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California

Steering toward Sustainability

For 150 years, Darrell Wood and his forebears have sustained family-ranching operations in northern California. Recently, they were honored for an entirely different type of sustainability.

Wood’s Leavitt Lake Ranches won the 2009 National Environmental Stewardship Award at January’s 2010 Cattle Industry Annual Convention, beating out nearly 200 other nominees from around the United States.

“Protecting these grazing landscapes is just so important,” says Wood. “It helps provide a good healthy food product for consumers, a means to protect threatened and endangered species, and clean water and clean air. It all fits together.”

Sustainable Ranching: Real and Necessary

The Nature Conservancy—which leases its Vina Plains Preserve to Leavitt Lake—works with Wood and his family to develop new conservation grazing techniques and methods to protect California’s grasslands and ensure that ranching continues in sustainable ways.

“Sustainable farming is a trend that’s not going away, and consumers want more of that,” Wood says.

The stewardship award reflects the interdependent relationship between nature and industry, a relationship that the Conservancy is supporting at Vina Plains Preserve and throughout California.

A Natural Partnership

“Our relationship with The Nature Conservancy has been tremendous,” Wood says. “It’s given me the increased grazing capacity to bring my kids into the business.”

Partnerships with ranches have allowed the Conservancy to protect vast swaths of grasslands throughout California. In 2008 alone, these partnerships in California led to the protection of more than 50,000 acres.

“Some of the best wildlife habitat is found on privately owned lands, which makes ranchers natural partners for conservation,” said Rich Reiner, senior ecologist for the Conservancy. “With their strong relationship to the land, ranchers are often excellent land stewards.”

In recent years, the Conservancy has studied the environmental impacts of grazing at Vina Plains Preserve. The practice keeps ecosystems healthy by supporting vernal pools, removing invasive species and reducing fire hazards.

Feeding Families

In addition to feeding households throughout California and much of the western United States, Leavitt Lake Ranches is nourishing Wood’s own family.

Wood and his wife, Callie, have been ranching for nearly 30 years. His son, Ramsey, and daughter, Dallice, have also gotten in on the act and represent the sixth generation of the Wood family’s ranching heritage.

That hard work has improved the health of California’s environment, businesses and families. And that hard work will continue regardless of awards.

“We’re basking in the fun of it,” Wood says of the honor. “But tomorrow it’s back to work.”

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