Orvis Ranch’s Agricultural Heritage Protected (CA)

CALAVERAS COUNTY, CA, 5/9/2006: Bruce Orvis’ family has raised cattle on the gentle slopes of Orvis Ranch, near Copperopolis, since 1873. Today The Trust for Public Land and the California Rangeland Trust announced that a conservation easement will protect the 2,563-acre ranch from growing development pressures forever. The project is the first agricultural conservation easement in the history of Calaveras County. About two thirds ofthe ranch is located across the County line in Stanislaus County.

It was a personal priority for Orvis to preserve the ranch as open space. “Four generations put it together, and there’s no way I wanted to be responsible for the ranch being cut up,” he says. “It’s a dream of mine that this place stays big open country.” The easement protects the ranch while allowing the Orvis family to continue to own and operate it, helping to protect the agricultural heritage of a region with a population projected to double by 2040.

“The Central Valley is the nation’s food basket, but subdivision and development of agricultural lands is reaching epidemic levels as the Sacramento and Bay Areas sprawl ever outward,” says Reed Holderman, executive director of TPL-California. “With this easement, we’re helping to protect the essential character of the Central Valley for future generations of the Orvis family, and for the current and future residents of the region.”

The picturesque ranch runs along State Highway 4, and is known for spectacular spring wildflower blooms. Its scenic qualities have even landed it a role in several Hollywood productions, including Gregory Peck’s “The Big Country,” and the pilot of long-running television series “Little House on the Prairie.”

The California Department of Conservation’s California Farmland Conservancy Program, the US Department of Agriculture’s Farm & Ranchland Protection Program and the Great Valley Center provided grant funds for the project. The Trust for Public Land arranged the funding, and the California Rangeland Trust will assume the monitoring responsibilies.

“The California Rangeland Trust is proud to work with the Orvis family to fulfill their desire to maintain their land as a working ranch. This agreement will benefit agricultural production and grazing, and will preserve the valuable habitat of this historic ranch,” said Nita Vail, executive director of the California Rangeland Trust. The ranch will continue to be owned and managed by the Orvis family and remains on the county tax rolls supporting both Calaveras and Stanislaus Counties.

“The heart of California is in the Central Valley,” added Bridgett Luther, Director of the state’s Department of Conservation. “The grant we provided to help support this easement is designed to protect the valuable resources on Orvis Ranch, but also to protect our agricultural heritage.”

Ed Burton, State Conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, concurred. “I want to commend the Orvis Family for their commitment to protecting the land, the agricultural productivity, the wildlife values and the open space that this ranch represents for the Central Valley. It is a great treasure and one that is worthy of protection.”

“Prices are driving a lot of Bay Area and coastal refugees to the Central Valley,” says Charles Tyson, who oversees the state-run California Farmland Conservancy Program. “Stanislaus County is one of those billion-dollar ag counties, but for a lot of people it’s commuting distance to the Bay Area.” Orvis Ranch is the California Farmland Conservancy Program’s first easement grant in both Stanislaus and Calaveras Counties.

Holly King, Director of Agricultural Programs for The Great Valley Center, says “We were honored to participate in this project and partner with individuals and organizations that are making a difference for the future of the Central Valley.”

Orvis, too, hopes his ranch can be a catalyst for further conservation. “When you live in the same place and deal with so many people for a lifetime, why, on something like this you can almost be a lightning rod for people to want to come and find out what it’s all about.”

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization dedicated to conserving land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Founded in 1972, TPL has protected 2 million acres nationwide. Find TPL online at www.tpl.org

The California Rangeland Trust is a statewide nonprofit organization created to conserve the open space, natural habitat and stewardship provided by California’s ranches. The Rangeland Trust holds conservation easements on working ranches covering over 175,000 acres throughout California. Find CRT online at www.rangelandtrust.org.

For more information about the California Farmland Conservancy Program, visit www.consrv.ca.gov/DLRP/cfcp/index.htm