There is nothing quite like the Sierra Valley. Nestled between the Sierra Nevada mountains, the roughly 120,000 acres hold farm and ranch land, vital habitat to an array of wildlife, and important watershed areas. This small slice of heaven has remained frozen in time – fending off development encroaching from Truckee and Reno – all because the farmers and ranchers in the area have protected the legacy of the land.
The Bar One Ranch represents the largest ranch in the Sierra and Plumas Counties – totaling just over 13,000 acres. Holding 10% of the pristine watershed in the valley along with both irrigated and dry pastures, the ranch serves as a haven and corridor for wildlife, like deer, Sandhill Cranes, and antelope. So, when the fear of development came knocking in the late 1990s, Rick Montera and Jack and Beverly Sparrowk, owners of the Bar One Ranch, knew that they had to do everything in their power to protect this precious piece of land.
At the time, there were early plans drawn up to pave over and build on the majority of the valley. This plan included homes and other amenities that would run straight through Bar One Ranch and the surrounding ranches. Though selling the land to developers could have brought a substantial amount of money to the Sparrowks, that was never a consideration for them.
Jack stated, “We are not subdividers, we are ranchers.”
Jack knew that if he wanted to protect the land well beyond his years, he would need outside assistance. Jack was long-time friends with Darrel Sweet, who at the time was a part of the team that was forming the California Rangeland Trust.
Jack approached Darrel to see what a conservation easement would entail and if it would work on the Bar One Ranch. Since the Rangeland Trust was just coming to fruition, there was still a lot of research and learning to do.
“In 1999, the idea of a conservation easement was still a relatively new idea,” Darrel explained. “We did not have it all figured out, but neither did anyone else.”
This did not deter Darrel and the Sparrowks from pursuing an easement, rather it inspired them to look at what resources were out there for assistance. If the Rangeland Trust was able to close this easement, they knew that it would open a lot of doors for the organization and allow them to conserve more ranches all over the state.
At the time, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation had awarded the Sierra Business Council a $5 million grant to do conservation work in the Sierra-Nevada area. With the sheer amount of acreage and the diversity of wildlife habitat, the Bar One Ranch was an ideal candidate to conserve and protect.
Darrel, Jack, and some representatives from the Sierra Business Council and Nature Conservancy, all sat down to come up with the easement agreement.
“It all started with a blank sheet of paper,”
Darrel explained. With each party bringing in their own knowledge and passions,
there were a lot of previsions that needed to be incorporated.
This process was not for the faint of heart –
the whole process took a couple of years to complete. After many drafts and
negotiations, there was finally a resolution in 2002.
The 13,120-acre ranch was conserved in perpetuity, being the first of its kind in both the Sierra and Plumas Counties. This easement set precedence – not only in the Valley but also in the conservation industry. California Rangeland Trust brought a fresh perspective to conversation by being and working for ranchers.
Darrel explained, “[Ranchers] are on the land every day, they know what works and what doesn’t. At the end of the day, they have to care for the land to be able to be successful as ranchers.”
The Bar One Ranch conservation easement laid an important foundation for the Rangeland Trust. This easement served as a model for the four other easements in the Valley, including the DS Ranch (7,947 acres), the Goodwin Ranches (3,904 and 2,946 acres), the Maddelena Ranch (743 acres), and the Genasci Ranch (500 acres), as well as a multitude of others that followed.
The Rangeland Trust has just under a quarter of the Sierra Valley under easement, totaling just over 29,000 acres. The ranchers that have decided to enter into an easement agreement recognize the uniqueness and importance of the Sierra Valley and they are devoted to keeping it as is for generations to come.
As you drive the Gold Chain Highway – passing by pasture after pasture, seeing glimpses of wildlife, water, and livestock – you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing what you see now is what you will see later. None of that would be possible if it was not for the ranchers looking past their noses into the future. The Sparrowks laid a foundation that many have followed, so tip your hat as you drive by and thank all the landowners that have preserved the Sierra Valley for all of us to enjoy.