggestions.”
The drought monitor serves as a way for the public to observe the ongoing drought and to report their current impacts. However, many ranching families are still struggling to cope with the effects of the drought.
After Fuchs’ presentation, UC Davis Project Scientist Leslie Roche reported on how the drought is affecting ranching families and some of the management practices they are using to cope with the current situation.
Her report was based on a study conducted in 2011 that featured 500 surveys of ranching families across the state of California and continued with102 follow up interviews a year later.
“One of the things we were trying to look at is how people enhance their individual abilities to cope with and adapt to drought,” Roche said. “These operations of course have evolved over time and each generation has learned from the past’s experience.”
In her surveys, Roche asked her interviewees what they were doing in response to the drought. 70 percent said they reduced the size of their cattle herd, 69 percent purchased alternative feed, 39 percent used government assistance programs and 39 percent weaned calves early.
She also asked respondents about the things that impacted their ranches the most severely. 77 percent of the people surveyed said that their most severe impact was lost grazing capacity, 62 percent said reduced winter forage availability and 55 percent said they lost profit.
In result, Roche found that families with well-prepared management plans were most successful with coping with impacts of the drought. These plans can include having diverse land resource ownership types, goal setting, focusing on forage production, access to information sources that they highly value and a long history of knowledge about learning how to manage a ranch in disaster situations.
“Having a large toolbox of both proactive and reactive practices are really essential for operations to adapt with and cope with challenges such as drought,” she said.
Sacramento, CA – October 20, 2014 – California Rangeland Trust awarded the Stone Family of Yolo County the Conservationist of the Year Award at their yearly fundraiser, A Western Affair. The Rangeland Trust awards this honor to an individual or family that models sustainable conservation practices on ranchlands.
For decades, the Stone Family has been blazing a trail in preserving natural resources and wildlife habitats on their 7,500-acre ranch, Yolo Land and Cattle Company, while being true innovators in their cattle ranching operation. The family includes Scott and Karen Stone; their sons, Austin and Carson; and Scott’s brother, Casey, his wife, Angela, and their daughter, Keeley, and son, Wilson. Most notably, Scott's and Casey’sfather, Hank, was honored posthumously in front of emotional guests of the event.
From left: Austin Stone; Nita Vail, CEO, California Rangeland Trust; Karen Stone and Scott Stone.
Hank Stone purchased their ranch, near Sacramento, with a partner in 1976 and established a practice of conservation leadership that has continued for decades. His sons, Scott and Casey, later joined him in managing the business with the foundation of sustainable ranching. Hank passed away in 2013. As the award was given to the family at the event, the crowd gave a standing ovation.
The Stones were recognized as models in applying sustainable land management practices, including planting and managing native grasses on their property, restoring stock ponds, implementing a rotational grazing plan, and enhancing riparian areas to improve water quality in the watersheds on their land. Much of their success has been by forging cooperative partnerships with organizations and agencies including U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, California Department of Forestry, Audubon California, University of California at Davis, and more.
“They have never been afraid to take risks and exhibit a true generosity of spirit in what they do for the community, working with numerous partners and agencies, and spearheading environmental education programs for urban youth,” said Nita Vail, CEO, California Rangeland Trust. “We celebrate the Stone family legacy, past, present and future in taking care of the land, so it can take care of us. Hank would be so proud of what his family has accomplished.”
The Conservationist of the Year award has been given for seven years to a member of the California ranching community that embodies responsible rangeland conservation. The winner in 2013 was Louise Hanson, in honor of her pioneering spirit and dedication to conserving the ranching heritage off the Gaviota Coast near Santa Barbara.
Farmers, growers and local restaurants posted tents along the roads of Sacramento’s Capital Mall Plaza and welcomed 30 – 35,000 visitors to the City’s second annual Farm to Fork Festival on Saturday, September 27th.
The festival gave people of Sacramento a chance to experience the region’s local food production, consumption and sustainability first hand, while enjoying the live performances of various local country artists and sipping on fresh craft beers.
Around 3:00 p.m., California Rangeland Trust volunteer Kelly Cash walked briskly up and down the tar paved streets, confronting curious visitors who were intrigued by the catchy ‘Kiss my Grass’ pins she was handing to them.
These pins symbolize California Rangeland Trust’s mission to conserve rangelands and grasslands and keep them from being taken over by development.
“Rangelands cover more than half of California and a lot of that is grasslands,” said Rangeland Trust volunteer Bill Blackburn, “The preservation of that natural landscape, that’s important.”
