Darrel and Karen Sweet

Darrel Sweet Livestock

The Sweet Ranch was established in 1868, on land east of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Sweet family has since worked the land, raised beef cattle, and shared this important wildlife corridor with numerous mammals, the largest population of golden eagles on the continent, other raptors, amphibians, and native plant life. The ranch is especially valuable habitat for three endangered species: the California tiger salamander, the California red-legged frog, and the Western burrowing owl. It also provides year-round feeding grounds for many raptor species. Our cattle ranch is a non-invasive use of land in this rangeland ecosystem, and it is part of the last remaining habitat for endangered amphibians in the Bay Area.

Caring for our natural resources, including wildlife and plant life, is not only necessary to protect the ranch enterprise resources—it’s the right thing to do.

The Sweet family has been stewarding important rangeland habitat for nearly 150 years. Caring for our natural resources, including wildlife and plant life, is not only necessary to protect the ranch enterprise resources—it’s the right thing to do. In recent years we have enjoyed learning more about the wildlife and their habitat needs, and we have made accommodations for them that didn’t interfere with the cattle enterprise. Family members, from grandparents to grandchildren, enjoy seeing and photographing the frogs in the livestock ponds and hearing them in the squirrel burrows.

Our family worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the California Coastal Conservancy to repair a livestock pond specifically to maintain habitat for tiger salamanders and red-legged frogs, which also benefit from cattle grazing. In addition, we worked with NRCS and California Department of Transportation to create a mitigation pond for the amphibians, and once the pond was able to sustain water, the amphibians moved in. The story of combined cattle ranching and wildlife stewardship is a common one throughout California, and is a compelling story to the media and conservation organizations. The Sweet Ranch often hosts visitors who learn about the importance of rangelands and rancher stewardship.

The Endangered Species Act was a catalyst to fund our livestock pond projects, and the Act highlights the need for projects on private rangelands to benefit listed species. Because this was important to us, we chose to voluntarily enhance and conserve habitat under the Endangered Species Act, even as doing so would demanded increased resources and a significant investment of our time.

In California, the majority of endangered species call private rangelands their home. The Endangered Species Act can help protect millions of acres of private rangelands by directing significant mitigation funding toward conservation and agriculture easements. We feel that this is a much better choice than the checkerboard purchase of small plots of land for wildlife that we see today under Habitat Conservation Plans. We highly encourage Endangered Species Act stakeholders to better understand and support private working rangeland and rancher-stewards as the long-term keys to ecosystem sustainability. This is the best way to survival for many endangered species across the West.