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This Madera County Cattle Ranch Will Never Be a Housing Tract

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Threatened by potential development or conversion to orchards, the 3,602-acre McKinney Ranch will forever remain a green space along Highway 145 in Madera County.

“It is a unique rural landscape with a rich agricultural heritage as well as abundant ecological benefits such as vernal pool wetlands, miles of winding creeks, and hundreds of common and imperiled plant and wildlife species.” — State conservationist Carlos Suarez

The Sierra Foothill Conservancy has acquired a voluntary conservation easement for the scenic working cattle ranch less than seven miles from downtown Madera.

“We celebrate all our conservation easements, and the dedicated partners and landowners who make them possible,” said state conservationist Carlos Suarez in a news release Tuesday. “But this easement on the McKinney family’s cow-calf operation is really special.

“It is a unique rural landscape with a rich agricultural heritage as well as abundant ecological benefits such as vernal pool wetlands, miles of winding creeks, and hundreds of common and imperiled plant and wildlife species.”

The Sierra Foothill Conservancy partnered with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the California Department of Conservation, and the Bureau of Reclamation to fund the easement acquisition.

The ranch is owned by Scott and Cherisse McKinney.

Sierra Foothill Conservancy Celebrates 25th Anniversary

“We are proud to welcome the McKinney’s into our family of conservation easement landowners and eternally grateful for their decision to conserve this working ranch. … ” said SFC Conservation Director Lauren Miller.

Miller noted that SFC, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, now has more than 50,000 acres of conserved land. In its 28th year, the USDA’s conservation efforts in California total 211,856 acres. And, nationally, there are 5 million acres in conservation programs.

Federal biologist Jesse Bahm described the McKinney Ranch’s biodiversity as “just stunning.”

He said that a partial list of the wildlife species there includes tricolored blackbird, western burrowing owl, California tiger salamander, western spadefoot toad, vernal pool and mid-valley fairy shrimp, American badger, Swainson’s hawk, and foraging bald and golden eagle.

Bahm added that unique plants are on the ranch, which is part of the federally designated Madera Vernal Pool Recovery Area — 20,000 contiguous acres of vernal pool habitat.

Conservation easements like McKinney Ranch help protect America’s food supply and combat climate change by preventing land conversion and increasing carbon storage through well-managed grazing, Suarez said.

What Is a Conservation Easement?

The SFC describes a conservation easement as “an agreement that allows a landowner to limit the type or amount of development on their property while retaining private ownership of the land.”

The conservancy adds, “By granting a conservation easement, a landowner can assure that the property will be permanently conserved, regardless of who owns the land in the future.”

Additional information on conservation easements is available at this link.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email