Organizations such as the Rangeland Trust held booths at the festival to raise awareness about their organization and its goals.
“We are hoping to start reaching a different audience,” said Randy Gustavus, Rangeland Trust’s Director of Development. “We want to start educating people in the area, not only about where their food comes from but how they can take measures to help conserve rangeland and help do all those things that Farm to Fork is trying to do.”
Rangeland Trust volunteers camped out at their booth until 6:00 p.m., informing passerby’s about the importance of land conservation and mingled with an audience of farmers, city dwellers, lawyers and other land conservationists.
“It was a good opportunity to get in touch with people in one day’s time and hopefully we made a difference this year,” Gustavus said, who also attended the event last year.
The idea for the Farm to Fork event began in 2012, with Mayor Kevin Johnson proclaiming Sacramento as America’s Farm to Fork Capital. In 2013 a series of events were created to celebrate this honor.
“Restaurants and many chefs in the area took that as an opportunity to celebrate the culinary aspects and partner with a lot of our farmers and distributers to share the story of where our food comes from,” said Kelly Rogers, Farm to Fork Program Manager.
The Farm to Fork event was led by the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau and is a part of four signature events, including a tractor parade, a legends of wine event and a Gala dinner on the deck of Tower Bridge.
Rogers hopes to continue the Farm to Fork tradition and continue to educate local city dwellers about the food they eat.
“I want for this to be ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road and for there to be families that come here every year to celebrate,” she said. “I want every generation of kids to know where their food comes from.”
By Jenni Perez, Rangeland Trust Communications Intern
Northern California ranchers are the key players in helping the California Rangeland Trust protect what matters in California. However, the drought has made the ranchers’ job of providing resources to the community a little tougher this year compared to previous years. The severe drought California is facing has caused less forages to grow, resulting in less feed for livestock. Since the abundance of feed has decreased, prices for left over and alternative feeds have increased making it harder for ranchers to feed their animals. If ranchers don’t feed their animals, then they will starve, die and no longer provide food for the state of California. Rice farmers and UC Cooperative Extension Researchers may have a solution.
Their proposed solution, “Strawlage”, which is “the process of putting up forage under high (45-65) percent moisture and thus not allowing the drawing that allows for a significant loss in digestibility,” according to UC Cooperative Extension Research.
Rice straw has the most nutrients when it first exits the harvester. When it dries, it loses about 20 percent of its nutrients explained Glenn Nader, UC Cooperative Extension Advisor at a presentation in Willows last week.
Henry Smith, a rice farmer from Willows, and many others like him, bale the straw immediately after it exits the harvester to produce Strawlege. After he bales the straw, he stacks about 54 bales on a 25 x 100 foot tarp and covers them with another 100 x 40 foot tarp. The tarps allow the bales to retain about 45-65 percent of the moisture they would lose two to four days after harvest, producing a product that is easily digested by livestock.
“Our problem right now is that our feed prices are so expensive,” said Josh Davies, Livestock Range and Natural Resource Advisor for Glenn County. “We needed to either sell the cows or find a way to supplement the feed, so that’s where Strawlage comes in. It’s typically rice straw that isn’t needed or it’s such a low quality that it’s not going to be eaten anyway.”
Strawlage can be substituted for other feed sources and has a crude protein value ranging from 2-7 percent, according to research conducted by Glenn Nadar, UC Cooperative Extension Advisor. A non lactating beef cow requires a diet of 7 percent crude protein [CP] and while most Strawlage feed is at 5 percent, the CP of the straw can be increased with higher nitrogen fertilization on the rice, Nadar said.
Nadar and other Cooperative Extension researchers have been studying the production of Strawledge since 1999 with funds from the California Rice Research Board. Nadar presented their research at the Memorial Hall in Willows, California on July 29 where he revealed the team’s upcoming goals.
“Our general objective for the research is to investigate the options for a better use of rice straw as an animal feed,” Nadar said.
Strawlage has a brownish green and slimy appearance that is not very appealing to the human eye. However, 15 years of research conducted by the UC Cooperative Extension has confirmed that it does substitute for a safely digestible livestock feed.
“I was surprised!” exclaimed rancher Ron LaGrande who recently began feeding his cattle Strawlage. “My cows never did spend much time looking at rice straw, maybe they were a little spoiled I don’t know, but they ate the stuff.”
Strawledge provides another feed option that ranchers can use for their livestock when current feed is running short and prices are rising.
Ranches provide California’s most important resources: clean air, clean water, Western culture, wildlife habitat and local food supply. Rangeland Trust protects these resources by placing conservation easements on the land which insure that it can never be subdivided or lost to development. Shop Amazon and you can help our organization protect these treasured open spaces with no more than a few clicks on your computer screen!
AmazonSmile is a private (501) (c) (3) foundation created by Amazon.com which provides a simple and automatic way to support your favorite organization every time you shop, according to AmazonSmile. While shopping on the site, 0.5 percent of your purchase price will be donated to the eligible charitable organization of your choice.
Here’s how you can help:
1) Visit Smile.Amazon.com
2) Create an account or log in using information from your existing Amazon account.
3) Next, select California Rangeland Trust as your preferred charitable organization
4) Continue on with your usual shopping endeavors.
There are tens of millions of products eligible for donations that are marked ‘eligible’ on their detail pages, according to AmazonSmile. These products are not currently accessible on an i-phone app or kindle; however while shopping on your computer, you wouldn’t notice a difference in prices, products, selection or shopping features. The only difference is that you will be able to support Rangeland Trust and shop for your favorite items simultaneously.
“Your contributions will help us protect what matters to you and all Californians,” said Michael Delbar, Chief Operating Officer at Rangeland Trust.
AmazonSmile provides a simple and easy way for you to participate in conserving California’s ranches and protecting the legacy of the families who have taken care of them for generations.
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 caring 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 107-acre 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.”
Our Board member and Fund Development Committee Chairman Daniel Sinton was featured in a great article by CNBC on getting the next generation of ranchers involved in Agriculture.
You can read the full story on their website.
Daniel ranches with his dad and grandfather. All three generations were featured in this CNBC news story. Watch the video below.
Tucked away in the foothills of the Northern Sacramento Valley lies a glimpse of what the majority of California’s valleys and open lands looked like hundreds of year ago. Dotted in vast varieties of overwhelmingly beautiful wildflowers, Bear Valley is a prime example of what Spanish sailors likely saw when they coined California as the “land of fire” in the late 18th Century. This reference to the populations of poppies and other native wildflowers covering the state remind us of the importance of managing our open lands as sustainably as possible.
There are four ranches that comprise the majority of Bear Valley, the Bear Valley Ranch (owned by the Brackett Family), the Payne Ranch, the Keegan Ranch, and the Epperson Place. The Bear Valley Ranch and Payne Ranch are forever protected by conservation easements held by the California Rangeland Trust. Each year wildflower enthusiasts and rangeland biologists from the West and around the World travel to these ranches to observe the hundreds of rare species of wildflowers that continue to thrive there because the fields are grazed by cattle.
“Grazing can enhance wildflower populations on California’s annual grasslands by reducing annual grass cover, thatch and height,” says Sheila Barry, University of California Cooperative Extension. She further explains, “Most of the wildflowers in Bear Valley are native annuals [e.x. Tidytips, goldfields, buttercups, Johnny jump-ups, red maids] and most are small and require an open environment in the fall to successfully germinate and reproduce.”
Don’t worry; the cattle won’t eat the flowers! Barry says grazing cattle is effective at reducing grass cover because of their instinct to selectively eat grasses instead of broad-leaf plants like wildflowers. Grazing these fields also helps to control annual grasses that could pose risk to the flowers. Barry explains that exotic annual grasses, some of which are considered invasive species, maintain their dominance in a stand of grass by competing for soil moisture and light, which poses harm to species like flowers. Livestock can be used to help keep these species at bay according to Barry.
“Grazing reduces their height, cover and the accumulation of thatch that could otherwise prevent the wildflowers from germinating and accessing soil moisture and light,” she says.
Managing Wildflower Populations in Drought
The wildflowers will still bloom despite the devastating drought California’s ranchers have been battling the last few years. However, rancher Jim Keegan doesn’t expect to see the magnificent display of colors and varieties one would see in a good rain year.
“I only expect a few measly species,” he says.
Barry clarifies why Keegan doesn’t anticipate the normal abundance of flowers. She says that similarly to annual grasses, wildflowers like those found in Bear Valley, grow each year from a seed typically after fall germinating rains. This year, on ranches throughout the state, annual grasses and wildflowers had a delayed start because there wasn’t enough moisture in the fall to both germinate the seeds and sustain their growth.
Ranchers in the area are doing their due diligence to give the flowers every advantage they need to survive. While it is still important for the valley to be grazed by cattle even during times of drought, rancher Ira Brackett says he’s reduced his stocking rate to about 1/3 the number of cattle that would typically be in his valley fields.
