Things are changing around the Calamus River. Agricultural land surrounding the river and Calamus Reservoir is being subdivided and sold to recreational buyers.
It’s an outcome that Bruce and Sue Ann Switzer and their kids hated to imagine. They own Switzer Ranch and Nature Reserve, which is is 16 miles northwest of Burwell in Loup County. Highway frontage - and the Switzers’ proximity to the Calamus River and Reservoir - makes it a highly desirable property for developers.
The land is highly desirable for wildlife, too. The Switzer Ranch and two neighboring ranches have been designated as the “Greater Gracie Creek Important Bird Area (IBA)” by the Audubon Society. It is the first privately-owned site in the state to be identified as an IBA, attributable to its 215 recorded species of birds including prairie grouse (more than 35 leks and booming grounds estimated within the IBA), raptors and waterfowl.
The Switzer Ranch is a 12,000-acre cow/calf operation that has been in the family for 107 years. Four generations live there today. “This land has enjoyed exceptional care. The Switzers plan their grazing carefully. They work to manage cedars. They are model stewards,” said Luchsinger.
Because other family members had financial stakes in the ranch, they needed to find a way to buy out those in-holdings. That’s why they started to think about the idea of an easement, and why they started asking Luchsinger what it would mean. “Our conservation goals were the same. We want the Calamus River corridor to be protected. The land will not be subdivided, developed, plowed or tilled. It made sense to go ahead with it,” said Sarah Sortum.
In September, the easement was signed. It will protect 1,742.4 acres in perpetuity. It has the added benefit of helping to protect adjacent publicly-owned lands (the 5,100 acre Calamus Reservoir and 4,900 acre Recreation Area). It was paid for with grants from the Natural Resources Conservation Service Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, the Nebraska Environmental Trust, and Nature Conservancy members.
“We are pleased and honored to work with Bruce, Sue Ann, Adam and Sarah and their families,” said Dr. Mace Hack, State Director. “We hope this is just the beginning of an even larger partnership in the Calamus area.”