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.