Who would ever think the threatened California tiger salamander would depend upon cattle to thrive? In a unique mitigation easement, an 85-acre stretch of upland habitat environment for the California tiger salamander on the Koopmann Ranch will be protected in perpetuity, thanks to a partnership between the Koopmann family, Westervelt Ecological Services, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), and California Rangeland Trust.
The 85-acre easement surrounds a pond on the Koopmann Ranch that is known as a fertile breeding ground for the federally threatened California tiger salamander. Because of habitat loss and destruction, cattle ranches that remain undeveloped, like the Koopmann Ranch, have become vital for the survival of the California tiger salamander species and others. Scientists have found that grazed land is beneficial for the little amphibians, creating a symbiotic relationship between cattle and tiger salamander that allows the salamanders to successfully breed and avoidpredators.
Mitigation is a term for a type of conservation easement. When mitigation easements are used, it is to conserve a specific habitat in response to impacts on that habitat in another area. These easements are often funded by the business community, conserving the habitat in perpetuity.
The Koopmann Ranch was the ideal place to conserve California tiger salamander habitat because it is also home to a breeding pond for the amphibians that is protected by another 31-acre easement, also held by California Rangeland Trust. The two easements together reate a contiguous 116-acre stretch of habitat that will be forever protected as a thriving breeding ground for the threatened species.
“This agreement is a prime example of how we can work with the business community to ensure open rangeland habitats critical to the health and well being of California are protected,” said Nita Vail, CEO of California Rangeland Trust. “Ranchers like Tim Koopmann are responsible caretakers of the water, plants and animals that live on their land. By protecting our rangelands, we protect our quality of life.”
The 850-acre Koopmann Ranch has been in operation since 1918. Located in the Bay Area between a golf course, Interstate 680, and a number of small ranches, it is a sanctuary for many endangered and threatened species including the Viola (Johnny-Jump-Up) wildflower, California tiger salamander, California red-legged frog, and the Callippe silverspot butterfly. A fourth generation rancher, Tim Koopmann employs managed grazing and progressive water conservation practices to protect the land, plants and animals while maintaining the family cattle operation.
Tiger salamanders live most of their lives underground, traveling through burrows in upland habitat for up to one mile to breed in ponds. Grazing by cattle helps lower the vegetation levels to a level optimal for California tiger salamander. Livestock also affect pond turbidity, which helps the amphibians avoid predation and raises nutrient levels so the algae they feed on can grow.*
“As a kid, I remember going to the pond and being fascinated by the salamanders that were there,” said Tim Koopmann, who has lived on the ranch his entire life and is a leader in ranch conservation. “Our ranch is healthy open space where all animals, big and small, can do what they were intended to do. Thanks to this agreement, we can give the California tiger salamander a chance to come back as a thriving species. “