2235-Acre Ranch Near Stockton, CA, Protected

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, CA, 2/28/2008: The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the California Rangeland Trust (CRT) announced the protection of the W.F. Cook Cattle Company ranch near Farmington. The 2235-acre ranch is located just 13 miles east of Stockton, where similar properties are being subdivided and sold as ranchettes. A conservation easement ensures this family operation will be spared that fate, and preserves its highly productive grasslands for grazing and agricultural use.

The Cook family has been raising cattle just outside of Farmington for generations. They have witnessed tremendous change during the past 20 years, as the Central Valley’s population has grown by 20 percent. Much of that growth is happening in cities, but there is also a trend toward parcelization of large farms and ranches. Neighboring properties have been divided into 40-acre lots. Bill Cook wanted to keep his ranch intact and in agriculture, and approached TPL for help. “I wanted to stop development at our boundary line,” he said.

TPL worked with the California Department of Conservation, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), and the California Rangeland Trust to place an agricultural conservation easement on the W.F. Cook Cattle Company ranch. The ranch is open rangeland at present, without a single structure. The conservation easement allows a single family residence to be built in the future along with a ranch headquarters for working cattle. Under the easement restrictions, no other buildings will ever occur on the property.

“The Central Valley is the heart of our state, and family farms and ranches are the heart of the Valley,” said Reed Holderman, executive director of TPL-California. “The region is known for its orchards, fields, and grasslands, but they’re a threatened resource. Today, we’ve preserved a piece of that rural character while also supporting local industry.”

The W.F. Cook Cattle Company easement will be managed by California Rangeland Trust. Landowners Bill and Lynn Cook made a substantial land value donation, reducing the cost of the easement by 14 percent. The easement was funded in part by the Department of Conservation California Farmland Conservancy Program. The remaining funds came from the FRPP, funded by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, or 2002 Farm Bill. A new Farm Bill currently under debate in U.S. Congress will determine the availability of future FRPP funds.

“The preservation of farm and ranchlands is crucial to maintaining California’s agricultural vitality,” said Bridgett Luther, Director of the state’s Department of Conservation. “The grant we provided to help support this easement is designed to protect the resources on W. F. Cook Cattle Company ranchand also to protect our agricultural heritage.”

Ed Burton, State Conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, said, “I want to commend Bill and Lynn Cook for their commitment to protecting the land, the agricultural productivity, and the open space and habitat values this ranch represents for the Valley.”

“We are proud to complete this conservation easement agreement on the W.F. Cook Cattle Company’s ranch and forever conserve this working landscape and the environment the existing ranching practices support. Our mission is to conserve rangeland such as this so generations to come will benefit from its resources, come to know its Western legacy and enjoy its beauty,” said Nita Vail, executive director of the California Rangeland Trust.

The W.F. Cook Cattle Company ranch is located just eight miles west of Orvis Ranch, which was protected in 2006 through Calaveras County’s first agricultural conservation easement. The 2,500-acre property has been in the Orvis family for 130 years, and the easement ensures it will never be subdivided or developed. As development pressure increases in the Valley, more and more ranchers are turning to easements to protect their land.