Looking back 18 years to the day California Rangeland Trust was born, it seems not much has changed. Ranchers faced economic challenges that made it difficult to make a living grazing livestock. The confiscatory “death tax” befell too many families. Regulations increased. And so, unbridled development converted the great grazing lands of California to housing or intensified agriculture – especially “trees and vines” – at an unprecedented rate.
The rapid extinction of grazing land has become normal; the paradox is that it often takes real change on the part of ranchers to keep the land from changing. Today, I am proud of what we have helped them to change and what we have helped keep the same these past 18 years.
What has changed is that ever encroaching developmental growth will never threaten 287,234 acres of privately owned California grazing land ever again. This land will stay the same. Forever.
This was accomplished by helping rancher’s place conservation easements on their ranches. Eighteen years ago, conservation easements were not a viable tool for most ranching families. A conservation easement should have helped a rancher to stay on his land and continue grazing livestock. However, it was a challenge to find a trusted, committed partner to hold and monitor the easement. California Rangeland Trust was created to be that partner.
This is why I believe that the service California Rangeland Trust offers to the California beef cattle industry and my fellow California ranchers is so valuable. It is not just the citizens-of-California who receive positive, enduring benefits through our work.
I am truly honored to have been selected by my fellow board members to serve as chairman of the board for the next two years. Representing California Rangeland Trust is a privilege and serving in this way is truly an altruistic calling for me.
Upon returning to the board after a 12 year hiatus, I took note of how the organization grew professionally and financially. Credit for this growth, nothing short of spectacular, falls squarely on the shoulders of the Trust’s dedicated, knowledgeable, professional staff and the many California ranchers who have generously given their time and energy to serve as Board members, providing guidance and leadership to the organization.
Staff and the Board should justly be proud of the Trust’s progress and accomplishments over the years. But, we must now turn our focus to the challenges we face. Current demand is so high that ranchers, owning a combined half million acres are waiting to partner with the Trust and the list is growing. While the Trust’s commitment to helping these ranchers is as strong as it ever was, traditional public funding sources continue to diminish.
In facing challenges, the Trust can learn much from its ranching partners. These ranchers use conservation easements to change the status of their land so that it will remain the same, forever. The California Rangeland Trust is following their lead, changing strategy, tactics, and messaging so that the mission – to conserve California’s working ranches that provide stewardship, open space and natural habitat for future generations – will remain the same, forever. Be assured that the Trust’s staff and Board will continue to positively adapt to a changing environment to ensure California’s working ranches will continue to be conserved for generations to come.
One shift in our approach is to invite significant private philanthropy to help us meet the substantial need. We conducted and evaluated a study with the help of consultants. Through in depth interviews, this study revealed that California Rangeland Trust had earned a strong, positive reputation and the trust of the agricultural community. Moreover, this trust factor was growing exponentially.
We discovered that California Rangeland Trust had accrued a strong base of supporters, willing to invest philanthropically in our work. If they were asked. Following this study and its review, the staff and Board recognized the need to expand the Trust’s private funding base to allow more ranches sitting on our waitlist to be conserved – in time. The consensus is that looking toward our 20th year, we must launch our philanthropic profile.
In anticipation of this, the governing board demonstrated that each member is contributing philanthropically. The board also appointed an advisory board, the Legacy Council, to help find support for the ranches on our wait list. While special events such as A Western Affair continue to connect us with the ranching community, California Rangeland Trust will soon be inviting even more significant gifts.
Our work is important. The need is great. And our team is committed to change so that California ranchland can stay the same.
I invite any of you who have an interest in conserving ranch lands, questions, or comments on the Trust’s activities, to contact us.
First published in the April 2016 issue of California Cattlemen’s Magazine