“We’ve sold some cattle, shipped some cattle to Colorado and reduced our numbers here,” Brackett says. “We’re also trying to keep the cattle moving between pastures so they all stay grazed but there isn’t as much pressure on them.”
Barry isn’t worried about them dying off because of these back to back drought years.
“Wildflowers have a long life seed bank in the soil,” she says. “While allowing them to flower and go to seed is desirable, their seed should persist in the seed bank regardless of their abundance and productivity in a single year.”
Brackett isn’t all too concerned about the drought killing the flowers either.
“They’ve been here a lot longer than we have,” he says. “They’ve probably seen worse.”
California Rangeland Trust has a strong working presence in the San Francisco Bay Area that promotes increased appreciation for rangelands and the contributions of private ranching to conservation. With its Mediterranean climate, the Bay Area is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. With only 5% of California’s land area, among all of the habitats found in the state, more than a third of them can be found in the Bay Area’s nine counties. The strong economy of the region has also made the Bay Area one of the six most important biodiversity hot spots in the nation. The Bay Area includes the nine counties touching San Francisco Bay. It is known worldwide as one of the most innovative, culturally diverse, and prosperous areas anywhere in the world.
What is often overlooked is that nearly half of the Bay Area’s land mass is rangeland, or about 1.9 million acres according to the Conservation Lands Network and the Rangeland Trust’s own mapping. Rangeland is defined as land that produces vegetation suitable for livestock grazing. Significantly, of the 1.9 million acres, about 1.35 million acres (70%) are privately owned rangelands.
The Spanish missions introduced cattle and sheep ranching to the Bay Area by the late 1700’s. Consequently, as Dr. Lynn Huntsinger of U.C. Berkeley often points out, many of the habitats we value have evolved with livestock grazing for over 200 years. Thus, many habitats and species absolutely depend upon continued grazing and management by ranchers on both private and publicly owned rangelands. The environmental community has come to recognize the value of grazing to reduce fire hazard and to promote and maintain plant and wildlife diversity.
Recognizing the vital role Bay Area rangelands play in wildlife habitat, watersheds and, very importantly, food production, a number of funders have graciously helped finance the Rangeland Trust’s efforts to keep private working ranches and ranchers in the Bay Area. As a fifth generation Bay Area rancher and Rangeland Trust Board Member myself, I sincerely appreciate these funders: S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation, and the Smart Foundation, all which specifically support the Rangeland Trust’s Bay Area conservation efforts. I also acknowledge and appreciate the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for providing the original Rangeland Trust Bay Area funding.
The Rangeland Trust collaborates with other organizations to promote private rangeland values and conservation opportunities in the Bay Area. These include San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Coastal Conservancy, Alameda County Resource Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Blue Ridge – Berryessa Conservation Partnership, Bay Area Open Space Council, California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, and Santa Clara County Open Space Authority. Valuable rangeland science support is provided by Dr. Stephanie Larson and Sheila Barry, University of California Cooperative Extension; Dr. Lynn Huntsinger, Professor of Rangeland Ecology and Management, University of California Berkeley; and Dr. Stuart Weiss, Creekside Center for Earth Observations.
Rangeland Trust’s Bay Area staff representative is Nancy Schaefer, who resides locally and has extensive experience with Bay Area conservation. Her role is quite challenging, covering all nine counties to advocate and support private rangeland conservation efforts. Using conservation easements to conserve private ranches is a major re-direction in the Bay Area’s conservation efforts, in contrast to the large amount of planning and funding used by public agencies to acquire ranches. With Nancy’s diligence and dedication, board member support, and the valuable contributions of those noted here, the California Rangeland Trust is becoming an active leader in Bay Area rangeland conservation projects.
Congratulations to Darrel on being named 2013 Livestock Man of the Year by the California Chamber of Commerce. Your work to improve and expand our industry is greatly appreciated by many. We feel honored to work with you day in and day out to conserve rangeland throughout California. To you, we tip our hats!
Yolo Land & Cattle Co. is one of the most scenic Northern California Ranches in the Rangeland Trust’s conservation portfolio. Owned and operated by Rangeland Trust Director Scott Stone, along with his father, brother and their families, the ranch is in beautiful condition. Thousands of people from all walks of life had the opportunity to enjoy the ranch and its scenic landscapes in late October as the Stones hosted the 2013 Northern California Warrior Dash. The Warrior Dash is a 5k obstacle course that includes intense challenges like belly crawling under barbed wire, climbing over walls, running through fire, and even floating through mud pits.
