On a frozen February morning earlier this year, ESLT Lands Director Aaron Johnson and I took a drive up to Bridgeport, CA to visit with a family that has been ranching in this iconic, high-Sierra valley for generations. They had invited us to come out for a visit, and were interested in conservation options that would allow them to protect their land as a working ranch. So we bundled up, exchanged introductions and hopped in the back of their truck for a tour.
Bathed in snow and sparkling in the morning sunlight, the landscape took our breath away. The landowners shared with us their dreams for the future of their beautiful property, and we shared with them the tools that Eastern Sierra Land Trust could provide to help preserve their ranch for generations to come. We returned home that afternoon feeling inspired, ready to dive into this new project and apply our expertise towards protecting its’ historic agricultural values and vital wildlife habitat.
Just two days before our annual Lands & Legacy Celebration, my inbox was lit up with one of the most exciting emails I have ever received in my professional career. To cut to the chase, here is an excerpt:
“…I am pleased to inform you that the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) application for an Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) submitted for your project has been selected for funding by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in the amount of $3,000,000.”
Nope, that’s not a typo, and there aren’t any extra zeros in there: three million dollars. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service was so supportive of this new project in Bridgeport Valley that they awarded ESLT a grant that would pay for 75% of the purchase price of a conservation easement to protect the ranch’s critical values.
Under the newly-created Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, the NRCS selected our project because of the important role it plays preserving irrigated agricultural lands that provide habitat for the Bi-State greater sage-grouse. This award is a huge achievement for ESLT, and is the largest grant award in our organization’s history. With this funding, we are poised to permanently preserve more than 2,000 acres of environmentally and economically significant grasslands in Bridgeport Valley.
These grant dollars will go directly towards the protection of the property through the acquisition of a conservation easement. To carry this project forward to that final stage, ESLT will rely on the ongoing and generous support of our members – as well as smaller, private grants – to help us cover legal expenses and staff time.
Though we have plenty of work ahead of us, to see such support on a national level for this developing project is incredibly exhilarating. It is a great reminder of how unique and important our region is, and how vital our work is to preserving the magnificent places that make the Eastern Sierra so special.