Human Connections Drive Habitat Conservation

Sacramento Wildlife Refuge - California conservation tour

December 1, 2015

“I enjoyed watching Patagonia-clad, outdoorsy conservationists sit next to 5th generation ranchers with dusty cowboy boots to talk about endangered species, small town life, and many other things.”

This post by Tiffany Russell was recently published in Science for a Blue Planet, Point Blue’s new blog. Tiffany is part of the Sage Grouse Initiative’s Strategic Watershed Action Team, and works with a host of partners and private landowners to put in place voluntary conservation projects that benefit working rangelands, birds, and wildlife and in northern California. The tour she describes below featured ranchers enrolled in SGI, including Five Dot Ranch.

Dennis Wood, Rancher, and Jim Kenna, CA State Bureau of Land Management State Director share notes on the tour.

Dennis Wood, Rancher, and Jim Kenna, CA State Bureau of Land Management State Director share notes on the tour.

“Because of the collaborative climate-smart conservation work we do today, healthy ecosystems will continue to sustain thriving wildlife and human communities well into the future.”

This part of Point Blue’s vision statement resonates with me because it emphasizes a future of thriving wildlife and human communities. We can’t do one without the other. As a partner biologist, my role is to explore how people on ranches can thrive together with wildlife and habitats, because our futures are inextricably linked.

A Ranch Tour with a Vision

Working toward a future where wildlife and human communities thrive was the impetus for a recent Ranch Conservation Tour, co-hosted by Point Blue and the CA Rangeland Conservation Coalition (CRCC). Our goal: to demonstrate the links between wildlife habitat and conservation values to the ranches and rural communities that support them. We wanted to bring people together who have common future visions, but may have cultural or geographic boundaries that have kept them from understanding each other.

What better way to do that than getting out on the land together, followed by talking around kitchen tables in the living rooms of people whose livelihoods are tied to land health?

The tour included a total of 25 ranching, rangeland and wildlife stakeholders spanning two and half days.  It began in Tehama County, with visits to the Cobblestone Ranch, the Sacramento River Wildlife Refuge Del Rio Unit, and Abernathy Ranch in Western Shasta County.  Throughout our time together, discussions touched on topics including ranching with the return of large predators like wolves, juniper encroachment in sagebrush, feral horse impacts to streams, and endangered species.

Working Towards Shared Solutions

Conservation ‘tourists’ check out a ranch in California's Western Tehama County.

Conservation ‘tourists’ check out a ranch in California’s Western Tehama County.

On our second morning, Kathy Deforest of Deforest Livestock shared about Big Valley’s experience with the collared wolf OR-7 and the logistics of ranching with a large predator nearby. This is a daunting issue facing the livestock industry, but constructive communication amongst ranchers and conservation partners helped shed light on some of the potential opportunities to minimize predator and livestock conflicts.

At Jack and Darcy Hanson’s Willow Creek Ranch outside Susanville, the group visited with several local ranchers and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) California state director, Jim Kenna, about the complexities of managing sagebrush ecosystems to benefit native species, such as the Greater sage-grouse (recently a candidate species under the federal Endangered Species Act).  Two major concerns discussed were juniper encroachment and the negative impact of feral horses on springs and riparian areas that Greater Sage-Grouse depend on during the critical chick-rearing stage.

Reflecting on the Tour

Connecting people — that’s what this tour was all about. From sharing a meal to offering up a bed to someone from a different world, these human connections will drive wildlife habitat conservation. The next time you endeavor to save your favorite wildlife species, remember to save your human community too, so we can thrive together.  Thriving human populations include strong communities that collaborate to protect their natural and cultural heritage

“Our society is becoming increasingly urbanized and multi-generationally-removed from the family farm”, said one of the speakers, Todd Swickard of Five Dot Ranch in Standish. “Yet at the same time, people increasingly want to be more knowledgeable about where their food comes from and how it was raised.  Point Blue and CRCC are leaders in filling this void by fostering communication between consumers and producers with conservation being one of the important common threads.”

I enjoyed watching Patagonia-clad, outdoorsy conservationists sit next to 5th generation ranchers with dusty cowboy boots to talk about endangered species, small town life, and many other things. I enjoy these sorts of social experiments and relish in the awkwardness and awesomeness of bringing diverse people together. One participant stated, “The day I participated in was outstanding – educational, both through the itinerary and through the sidebar conversations as people with common interests get to meet.”

Point Blue Conservation Science and California Rangeland Conservation Coalition tour planners sincerely appreciate the ranchers’ generosity and the ‘tourists’ participation.

Read more about the SGI action team’s conservation results.

The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.