Local ranchers safeguard California’s natural environments
Cows, Cooper’s Hawks and Calippe Silverspot Butterflies, oh my!
By Daniel Sinton
Jack Varian is every bit as protective of the watershed on his land which feeds headwaters of the Salinas River and Monterey Bay on his V6 Ranch in Parkfield as he is of the cattle he raises. Tim Koopmann is a fierce guardian of the endangered California tiger salamander that live on his 850-acre cattle ranch in Sunol.
Whether it is Hearst, Kester, Santa Margarita, or other ranches like them, 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, Varian and Koopmann have placed conservation easements on their properties through California Rangeland Trust, a non profit created to conserve the open space, natural habitat, and stewardship provided by California’s ranches. A conservation easement ensures their working ranchlands can never be lost to development. More than 277,000 acres of private lands have been protected through California Rangeland Trust since 1998, including 105,984 acres in San Luis Obispo County.
“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 water, food, air and wildlife.“
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. Even through our current drought, Varian is enacting conservation methods, such as managed grazing, to protect natural habitats.
“For me, taking caring of land and watersheds is a moral responsibility that includes all critters like raccoons, deer, trees and flowers and microscopic organisms that dwell below the soil surface,” Varian said.
Endangered and threatened species habitats found on ranches
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 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 California red-legged frog and Callippe Silverspot Butterfly, thrive.
“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.”
Much of California’s open space can be found on ranches
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 California Rangeland Trust has been able to help many families conserve their ranches, more funding is needed to help 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.”
Daniel Sinton is a fifth-generation rancher in San Luis Obispo County and a member of the California Rangeland Trust board of directors.