The historic 400-acre Walker Ranch in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, home to the Walker family, the California tiger salamander, San Joaquin Kit Fox, western burrowing owl and the California red-legged frog, was forever protected in 2013 thanks to the teamwork of the family, an energy solutions company, and the California Rangeland Trust. Through this unique partnership, the Walker family will continue to operate the ranch they love, and the species the ranch supports will benefit from good land management practices.
In the early 1980’s the Walker family, who has raised cattle on the Walker Ranch at the Altamont Pass for nearly 100 years, was approached by a wind energy company that wanted to put windmills on their land to produce power for the surrounding communities. The Walkers agreed. With the lease of surface rights, that company put hundreds of windmills on the tops of the ranch’s largest hills. Those windmills provided power to the East Bay for two dozen years without fail.
Years later, the wind technology on the ranch needed updating for increased efficiency. Commonly called “re-powering” by locals, the energy company replaced the aging windmills with 15 larger and more efficient, 3.2mw Siemens turbines. That upgrade required the company to build new roads and slightly alter the landscape, triggering the requirement for a new permit.
During the permitting process, the energy company found out that the new roads would impact the habitat of the California tiger salamander, California red-legged frog, San Joaquin kit fox and burrowing owl, all of which thrive on the cattle-grazed wind farm. State and federal laws mandate the loss of those habitats must be mitigated by the permanent protection of similar habitat nearby. Together, the energy company and the Walker family found a viable solution to the problem using a conservation easement held by the Rangeland Trust. Because the Walker family employs sustainable practices to manage their ranch, the energy company was able to use 400 acres of the 1,956 acre Walker ranch near the wind farm for mitigation.