Lake County, Oregon is a vast expanse of Oregon Outback nestled between Klamath Falls to the West and the Great Basin to the southeast. This region has long been known for uninterrupted views and wide-open spaces. However, as in many parts of rural Oregon, the demand for land subdivision and development of “ranchettes” is reducing the amount of land available for agriculture. According to the American Farmland Trust, 55 million acres of agricultural land were lost throughout the United States between 1987 and 1997. And about 350 thousand of those acres were in Oregon.DrewsValleyRanch: from Sparrowk Website

Protecting Lands to Preserve a Livelihood

Jack and Bev Sparrowk, owners of Drew’s Valley Ranch in Lake County, wanted to ensure their land would be permanently protected. In 2001, they helped form the Oregon Rangeland Trust (ORT) to preserve the state’s traditional ranchland and protect it from subdivision and development. Modeled after the California Rangeland Trust, ORT is governed by ranchers who have firsthand knowledge of ranching practices, challenges, and resource needs. “Ranching is a way of life that we can no longer take for granted,” says Jack. “It is our responsibility and privilege to help make sure this beautiful landscape and its agricultural heritage are not destroyed.”

The Drew’s Valley project is the first of what ORT hopes to be a series of such efforts to support the agricultural way of life in Oregon. “Protecting Drew’s Valley is a major victory for all of Oregon,” says ORT Board President Larry Rew. “It helps sustain our economic and agriculture base, while protecting the natural beauty of the place we call home.”  Next steps for ORT include implementing long- term stewardship on Drew’s Valley Ranch, looking for new projects with positive conservation impacts and expanding the pool of funding sources for such projects.

ESAP2012_Sparrowk_1187Partners in Conservation

Working with the Trust for Public Land (TPL), the Sparrowks sold a conservation easement on their land, granting development rights to buyers, while ensuring that natural resources on the land will be protected. Jack and Bev donated a portion of the easement to ensure the completion of the project and protect the sanctity of the land in perpetuity. 

By selling easements, ranchers, farmers and foresters can stabilize their finances and keep actual ownership of their land. Former TPL Oregon Field Office Director Geoff Roach says, “The Oregon Rangeland Trust, and the Sparrowks, are leaders in the effort to protect rural Oregon’s agricultural way of life and beautiful landscape. Their vision and leadership will help pave the way for continued conservation of our natural resources.”

The 11,400-acre ranch is surrounded by the Fremont National Forest and includes nine miles of streams, eight tributary creeks, a lake and grassy wetlands. The ranch is home to more than 185 species of birds, fish and mammals, including the bald eagle and red-band trout. Thanks to the conservation easement, this important habitat will also be permanently protected.

Partial financing for the easement came from state funds, including lottery revenue, and was matched by federal funds. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) was also instrumental in assisting the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association to form the ORT, as they provide grants to projects that benefit conservation education, habitat protection and restoration as well as natural resource management. The ORT was formed as an entity that could both provide natural resource stewardship and be responsive to management issues associated with a working ranch.