Cattle Ranching and Ecosysem Management at Sweet Ranch - It's the Natural Thing To Do
The Sweet Family members enjoy the plants and wildlife on the ranches, as well as learning more about them and their characteristics. Grandma Ozeta Sweet used to take us on Spring wildlfower walks and picnics, pointing out the flowers and giving us her pet names for them. She helped us identify the birds, but we didn't know any were threatened and protected. Our Dad, Malvern Sweet enjoyed the wildlife, too. He continued his mother's planting of eucalyptus trees, providing shade for the cattle, firewood for us and bird nesting habitat. On work breaks he'd watch the raptors above the creek in his tall trees. He built a pipe perch on top of the hill since there are no trees there. One of the reasons he toured the ranch by horseback, we believe was to quietly observe the wildlife. Dad and Grandma agreed to have a stock pond built in the pasture that didn't have stock water. The spring filled it up to provide refreshment year round. The critters found the pond and brought in tullies that enhanced the habitat even more.
While we grew up seeing spotted black salamanders in dark and damp places, like under water troughs, we didn't know what they were nor how special they were. We certainly didn't know they spent most of their lives in squirrel holes! And, who could imagine that the squirrels were so critical to the ecosystem and so many species. Karen and Darrel have a wooded perennial stream on their ranch that is home to abundant wildlife and an oasis for transient critters. We didn't know how unusual the spring-fed streams are in the Altamont until we started reviewing aerial photographs and mapping studies. None of us appreciated how valuable stock ponds can be for multiple species.
(Photo, California Tiger Salamander. Credit: Alameda County RCD)
It is important to us that we are knowledgeable about and maintain the species and enhance the habitat where practicable. Since becoming aware of the ecosystem values on the ranches the family has learned more about the species on the ranches and their habitat requirements. We've affiliated ourselves with the CA Rangeland Conservation Coalition and have had various roles with the Alameda County Resource Conservation District where we've learned more that applies to our own ranch. Numerous wildlife, bird and vegetation experts help us assess the conservation values on the ranch and have learned much from them. (Photo Credit: Colleen Lenihan)
In 2006 the Alameda County Resource Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service had funds available and the permitting process in place to restore deteriorating stock ponds. Our pond is a breeding pond for CA Red-legged frogs and CA Tiger Salamander, both threatened and protected by regulation. The pond had become very shallow and the dam was at risk, thus risking that the breeding habitat would be lost. The pasture already had new water troughs, and the pond became no longer necessary for the cattle, although convenient. The project successfully rebuilt the dam, established a drop-structure, built a new overflow, and removed a significant amount of sediment. (See USFWS article. and the "A District Runs Through It" article, published by CA Association of Resource Conservation Districts.) (Photo: Completed pond. Darrel and Kate Symonds, US Fish and Wildlife Service)
The most important lessons we've learned are that we have been ranching correctly to sustain and enhance the ecosystem of the ranches, and that we must continue our grazing management regime to maintain it. Besides, watching for wildlife and appreciating better our stewardship role and opportunities gives us more satisfaction and challenges us. It's more fun, now, too!
There are many cattlemen who have been recognized for their rangeland stewardship efforts. Some stories are published in Grazing for Change and on the Rangeland Coalition's website and the California Cattlemen's Association's website.
The Environmental Stewardship Program is a national award. Our friends who have won the national award include Yolo Land and Cattle Company (Stone Family); Darrel Wood; George Works. Other friends have been regional winners, including Jack and Beverly Sparrowk, Ione Conlanand Dave Wood.
Jack and Beverly are 2012 regional winners of the prestigious Environmental Stewardship Award Program for their numerous conservation projects and two conservation easements in California and Oregon. The award is sponsored by National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Dow AgroSciences, National Cattlemen's Foundation.
The Leopold Conservation Award program recognizes California private land stewards as well. Ranchers Chet Vogt and Tim Koopmann are among this list. Sponsors include: Sand County Foundation, Sustainable Conservation, California Farm Bureau Federation, American AgCredit, The Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund (2014). More information about this award is also available at Sustainable Conservation.