Conversation in the Vineyard.. schedule

This is the schedule of events for the Conservation in the Vineyards program as they stand on Tuesday February 26, 2019.

National Endowment Logo 3

May 2:  6:00 PM to 9:00 PM Arrivals

There will be a reception and hosted cocktail party at the Vineyard Inn. The hospitality room is on the ground floor. Just ask. It won’t be hard to find.

Friday May 3: Various tours as follows.

Breakfast will be ready at 7 AM for the early starters.

8:00 AM – 12 PM. Trophy Room Tour The first van will depart between eight and 8:30 and it will take nearly an hour to arrive at Rich Pierce’s trophy room in Clayton. Box lunch will be provided. Return by noon. (Limited to 20 people)

38 inch mule deer cropped and resized

This 38 1/2 in wide buck is one of the larger bucks in Rich’s collection, maybe not the largest.

9:00 AM – 2:00 PM  Friday Ohlone Conservation Bank. Rob Fletcher will load his truck up with four guests and take them on a tour of the Ohlone Preserve Conservation Bank. This is a great time of year to view butterflies and wildflowers. (Limited to four guests)

11:00 AM Friday: Holm Ranch. Load up and travel to the Holm Ranch where former Livermore Chapter Chair Bob Holm will show you some of the best blacktail habitat in the East Bay Area. He’ll also provide a group of 8 people with a barbecue lunch. (Limited to 8 guests)

Emilee and (dad) Greg Selna Deer

Greg and Emilee Selna with a Holm- Ranch buck killed on a donated youth hunt.

11:00 AM until 4:00 PM Friday. Wine tasting at Livermore Valley wineries. Passes and transportation will be provided.

1:00 PM to 4:00 PM Friday Tour a ranch and wind farm with owner Janice Marciel. Come learn about Wildlife Barriers in the Altamont Hills – wind turbines, freeways and aqueducts. The Altamont Hills are home to many threatened and endangered species.

Friday and Saturday Tour Leader Janice Marciel

Janice Marciel will lead a tour of her ranch and wind farm.

Friday Evening 5:00 PM until 9:00 PM McGrail Vineyards

Social gathering at McGrail Vineyards. Hosted McGrail wine, heavy appetizers and a sausage table with some of your favorite venison – deer and elk.

This is a great opportunity to spend time one-on-one with MDF leaders, biologists, and land managers while trying out Livermore wines. Enjoy the fabulous view of the surrounding East Bay hills.

Saturday May 4. Open Space Tour 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM and load up the 4X4 pickups at 8 AM. This will be a caravan into Southeast Alameda County. The tour will be guided by many local experts and MDF supporters.

Here are some of the things you’ll be looking for:




The tour will cover three different management regimes. Although these open space lands may look the same, the underlying management goals are significantly different.

1.  The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission manages watershed lands throughout the Bay Area. Read about it.  SF PUC San Antonio Reservoir

The mission of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is to provide their customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that is inclusive of environmental and community interests, and that sustains the resources entrusted to their care.

Tour Leader Clayton Koopmann BIO Clayton third person short version with photo

2. East Bay Regional Park District East Bay Parks Stewardship

More information

Bio Doug Bell Bell_BioV2_2019 one pg

3. Fletcher Conservation Lands FCL web site

What is a private conservation bank?

About Rob Fletcher  Rob Fletcher Manager, FCLands

Joe DiDonato biologist Joe DiDonato bio

Saturday Evening 6:00 PM to 10 PM at Poppy Ridge Golf Course

Poppy Ridge 2014

Sit down and enjoy the views. Choose from four meal options. Hosted bar.

Hear what MDF leaders have to say about the state of MDF, the Endowment Fund, major MDF projects and the future. We will ask for your financial support.

Side by side flyer









Revisiting “A Sand County Almanac”

Read A Sand County Almanac for the first time about 32 years ago.

At that time I read it as a hunter, looking specifically for information that would be of value to me as a hunter. I shared the hunter’s lifestyle with Aldo Leopold and wanted to learn more about his philosophy.

I gleaned from the book what I wanted to find and that was it. For years I’ve considered re-reading the book and kept it on my book shelf. It is in very good condition, except for my recent dog ears.

img_6607 a sand county almanac

This time, I read this book as a conservationist and it had much more meaning. Now I have more in common with Aldo Leopold (especially at his age at the time he wrote the book) than I did 32 years ago.

Now I understand why his book was so full of meaning and why it is appropriately called a “classic of conservation” by many people.

Leopold’s views on wilderness, land use and recreation are expressed in great detail in the book. He was spot on.

I’m sure I’ll be reading it again, and again.

Highly recommended.

Solutions – Habitat Diversity

If we want to have more wildlife diversity, we need habitat diversity.

In general, things that create changes on the surface of the earth add to diversity. Here is what I have observed on two of the property types with which I’m most familiar.

On our ranch, topography is a natural creator of diversity.  The hills create different exposures to sun, wind and rain. A multitude of soils types, modified over time by water runoff and geologic formations and organic mater, create a variety of habitats.

Oak grassland is one component of our hill property.

Oak grassland is one component of our hill property.

Elevations run from 1,000 to 2,500 feet above sea level. The hills run from gently sloping to very steep. The four main habitats on our ranch are oak grassland, oak woodland, chaparral and riparian.

Because the ranch is remote, has shallow soils and slope that discourages access, the land has remained unchanged  over the last 150 years, with a few exceptions. The biggest exception is the introduction of non-native European grasses that make up a large percentage of the flora. Theses annual grasses have choked out many of the native bunch grasses. The resulting changes to the habitat have eliminated or greatly inhibited some native species. One of the most impacted is the kangaroo rat and the local sub-species, the Berkeley kangaroo rat is considered extinct.

The black-tailed deer is an animal that uses all the habitats on our ranch, while other species live primarily in only one or two habitat types. Species that cannot adapt to more than one habitat are more inclined to be threatened. Deer are an ancient species that has survived because of it’s ability to adapt to change.

This hill demonstrates diversity created by exposure and slope.

The hill in the foreground demonstrates diversity created by exposure and slope.

In an area with multiple habitats, transitions zones may also benefit wildlife.

Duck clubs are generally developed on ground that is nearly level or gently sloping. Seasonal marsh creates diversity as water levels vary. On the other hand, a permanent pond has little change in water level and has minimal diversity.

John Cowen, who managed the Gray Lodge Wildlife Management Area for many years, once told me of his preference for managing ponds. He flooded ponds up during the winter and liked to let the pond slowly dry out in spring. The receding water would create rings of growth around the deepest portion of the pond. The outer ring would be upland habitat that benefited the pheasants ( grasses and broad-leaf plants). The portions to dry out first would grow plants that required less water and cooler temperatures for germination (for example – smart weed). The pond bottoms would dry out last and would grow the seasonal marsh plants that preferred moist soil and hot weather for germination ( examples – swamp timothy and water-grass). Mixed in would be various types of bull-rush, cattail, fat-hen and cocklebur.

Here is a picture of Mayberry a few years ago showing it's diversity.

Here is a picture of Mayberry a few years ago – showing it’s diversity.

The marsh would create a tremendous food source for returning waterfowl in the fall and also resident birds and mammals all year-long. This type of habitat and habitat management is now threatened by many problems. Two problems I see are large scale changes in water availability and mismanagement of land intended to be managed as marsh ( due to either a lack of skill or a lack of will).

Mayberry was converted from seasonal to permanent marsh. It is no longer managed for waterfowl.

Mayberry was converted from seasonal to permanent marsh. It is no longer managed for waterfowl.

Confusion about habitat management and misunderstanding how marsh benefits wildlife is a common problem.

We need more land dedicated to and managed for habitat diversity.

Habitat Monocultures

A monoculture creates habitat for a few while denying many. Take my yard for example. It’s a 20-year-old garden, neatly manicured and primarily consisting off mature trees and shrubbery. The trees are mostly large red-woods, live oaks and ornamentals. The dominant animal species is  a non-native Eastern tree squirrel.