Board members Scott Stone and Devere Dressler were brave enough to give the run a shot as were many other Rangeland Trust friends and supporters. The event was an excellent source of exposure for Yolo Land & Cattle Co., and a great place for the Rangeland Trust to help the general public to understand what we do. When asked “What is the Calfiornia Rangeland Trust?” by a race attendee, CRT’s COO, Michael Delbar, said it best “Look around at these golden hills and beautiful landscapes, we protect ranches like these so that this view and these resources will always be here.”
An historic 400 acre ranch in Contra Costa County, home to the Walker family, the California tiger salamander, San Joaquin Kit Fox, western burrowing owl and the California red-legged frog, will remain forever protected thanks to the teamwork of the family, an energy solutions company, and the California Rangeland Trust. Through that unique partnership, the Walker family will continue to operate the ranch they love; and the species the ranch supports will benefit from good land management practices.
In the early 1980’s the Walker family, who has raised cattle on the Walker Ranch at the Altamont Pass for nearly 100 years, was approached by a wind energy company that wanted to put windmills on their land to produce power for the surrounding communities. The Walkers agreed. With the lease of surface rights, that company put hundreds of windmills on the tops of the ranch’s largest hills. Those windmills provided power to the East Bay for two dozen years without fail.
Years later, the wind technology on the ranch needed updating for increased efficiency. Commonly called “re-powering” by locals, the energy company replaced the aging windmills with 15 larger and more efficient, 3.2mw Siemens turbines. That upgrade required the company to build new roads and slightly alter the landscape, triggering the requirement for a new permit.
During the permitting process, the energy company found out that the new roads would impact the habitat of the California tiger salamander, California red-legged frog, San Joaquin kit fox and burrowing owl, all of which thrive on the cattle-grazed wind farm. State and federal laws mandate the loss of those habitats must be mitigated by the permanent protection of similar habitat nearby. Together, the energy company and the Walker family found a viable solution to the problem using a conservation easement held by the Rangeland Trust. Because the Walker family employs sustainable practices to manage their ranch, the energy company was able to use 400 acres of the 1,956 acre Walker ranch near the wind farm for mitigation.
Mitigation easements are similar to other types of conservation easements in that the land is protected from development in perpetuity. The difference is that when a mitigation easement is purchased, it is usually done so by a large corporation or entity at the direction of a state or federal agency. It protects land containing wetlands, wildlife habitats or other ecological areas and then sets it aside to compensate for loss of lands of similar ecological value through development.
“We feel honored to be able to help the Walkers, who are long-time advocates of the beef industry and rangeland conservation, forever protect the ranch they call home,” said Nita Vail, CEO of the California Rangeland Trust. “Everyone who drives in the East Bay will be able to view this portion of the beautiful rolling hills of the Altamont forever.”
Conservation of the property also meets the goals of the Conservation Lands Network, a conservation plan for the region completed by the Bay Area Open Space Council, with participation from over 100 scientists and land managers. The plan emphasizes the importance of rangelands and ranchers, whose management practices support the incredible diversity of plants and animals found in our area.
“This mitigation easement is another case where government agencies are endorsing the work of cattle ranchers to sustainably manage their land for generations,” said Darrel Sweet, California Rangeland Trust Chairman. “The Walker family ranch is one example of how good stewardship is protecting the environment.”
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the energy company and the Rangeland Trust have now entrusted the Walkers to sustainably manage the habitat of the California tiger salamander, and the California red-legged frog, San Joaquin kit fox and burrowing owl in that area for decades to come.
On September 25th, the California Rangeland Trust had the honor of being the recipient of 5% of all net sales in Whole Foods Market stores in Northern California and Reno. The day was a huge success. Aside from raising an outstanding $164,990, stories like the one below actually happened. The opportunity to outreach to a group of food customers who may otherwise not have much interest in the Rangeland Trust or the ranching industry, was incredible. Each of the top 12 Whole Foods Market stores in Northern California and Reno had a Rangeland Trust representative and a Panorama Meats rancher performing meat demonstrations and sharing the good news about the Rangeland Trust! We had the chance to meet all kinds of consumers where they shop and to talk to them about the importance of rangeland conservation and the ranching community.
Picture this: a self-proclaimed vegetarian doing her weekly grocery shopping at a Northern California Whole Foods Store spots a man wearing a cowboy hat. She approaches the table where the man under the hat appears to be promoting something. He is offering meat samples. He greets her with a smile, and begins to tell her about the unique partnership between Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats and the California Rangeland Trust and how that partnership led the Rangeland Trust to be the recipient of that region’s 5% Day promotion. The woman is intrigued by the Rangeland Trust and our work to conserve rangelands and open space, yet she continues to eye the organic grass-fed beef samples with a cautious curiosity. Sensing her interest, the rancher offers, “Would you like to taste our organic grass-fed beef?” Upon a whim, she accepts his offer and gives it a taste. Surprised by its robust flavor, she decides to purchase some of that delicious beef. A new beef consumer is born.
That’s what Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats does every day. They meet shoppers right there, in their favorite grocery stores, and they provide them with honest information about from where their beef comes. They take the initiative to engage grocery buyers in a conversation about responsible beef production. And it isn’t just about them. You see, they might be promoting their brand of beef and they may be explaining how organic grass-fed is different than conventional, but they are doing more than that. Darrell Wood, President, and Lori Carrion, CEO, of Panorama Meats take a stand for the ranching industry as a whole and helps people from all walks of life better understand how the beef industry responsibly produces a safe and healthy product. That’s why the California Rangeland Trust is so proud to partner with Panorama Meats.
September 25th was certainly one of the most exciting days in the history of the Rangeland Trust’s outreach program. We could not have been so successful without the help of Panorama, Whole Foods Market, and you.
On a sunny and windy Saturday in September, Rangeland Trust Chairman Darrel Sweet and his wife Karen and their family welcomed 25 guests to their ranch on the eastern edge of Livermore in Alameda County to enjoy a day on the land. The guests were treated to a tour while Darrel shared his family’s history on the ranch dating back to 1868, adding that the ranch is home to the fifth, sixth and seventh generations of his family. Darrel also described the production cycle of the cow/calf operation the family runs, the management practices employed to sustain a cattle operation for 145 years, and the wildlife that reside on or frequent the ranch. Tour participants asked a lot of questions about ranching, water supply, and maintaining the stock ponds while enjoying a spectacular view of the Livermore Valley below. Two enthusiastic four-year-olds were especially appreciative of all the new calves scuttling around their mothers’ legs.
The ranch tour was followed by a barbecue of Sweet Ranch estate hamburgers with Darrel’s son, Eric, manning the grill, and Karen and Darrel’s sister, Sylvia Chatagnier, preparing salads, side dishes and dessert. While everyone was enjoying dessert, Judge Hugh Walker spoke to the gathering about his recent experience selling a 400-acre conservation easement that is held by the Rangeland Trust on his family’s ranch nearby in Contra Costa County. Judge Walker expressed his appreciation to be able to conserve and continue part of his family’s ranching heritage, allowing him and his partner, John Passama, to continue the ranching operation.
Guests included representatives from the local newspaper, Zone 7 Water District, the California Coastal Conservancy, the City of Livermore, AT&T, Mechanics Bank, UC Cooperative Extension, UC Berkeley, former Rangeland Trust Board member and current California Cattlemen’s Association President Tim Koopmann, and Rangeland Trust Legacy Council member Kelly Cash. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and left with a better understanding of realities of life on a ranch. The event was supported by Rangeland Trust staff members Nancy Schaefer and Randy Gustavus, who inspired the gathering as a way to improve understanding about rangeland.
By: John Herlihy, Vice Chair California Rangeland Trust Board of Directors
As a rancher, I am continuously concerned about the future of our cattle operation and my family’s ability to remain in the livestock business. I think this is true for most ranchers and landowners in the ever changing livestock industry. For many years I was involved in agriculture financing with Yosemite Farm Credit and witnessed firsthand some off the pain and hurdles ranchers face trying to keep their land in the family and their operations viable.
Looming on the horizon at some point is the ongoing battle with and constant debate over the ever changing estate taxes. How will future generations pay a large estate tax bill that is based on a land value at its “highest and best use”, which someday may be vineyards, walnuts, almonds or God forbid another subdivision? The estate tax doesn’t take into consideration the habitat the land preserves as a working landscape, such as the contributions a working ranch makes to the local economy or resources the land provides like clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration and food security.
Though estate taxes are most often discussed when talking about a generational turnover, there are also other issues to consider. Some of those issues, for example, can the ranch sustain the eldest generation while allowing the next generation to come in and start the process of taking over? If that next generation is starting or currently has a family can the operation support both families? Can the eldest generation retire on the ranch that may have been in the family for a generation or more before?
These are questions ranchers face day to day. Luckily, there are several organizations working in the rancher’s best interest such as the local, state and national Cattlemen’s Associations who fight for the rancher to keep regulations in check and for favorable legislation at all levels. The industry programs like “Beef Check Off” and the beef councils also do a great job creating and sustaining demand for our beef products, by building markets and educating the public about the health benefits of our product and our industry.
However, there are also other organizations like California Rangeland Trust working to keep ranchers ranching. CRT is dedicated to keeping ranchers ranching through the use of conservation easements and other tools. Conservation easements are a voluntary agreement with a land trust that is a permanent action on the land to preserve rangeland. This tool can also provide for relief of some financial burdens, and may help keep the current and future generations in ranching, and can help keep urban sprawl from creeping into rangeland.
For those unfamiliar with conservation easements, they are a completely voluntary action on the part of the land owner to make an agreement with a land trust that the land will remain as grazing land and undeveloped forever or for what is termed “in perpetuity”. The conservation easement can either be donated to CRT or it can be purchased from the landowner.
So how does an easement help with the prior mentioned estate tax issues facing livestock landowners? With a permanent agreement (an easement) that the land cannot be developed, the land value is based as grazing land. This value is lower than most other property values and thus decreases property and estate taxes. And it also prevents the ranch from being subdivided or converted into more intensive agriculture.
A purchased easement may provide a rancher with an infusion of capital funds. Many of the ranchers that California Rangeland Trust has assisted with a purchased easement use the funds for future inheritance taxes, or to improve operations, or prepare for retirement.
Please remember that if you are considering an easement, be sure to consult legal counsel and/or your tax advisor.
There is a concern that a conservation easement means loss of control of the land and operation with the addition of more regulations. However that is not usually the case. CRT does not get involved with the management of the ranch. Once a year CRT will monitor the ranch to ensure that the agreed upon terms in the easement are being met.
California Rangeland Trust’s Board of Directors is comprised of ranchers who understand the values and needs of their fellow ranchers. CRT’s goal is not only to protect the land but to protect the ranching way of life and help ranchers pass the legacy down to future generations.
I joined the California Rangeland Trust Board of Directors because the organization truly understands the aspects of ranching, including the business, the day to day operations and its relationship and stewardship of the health of the land and its diverse wildlife and native plant species. With 120 families on the organizations waiting list to proceed with an easement, it is exciting to be on the Board of Directors and help guide the organization to meet funding needs so those families can achieve preserving their land and continue ranching way of life for generations to come.
by the staff of the California Rangeland Trust, Sacramento
About 14 years ago, a group of cattlemen and cattlewomen sat at a table discussing the need for a non-profit agricultural conservation organization that they could trust to work collaboratively to tell the story of why ranching is relevant to the urban populations of California and find tools to preserve rangelands in the state. Today, ranching is viewed as a multi-dimensional method to maintain California’s ecological and cultural heritage, because ranches maintain viable agriculture land, diverse ecosystems and provide urban populations with clean air, clean water and food security.
As the population continues to rise, urban sprawl is putting pressure on the open spaces adjacent to California’s ranches. Many ranches now overlook cityscapes and are under pressure of development. However, ranchers are not the only ones under pressure from urban sprawl. The open space provided by ranches is essential to the survival of many species of special concern, and provides quality drinking water to urban areas. Rangeland conservation is also generating the attention of some Bay Area public agencies which are recognizing that by protecting the upstream supply of water, they can ensure clean water to the Bay Area population in the future.
“We have to be realistic about how to maintain the most habitat and how to manage these lands to support the most species,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist Alyson Aquino, Livermore. “Grazing brings together an appropriate management technique for our rangelands with the ability for ranchers to make a living. Grazing allows the land to be useable and to be productive, which is one of the most realistic types of preservation.”
The Koopmann Ranch, owned by Tim Koopmann, Sunol, is a prime example of a ranch in close proximity to urban areas. Parts of Koopmann’s ranch boarder a golf course and overlook the urban area of Livermore. Koopmann put a conservation easement on his ranch through the California Rangeland Trust and worked with the NRCS to establish a conservation management plan in effort to preserve the open space of his ranch and continue his beef production.
Rangelands are an important refuge for wildlife that are being increasingly pushed beyond expanding city limits. California’s rangelands are home to many species of special concern including the California Tiger Salamander, San Joaquin Kit Fox along with native wildflowers and endemic plants.
“To me, wildlife habitat is an indicator of the successful way you are managing the ranch,” said Koopmann. His ranch demonstrates this by the abundance of wildlife that calls it home including the California Tiger Salamander, California Red Legged Frog and Callipine Silverspot Butterfly.
“Ranchers like Tim Koopmann are extremely rewarding to work with because they understand the balance between the economic requirements of a cattle operation and their genuine appreciation for the land,” said Aquino. “Decisions are based on many priorities, not just a short-term financial investment.”
