April 22, 2021 BY MAdison Goss

Earth Day falls on April 22nd, but for the ranching community, every day is Earth Day.

This could not ring truer for Darrel and Karen Sweet, owners of the Sweet Ranch in Alameda County and proud California Rangeland Trust ranching partners. “As you enter our property, we have a sign that says, ‘Every day is Earth Day on our ranch,'” Darrel explained. The couple received the sign from friends and fellow California Rangeland Trust ranching partners, Tim and Melinda Koopmann from the Koopmann Ranch, many years ago. Today, the Sweets remain committed to carrying out this mantra both in their words and actions every day.   

This sign was given to the Sweets by Tim & Melinda Koopmann of the Koopmann Ranch.

The land encompassed by the Sweet Ranch has been stewarded by the Sweet family since the late 1800s. Though it was sold around 1900, the family continued to lease the land and raise livestock. In 1975, Darrel and Karen reacquired the ranch as it stands for their small cow-calf operation.

Like most ranchers, Darrel and Karen have maintained the health of the ranch by staying in tune with their land. The couple prioritizes the landscape and its management by tracking the natural conditions that can affect it. The seasonal duration of cattle grazing on site depends on range conditions, the amount of rainfall, and the time of year the rainfall occurs. There are four fenced pastures on the ranch. To protect one specific area from being overgrazed, the cattle are distributed evenly between the four. 

In 2018, the Sweets partnered with the California Rangeland Trust and conserved 363-acres of their property to mitigate potential environmental impacts from the installation of nearby wind turbines along the Altamont Pass and surrounding area. By protecting the ranch and the natural resources it supports, the Sweets are also protecting habitats of threatened and endangered wildlife including San Joaquin kit fox, California red-legged frog, and tiger salamander.

Through their years of experience, the Sweets have seen the benefits of responsible grazing, and now, work to share their knowledge with fellow ranchers, policymakers, city planners, and anyone willing to listen. 

Darrel and Karen riding through their pasture.

For years, Darrel and Karen have battled the common misconception that by eliminating livestock grazing land, the land will be restored it to its original, prehistoric state. But as the ranching community knows, when grazing is removed the land does not revert back; rather, it loses its natural inhabitants including native plant and animal species. This is because it is no longer properly managed for flora and fauna to thrive. As Karen puts it, “when grazing occurs in open space, we are providing an enjoyable, managed landscape for everyone and everything to enjoy.”

“There are over 40 million people in California, and a vast majority do not know what agriculture is nor what it does for them on a daily basis,” Darrel said. But working landscapes are critical to our state’s social, cultural, economic, and environmental wellbeing.

A recent study conducted by scientists at UC Berkeley and commissioned by the Rangeland Trust found that roughly 300,000 acres of rangeland conserved by the Trust provide $1.44 billion in environmental benefits annually to the people of California. 

But what does this mean?

It means that the lands that are carefully managed by ranching families like the Sweets support plant and wildlife ecosystems that offer an abundance of benefits to Californians including healthy food, clean water, vibrant plant and wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, spectacular viewsheds, and more.

The wind turbines on the ranch supply power to Kaiser Permanente and Google.

All rangeland is different, just like not one person is the same. At the end of the day, ranchers protect and manage the land the best way they know how: their way. For generations, ranching stewards have been in tune with every change, practice, and species that are present on their land. They take classes, they read up on new research, and they talk to their friends in the industry to make sure they are employing the best management practices possible so that future generations will continue to benefit from these precious spaces.

So, on this Earth Day, let us not just celebrate the land that we call home, but also the people and the families who steward it.