A California ranching family illustrates benefits of
environmentally- friendly agricultural practices
A California ranching operation with a history of working with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partner for Fish and Wildlife and the Natural Resources Conservation Commission illustrates the potential of environment-friendly ranching practices.
Darrell and Callie Wood
- Leavitt Lake Ranches, owned by Darrell and Callie Wood, a family that has run cattle in Northern California for some 150 years, runs about 600 mother cows and 400 yearlings on some 50,000 acres of leased and deeded land near Susanville and Vina, in Lassen and Tehama Counties.
The Woods, along with their son Ramsey and daughter Dallice have frequently been recognized for having implemented practices aimed at protecting and improving their land. The operation, received the National Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in 2009, as well as other environmental stewardship awards.
The family most recently worked with conservation partners on a restoration plan for vernal pools, provided an abundance of wildlife habitat, decreased stream bank erosion and improved riparian conditions. An example the benefits to fish and wildlife can be found at Pete's Valley Ranch north of Susanville at the foot of the Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains in Lassen County.
The upland ranch consists of 1,200 acres of wet meadows, wetlands, riparian habitats, and sagebrush surrounding Pete's Creek. Since the mid-1940s the ranch was managed as a cow/calf operation with season- long grazing that led to heavy use of wetland and riparian areas by livestock. Loss of willows and a lack of sedges and other streamside vegetation resulted in substantial erosion and down-cutting of the creek that lowered the water table in adjacent meadows. As a result, sagebrush encroached and meadows dried up early in the year. Two dams had been placed in the channel to divert water out of Pete's Creek, degrading its value for
The Pete's Creek Partnership purchased the ranch in 1993 and saw that the existing grazing management system was having a detrimental effect on the productivity and profitability of the ranch. The conservation minded owners were disturbed at how fish and wildlife habitats in the creek, uplands, and wet meadows were in serious decline and decided to seek financial and technical assistance for a project to restore the damaged lands.
A Service private lands biologist discussed the partners program and how it could apply to the project, and NRCS staff discussed how the project may be eligible for funding under the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP). Because the net benefits to fish, wildlife, wetlands, and water quality from the proposed project were so significant, funds from all three programs were awarded.
Along with landowner contributions, a project was funded in which 1.25 miles of Pete's Creek and a riparian buffer was fenced and permanently excluded from cattle, dams removed from the creek to return historic flows, and 120 acres of upland invaded by dense sagebrush was restored.
In the five years since, a dense riparian growth of sedges, forbs, grasses, and willows have returned to provide foraging and breeding habitat for migratory songbirds, and mallards nest in dense cover along the channel. Pronghorn are abundant and have access to the improved forage along the creek through the wildlife friendly fence. A greater sage grouse "lek" is present on the ranch and as many as 100 sage grouse have been seen
on the property at one time. Sage grouse are nesting in the sagebrush adjacent to the creek, and chicks and hens are seen foraging among forbs and perennial grasses in the riparian area. After the 10-year Partners agreement has been completed, the landowners may choose to allow cattle to graze along the creek.
"Stewardship is just like values that you learn from your parents or your grandparents, and it is passed down," Callie Wood said. "Our children look at what we've done, and to them that's what should be done. We've always just had a love of the land."
"I take quite a bit of pride in knowing that this ranch is going to thrive in perpetuity, not only for my kids and their kids but for future generations down the line," Darrell Wood said. "I feel very good about that."
"The Woods are an outstanding example of conservation stewardship and leadership," said Lincoln E. Burton, state conservationist for USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in California. "They are exceptional not only for their whole-farm approach and the number of conservation practices they have implemented, but also for the numerous partnerships they've built with conservation agencies and organizations."
Burton noted that the family has worked with the conservation agency for almost two decades, collaborating in conservation planning, technical services, and a wide array of Farm Bill conservation programs.
In addition to working closely with CCA and the Rangeland Trust, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the Woods have partnered with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program; Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program; Wetlands Restoration Program; Grasslands Reserve Program; and Nutritional Balance Analyzer Program. They also have working relationships with the The Nature Conservancy; Deer Creek Watershed Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited.
how to become a partner
the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program may be for you.
Your project must meet certain criteria in order to qualify for assistance from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program: