Through the truck window, the rolling hills of California’s central coast are still covered with plentiful grass that stretches as far as the eye can see. The land is owned by philanthropist and real estate entrepreneur B. Wayne Hughes, Jr. who raises all-natural beef and hosts a veteran’s program on the 20,000-acre SkyRose Ranch. SkyRose Ranch was once the Deer Valley Ranch, graciously donated to California Rangeland Trust in 2010 and subsequently sold to Mr. Hughes and protected forever through a conservation easement.
Ranch manager, Rick Scantlin, slowed the truck and pointed at a hill where a healthy gold patchwork of shrub and grass is separated by a straight line from a solid gray green nearly impenetrable blanket of brush. “That’s what the goats reclaimed last year,” he said. Left alone, these hills become unhospitable to the lives it once nurtured. Native grasses get choked out, and the wildlife leave. Here at SkyRose Ranch, herds of goats are trucked in each winter to browse the dense brush and make way for native grasses to emerge with the seasonal rains.
Stopping at other hillsides, Rick continued. “We plant close to 100 acres of grasses per year just for wildlife and soil improvement.” In the five years since Rick has been at SkyRose Ranch, over eight miles of new fences have been built, furthering land restoration and management efforts through managed grazing. Miles of pipe have also been laid, bringing water to numerous tanks topping the hills.
The land is teaming with life. Fat, content cattle cluster near the oaks. Born and raised on the ranch, the cattle are never injected with implants, hormones, or antibiotics. Any animals requiring antibiotic treatment are removed from the program and sold. Most of the calves will live out their days on the ranch.
With easy access to water and feed, the wildlife thrive. “I’ve never seen such bountiful wildlife until I came here,” Rick said. “As of today, we have installed 65 water troughs, 31 wildlife guzzlers, and established four different wallows. These are all in addition to what was already here. We aren’t done yet either.” Throughout the afternoon, deer and a score of wild boar scurried away from the approaching truck as we drove through the ranch.
SkyRose Ranch doesn’t just support abundant wildlife and livestock; this piece of ground is also where the wounded find haven and support. Behind a small stand of oaks, a large battle-scarred bull elk stood still as the truck approached. Sensing his camouflage left something to be desired, he limped deeper into the brush. With plenty of cover and nearby water, the warrior stands a chance to fight another day. Human warriors find healing here as well.
Founded to combat veteran suicide and divorce rate statistics – 22 veterans commit suicide every day and 80% of marriages end in divorce – the Serving California Active Duty and Veteran Military Warriors program at SkyRose Ranch has seen incredible success. Warriors suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress spend a week at the ranch where they develop peer-based support systems. With over a thousand graduates, not one of these at-risk men have committed suicide or divorced. Reed, a program graduate, said of SkyRose Ranch, “Its beauty is amazing, and every detail is thought out. It makes you feel overwhelmed that someone would go to all that trouble just for you.” We recognize the power of the land to heal as we celebrate Veterans Day this month. It’s no mistake that Serving California – not-so incidentally the name of the nonprofit founded by Mr. Hughes – is what this ranch is all about; from maximizing water resources, to habitat restoration, to food production, to serving the veterans who fought for us.
First published in California Rangeland Trust’s Fall 2016 Newsletter. Written by Jessica Kong, Former Communications Director