As rural land and ranches are converted to non-productive uses and populations continue to rise, food security is a growing concern. Will we be able to produce enough food for a projected population of 9 billion in 2050? That is a question commonly talked about in the agriculture world. Cattle production and the number of ranchers choosing to carry on the legacy of ranching are continuing to fall. This adds to the greater concern for food security.
In order to keep the inevitable growth pressures focused in cities and to sustainably support the growing population in California, groups with different interests will need to bridge their differences and work collaboratively in the upcoming years. As the science increasingly supports the work that ranchers are doing, one of the California Rangeland Trust’s goals is to continue supporting ranchers in their role of land stewardship and sharing with government officials and environmental interest groups our success stories to create stronger collaboration towards our shared goals.
As summer heats up, so do the backyard grills. More and more, that sizzling steak or burger was purchased at a local farmers’ market, where the popularity of locally-sourced beef is continually increasing. The demand for beef raised locally and available at farmers markets or select retailers connects the consumer with the ranchers who raised the animals and cared for the land – a connection that is lost as generations become further removed from the farm.
Farmers markets bring together local farmers and ranchers to connect and converse with consumers. Over the past few years, California has experienced a growing “buy local” market trend, which encourages communities to purchase products from ranchers at farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs and grocery stores and restaurants.
As the high season for barbequing picks up, California Rangeland Trust reached out to Jack Rice, a northern California rancher from Davis, and California Rangeland Trust director to ask him what this trends means to the beef industry. Rice’s family are long time ranchers in the Humboldt County, area which has witnessed a strong locally-sourced agriculture trend. The area stretching down the Northern Coast of California is abundant with farmers’ markets, CSA’s and grocery stores and restaurants the feature local products
The demand for locally-grown food and a connection to the producer is prevalent. As Rice puts it, “People increasingly care about where their food comes from and how it is produced.”
For the agriculture industry in general, the demand for locally-sourced food is creating a shift in production, opening up niche markets like grass-fed, organic and all natural products. These markets are growing rapidly. According to a study conducted by UC Davis, Grass-fed beef alone accounted for 100,000 head of cattle in 2007, an increase from 65,000 head in 2006.
“It is important to recognize that the local, organic, grass fed and other niche beef markets are a complimentary part of the livestock industry and are not a substitute for conventional production,” Rice points out. “Niche markets offer producers the opportunity to increase profitability while also providing consumers the opportunity to gain a better understanding of where their food comes from and how it is produced. These niche markets build upon existing conventional livestock production which is the bedrock of both the livestock industry and the safest and most affordable beef supply in the world.”
From 2010 to 2011, the number of farmers’ markets operating in the United States rose 17 percent from 6,132 to 7,175. According to the United States Department of Agriculture study of local food system, in 2008, the direct marketed food industry, including farmers’ markets and sales from producer to restaurants and grocers, reached $4.8 billion and is expected to continue growing.
Within the umbrella of the direct marketed food industry is a growing segment of the locally-sourced beef industry. The USDA study of local food systems also found that from 2002 to 2007 the value of beef marketed directly to the consumer grew 84 percent from $77 million to $141 million.
“Most people want to know where their beef comes from and how it is raised. As an industry we need to recognize that these are shifts in demand and seek to take from them the lessons they contain. I believe the recent growth in local, organic and grass-fed markets provide useful information about consumer trends for both niche and conventional producers,” Rice observes.
As the population continues to increase and urban areas continue to spread to prime rangeland, it brings to light the need to conserve rangeland.
“As for consumer outreach, we benefit greatly from consumers understanding that healthy beef (commercial or organic) depends upon the sustainable use of our rangelands. This is a great message for California Rangeland Trust, the beef industry and all of agriculture to take to our consumers and our neighbors,” says Rice.
Farmers markets and direct farmer-to-consumer marketing gives producers and consumers a chance to interact with one another. This creates an opportunity for the consumer to learn about food production from the producers themselves. It provides producers a chance to tell their story and educate consumers about the necessity of productive rangelands not only for beef production, but for essentials like fresh air and clean water provided by these working ranches.
Ultimately, whether it is the family barbeque, the ranching culture or the working rangelands, they all represent important American traditions. The opportunity to share these values with consumers is as great as it has ever been. California ranchers are proud to share their stories and promote this heritage. The Rangeland Trust is doing its part to ensure that the essential rangelands needed for livestock production to meet this increasing demand are conserved for future generations.