“Most ranchers don’t want to make themselves a public figure,” he says. “They don’t want to talk, they just want to get their work done and have people leave them alone. I ended up kind of breaking the mold because I feel so strongly about the value of grazing.”
Tim graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno and worked as an agriculture and industrial arts teacher in the small reservation town of McDermitt on the Oregon border. As his father’s health declined, he looked for a job closer to home. After three years as an agriculture teacher at Arroyo Grande High School in San Luis Obispo County, followed by 10 years as an ag lender with the Farm Credit system, he was offered the role of Rangeland Resource Manager by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).
Around this time, a shift in public opinion challenged the time-honored practice of grazing the 40,000-acre watershed Tim was hired to manage.
“The most important thing we did was field trips,” Tim recalls. “We took people out and showed them what we were doing. Groups like the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club in San Francisco were against grazing and fearful it would contaminate water sources and cause illness in their communities. Through scientific programs we put together, we brought the facts to the table and were able to show them that grazing was safe. They ended up signing on in support.”
Without this work, California could look very different today. “Los Angeles Power & Water has hundreds of thousands of acres leased out for grazing. If we had removed grazing from our watershed, it would have had a domino effect on every other major water purveyor in California.”
Tim reflects on those 25 years at SFPUC. “I’m proud of the work we did there,” he says. “We had a large number of endangered species throughout the watershed and we took pride in trying to take care of them just as we took care of the land and our grazing tenants.”
But there was little time to enjoy the victory. In 1991, the Koopmann ranch faced a new threat following the unexpected death of Tim’s father. In the midst of their grief, the family was forced to reckon with a sudden tax bill of $750,000.
“I was working for wages and had two kids. My parents had $75,000 in the bank and that was pretty well eroded by the state of California and a down payment to the IRS.”
The family explored every possible avenue to save the ranch, from cell towers to selling off parcels. In the end, they realized the answer had been on the ranch the whole time. Tim spotted a small breeding pond where the endangered California tiger salamander thrived.
“Those little short-legged critters are the most lucrative livestock we ever raised,” he chuckles.
In total, three mitigation easements held by California Rangeland Trust were purchased by developers and placed on the ranch. Finalized between 2003 and 2015, these easements offset Bay Area development in Pleasanton and San Jose and protected the habitats of two sensitive species—the California tiger salamander and the callippe silverspot butterfly. Funds from these easements saved the Koopmann family ranch.
“The Rangeland Trust started off thinking they could help a few ranchers; now they’re at over 330,000 acres plus an active project list,” Tim says. To him, the help from the Rangeland Trust proved that people do care about the work ranchers are doing. “I can’t say enough good things about the California Rangeland Trust.”
Tim’s background in range science enabled him to show government agencies that the management practices used on the ranch for decades, which had allowed these species to thrive, should go on uninterrupted. With the Rangeland Trust monitoring the easements, the Koopmanns have been able to manage the ranch as before.