Efforts to prevent increases in greenhouse gas emissions throughout California have found a friend in Eastern Sierra Land Trust. A new statewide program that aims to fight the effects of climate change has awarded ESLT a grant for $917,500 – funds that will go directly towards permanently protecting Bridgeport Valley’s historic Sceirine Point Ranch.
“Preserving open space, agricultural resources, and wildlife habitat here in the Eastern Sierra is ESLT’s goal, and Bridgeport Valley is one of those special places that embodies our region’s identity in so many ways,” commented Kay Ogden, ESLT Executive Director. “Knowing that our efforts to protect the Sceirine Point Ranch have been recognized as not only valuable to maintaining the legacy of our region, but also critical to the health and future of our entire state – it’s a real victory for everyone.”
The Sustainable Agricultural Land Conservation (SALC) program selected ESLT from amidst a highly competitive pool of applicants from across the state. Recently introduced by California’s Strategic Growth Council and administered by the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program, the SALC awards California Climate Investments assets that result from the state’s cap-and-trade auctions. By funding land conservation projects such as ESLT’s on the Sceirine Point Ranch, the SALC aims to prevent emission increases that result from developing farmland.
The Sceirine Point Ranch has been owned and operated by the same ranching family for over 130 years. In 2013, the landowners approached ESLT to learn about tools to preserve their ranch for future generations. At over 2,400 acres, the ranch has productive irrigated meadows that provide vital summer range for cattle as well as key habitat for wildlife – including the Greater sage-grouse, which uses the property year-round.
In 2014 the Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded ESLT a $3 million grant through their Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to protect this property because of the important role that its irrigated grasslands play as sage-grouse habitat. But ESLT was still short $1 million to pay the fair market value of the conservation easement – so ESLT turned to the new SALC program to obtain the additional funding needed. Now with support from federal, state, and local levels, ESLT and the landowner can move forward towards safeguarding Sceirine Point Ranch forever.
With other conservation easements nearby, establishing one at the Sceirine Point Ranch would add to the protected land in the area. Under the terms of the easement, land ownership would remain private, keeping the property on Mono County tax rolls, and the landowner would continue to be responsible for managing the property. Purchased from the landowner with funds awarded by the SALC and the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, the easement would restrict certain future uses and limit building and subdivision in order to protect important habitat, as well as the agricultural and scenic values of the land.
“There’s still so much work to be done – these grant funds cannot cover all of the operational costs required to get to the point where we can purchase this and other agricultural conservation easements,” Kay said. “To achieve this success, ESLT will ultimately rely on the continued support of our Eastern Sierra community.”
Nevertheless, the SALC award represents a major step towards the permanent protection of the Sceirine Point Ranch, and supporting landowners throughout the Bridgeport Valley to limit poorly-planned development and harmful emissions increases. “Funding sources are tighter than ever these days. Without the SALC grant, completing this large-scale project might have been impossible,” continued Kay. “This award is a momentous honor for ESLT.”