“It is a common story,” explained Steve Sinton, founding chairman of the Rangeland Trust and current emeritus council member. “Someone wants out, but that is part of the reason we decided to form the Rangeland Trust, to keep these California family ranches together.”
Ranchers are ardent conservationists that recognize the need to care for the land so it will take care of them in return. While a fundamental desire to safeguard the land and its natural resources holds true for most landowners that pursue conservation, extinguishing their development rights can also provide significant financial relief for these ranching families. Conservation agreements can offer solutions to ranchers looking to pay off outstanding debt, invest in other business ventures to support the viability of their ranching operations, or buy out other family members that want to divest their interests. The latter was the case for the owners of the Flentge Ranch.
Just outside of Parkfield, CA stands the Flentge Ranch— 3,000 acres of rolling hills, vibrant grasslands, magnificent woodlands, and ancient oak trees. The ranch was established in the 1880s by Henry Flentge, with his wife and four children. After Henry passed away in 1899, the land, and hard work that went along with it, were left to his children. Although rewarding, ranching did not make for an easy life, and the Flentges put everything they had into making it work. Never marrying or having children of their own, the four Flentge siblings worked day in and day out, just barely scraping by.
“The Flentges lived dirt-poor lives, but in doing so, they left no debt to us,” Kyler Hamann, current co-owner of the property, explained.
Myrtle Flentge, the last remaining Flentge sibling, passed away in 1972. After her passing, the ranch was left to multiple distant relatives: the Hamanns, Metzlers, and another set of cousins. Unfortunately, the other cousins had no connection to the ranch and quickly sold their portion, which included the original home, without notifying the Hamanns or Metzlers.
“Losing that piece of property was extremely disheartening for the family,” Kyler stated. “We lost such an important piece to our family heritage.”
In the early 2000s, Kyler feared that history would repeat itself when he noticed the Metzlers were spending less and less time out on the ranch. Rather than sit back idly and watch another piece of the Flentge Ranch disappear, Kyler and his sibling, Kris, also a co-owner of the property, began planning and researching potential avenues that would allow them to buy out their cousins.
As fate would have it, Kyler and Kris’s father, Duane Hamann, knew Steve Sinton through the local school board. Duane started picking Steve’s brain to learn about conservation easements and how the Rangeland Trust may be able to help the family keep their ranch intact as they looked toward succession down the road.
Then in 2012, Kyler got the call he had been anticipating. The eldest Metzler cousin informed him that they were looking to sell. Fortunately, Kyler and his cousin had a great relationship, and although the Metzlers wanted out of the ranching business, they also wanted to make sure the Hamanns had their fair shake at acquiring the Metzler’s half.
“My cousin was actually the one that brought up the Rangeland Trust in that conversation,” Kyler recounted. “He told me to run the numbers and see if conserving both portions of the ranch would be a comparable sale price to buy them out.”
Kyler returned to Steve to start the application process.
Once an application is received and approved, the Rangeland Trust immediately gets to work to secure funding for conservation, but because of funders’ priorities and the complex processes for grant submissions, the journey to secure funding can be a lengthy one. For landowners struggling to save their ranches, time is not always on their side.
Kyler knew this and feared that the time required to achieve conservation may deter his cousins from waiting until he and his family could come up with the cash to buy them out. But, understanding how much the property meant to the Hamanns and wanting to see the ranch stay in the family and functioning as a working landscape forever, the Metzlers held off on putting their portion of the ranch up for sale.
“I had to sit down where I was standing in the yard because I was overcome with relief and excitement,” Kyler exclaimed.
Kyler quickly contacted his cousin to tell him the good news. After a few short months, the conservation documents were signed, the Metlzers were paid, and the Hamanns became the sole owners of the Flentge Ranch.
“Everyone has their own type of treasure, ours are these 360-degree views that were given to us,” said Duane. The entire Hamann family recognizes the responsibility they have to care for the land, and they feel fortunate to be able to carry on the Flentge family legacy.
Today, the ranch offers a striking resemblance to what it looked like when Henry Flentge purchased the land over 140 years ago. It remains a place for cattle to graze, wildlife to roam, and families to gather, just as Henry always intended. And because of the determination of the Hamann family, it will stay that way for generations to come thanks to their partnership with the Rangeland Trust.