Business council invests in wildlife area | SierraSun.com

Business council invests in wildlife area

David Bunker, Sierra Sun

The Truckee-based Sierra Business Council partnered with the Feather River Land Trust and ranch owner Fred Balderston to protect the 1,360-acre Balderston Ranch in the Sierra Valley from development and preserve it as a working cattle ranch.

On Thursday, the partners announced the conservation easement that strips development and mining rights from the property, preventing it from being subdivided or exploited for its resources. Habitat on the ranch is important to the migratory and wintering pattern of the Loyalton-Truckee deer herd and also harbors as many as 130 bird species.

“[The deer herd’s] main migratory route goes right through the property,” said Feather River Land Trust Director Paul Hardy. “It has incredible forage plants for their migration.”

Antelope creek also runs through the property, which is south of state Route 49 and west of Loyalton. About half of the property is meadow and pastureland, and the rest is a mix of pine forest and bitter brush uplands.

“Sierra Valley is a very special place,” said land owner Fred Balderston in a written statement. “The ranch is like an old friend to me and protecting its land, wildlife, and scenery, while ensuring that the property remains a working ranch, is a legacy my family is very proud to pass on.”

The easement, which was financed from a Lucile and David Packard Foundation grant to the Sierra Business Council, is part of the Sierra Business Council’s Working Landscapes Initiative. The amount of the grant was not disclosed to the public.

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The initiative was developed to protect useful agricultural land and adopt good management tactics for these areas. In buying the property rights, the agreement rewards the ranch owner with working capital to continue ranching on the land, while also preserving open space and biological resources. The Balderston ranch only runs between 200 and 400 head of cattle on the land, a medium to small operation for the area.

Starting in 1998, the Sierra Business Council has been working at protecting portions of the Sierra Valley from development, including the Bar One Ranch project, which protected 13,100 acres, the Strang/Sanford Ranch, and the ongoing efforts for an easement on the 8,000-acre DS Ranch. So far the Sierra Business Council has helped protect almost 25,000 acres in the Sierra Valley. The Sierra Valley is California’s largest alpine valley.

The council’s philosophy that protecting the natural beauty of the Sierras goes hand-in-hand with the economic success of the region, has led them to tie land protection to the welfare of business in the area.

“Property in the Sierra Valley is relatively inexpensive compared to Truckee,” said Sierra Business Council’s Director of Natural Resources Steve Frisch, “but there is buying pressure from Truckee and Reno.”

“There are third- and fourth-generation ranchers in the valley that want to keep on ranching,” he said.

The recent conservation easement transactions have helped ranchers continue the tradition of ranching in the area, protected a vital deer migration route, and preserved open space in an area where land prices are relatively low but are expected to rise as the area develops.

Balderston, who donated one-third of the price of the easement, did not want the exact amount of the easement disclosed.

“We are pleased to see the growing local support, especially among ranchers, for preserving the Sierra Valley’s agricultural lands and spectacular environmental values,” said Frisch in a written statement. “We have been contacted by dozens of other landowners who are interested in the win-win solution provided by agricultural easements.”