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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
SACRAMENTO FWO: Biologist “Walks a Mile” in Boots of California Cattle Rancher
Region 8, June 15, 2009
Biologist Rick Kuyper helps roundup cattle.
Biologist Rick Kuyper helps roundup cattle. - Photo Credit: n/a
Biologist Rick Kuyper (left) and Rancher Bruce Hafenfeld at the Hafenfeld Ranch. (photo: USFWS)
Biologist Rick Kuyper (left) and Rancher Bruce Hafenfeld at the Hafenfeld Ranch. (photo: USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a

By Steve Martarano, Sacramento FWO 

WELDON – Rick Kuyper, normally a USFWS biologist with the Conservation Partnerships Division of the Sacramento Fish & Wildlife Office, hopes he didn’t just head to his last roundup.


During the course of three beautiful mid-June days at the Hafenfeld Ranch in the hills of California’s Kern County, Kuyper bonded with rancher Bruce Hafenfeld, his wife Sylvia and his son Eric, while mending fences, running a cattle round up and hauling cattle to higher elevation areas. It followed a couple of days Hafenfeld spent in the Sacramento FWO’s cubicles earlier in the year.


The quick trip out of Kuyper’s Sacramento cubicle was part of the popular national USFWS program “Walk a Mile in My Boots,” a work-exchange developmental program between cattle ranchers and the USFWS aimed at giving all involved an “inside” look at each other’s lifestyle. The program is sponsored by the National Conservation Training Center, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.


Calling the exchange “very valuable,” Kuyper said that he and Hafenfeld “spent a lot of time talking about the nuts and bolts of the cattle industry, including the day-to-day operations, the financial aspects, what equipment is used and how it is used.”


“Bruce was very patient with my many ‘dumb’ questions,” Kuyper said, adding that they also discussed habitat management through grazing, and many other issues and problems facing ranchers and other ag producers. “It was not only a job exchange, but a cultural exchange.”


Hafenfeld, the immediate past president of the California Cattlemen’s Association, said that it was a very worthy program.

“Anytime you can learn about each other’s issues, and develop a relationship that leads to a working relationship, that then leads to trust, it is a positive,” Hafenfeld said.


Hafenfeld, a life-long rancher who with his wife Sylvia have operated the Hafenfeld Ranch in the mountainous Kern River Valley for 35 years, didn’t think he would like working in one of the cubicles at the Sacramento Fish & Wildlife Office when he visited for a  couple of days in February. Hafenfeld met office personnel and attended several meetings. Despite being less than impressed by the cubicles, he did come away with newfound respect for the outreach efforts of USFWS  and for the work of employees like Kuyper.


“I do realize we both work in very different environments,” Hafenfeld said. “But I think we both came away with a better perspective of how we each work.”


Hafenfeld’s ranch is adjacent to a preserve owned by Audubon, which gives him a perspective on listed species most ranchers don’t have. Kuyper spent one day touring the preserve with Hafenfeld and his son. The preserve is grazed by the Hafenfeld’s cattle to manage for riparian bird species, including the willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo.


“We were able to observe a couple of willow flycatchers at the Audubon Preserve, which was a treat,” Kuyper said.


The Hafenfeld Ranch has a Wetlands Reserve Program in place that includes habitat enhancement for old growth riparian which provides opportunities for listed species to better utilize this habitat on the property.


“It will be a great day that we’re not afraid of the Endangered Species Act but rather working with it,” Hafenfeld said. “The FWS shouldn’t be a big stick, but a partner in the program.”


Hafenfeld said that he wants to see the USFWS develop more Safe Harbor Agreements for listed species and that there are other ranches in his area who might be interested in developing habitat with that protection agreement.


“By spending three days with Bruce’s family, I was able to better see how they view the world and the issues that are important to them,” Kuyper said. “In return, I was also able to communicate some of the difficult issues that we deal with. Both Bruce and I left with a better understanding of what the other is dealing with.”


One thing Kuyper would change should he do the program again, was to begin at the ranch and then go to the office environment.


“Bruce and I got along fine when he was in Sacramento, but we really got to know each other better when we were out at the ranch,” he said. “You have a better opportunity to bond and build a relationship when you are out in a beautiful area riding horses. Then, when you see each other again in the office environment, you already have the relationship established.”


Contact Info: Steve Martarano, 916-930-5643, steve_martarano@fws.gov