My wife put out a bird feeder. I’ve seen two species of birds perched on it – often a black phoebe that uses it as a lookout and once an English sparrow. Birds don’t spend time in our yard because it has little to offer them. They’re too busy out in the weed lot where seeds are plentiful instead of our yard which doesn’t have a plant in it that produces seeds.

We have a few insects, but not many. When my wife sees a bug she terminates it. I guess you could say this is Linda habitat.

What creates a monoculture? Single minded people and organizations with a narrow objective.

Who’s the biggest creator of monoculture? Probably agricultural interests and timber companies. Farmers envision row crops as far as the eye can see. Ranchers manage only for plants the cattle can eat. Everybody has an objective and most often it doesn’t include leaving anything behind for wildlife.

And, sometimes government creates monoculture – like the U.S. Forest Service. A few years after a potentially beneficial forest fire, bulldozers remove the remains of old trees and then plant seedlings. After a year or two, when other plant species appear, herbicides are used to kill them. Shrubs, like ceanothus, that could create diversity are not allowed to compete with the success of the new pine forest. A monoculture of trees emerges from the ground. Deer and other wildlife that could have benefited from the fire are denied. Why do we have to be so efficient?

Government lays the groundwork for a monoculture when it passes legislation specifically intended to benefit one  animal species deemed to need special consideration. Efforts to offset carbon emissions can create a monoculture in the form of old growth habitat intended to offset carbon emissions (Cap-And-Trade).

When farmers plant many thousands of acres of corn, a few species benefit and many others disappear. Some game animals benefit from cornfields, because corn produces food. But, when farming becomes super efficient, even game animals lose.  Thousands of acres of rice can benefit ducks and geese, but when the rice farming becomes so efficient that it leaves no residual rice for waterfowl to eat, the rice-farm monoculture fails wildlife completely.

When the government decided to go big with ethanol production, marginal habitat in the corn states was drained to expand corn production. The result, an even larger monoculture of ground unable to support waterfowl nesting. To my eyes, ethanol is a blight.

Natural forces like fire create can monoculture. Sometimes a fire-created monoculture lasts only for a short time. After one season diversity may set in again and wildlife can benefit. On the other hand, when a fire creates a mountain covered only in only cheat grass, which perpetuates itself, the monoculture creates a downward spiral for species that need shrub habitat. This is one of the reasons why wildfire has severely impacted mule deer and sage grouse populations in Nevada.

Because humans have create monocultures they also create wildlife winners and losers. Those who control the land and land management, control habitat on a large-scale and ultimately determine what critters will thrive and which will disappear.

In the habitat world, the antithesis of monoculture  is diversity.

Access Issues – Permission

The best way build and understanding of something is to work with it for a long while. Being involved in an access dispute for the last three years has been an eye opener.

That doesn’t make me an attorney, but here’s the way it looks to my unprofessional eye.

Until the gate on one of our access routes was locked, we believed we had a right of access. However, there’s a big difference between believing in access rights and documenting them.

When we realized that the owner of the property under our access road disputed our rights, we learned that their reasoning was that they had given us permission to pass and by doing so they had eliminated any rights we had to an easement by use.

Our response to their claim was that previous owners of our property (in easement terms called the dominant tenement),  had established access rights five years before the current owners of the property providing the access  had purchased the property (in easement terms called the servient tenement) beneath our right-of-way easement. Therefore the current owners could not have given us permission until well after our easement was established. As with most disputes, we will negotiate an agreement somewhere in the middle  ground, but we will have documented access rights.

The lesson is that you may not want permission to use a road. Permission can get you in trouble, because it is revocable. And, if somebody uses a road across your property, one of the simplest solutions may be to give them qualified permission. If they accept your offer of permission, they have severely damaged any case they may have for a legal right.

Access is one of the most critical issues related to ranch ownership and the laws are complex. Get sound advise from a good attorney.

Cattle Grazing as a Habitat Managment Tool

In some cases cattle grazing can be controversial – not on our ranch.

We believe that cattle grazing is a necessary component of good land management, especially when managing for native species. Native habitat  did not include thick stands of imported European annual grass. Native grasses tended to be perennial bunch grass with space in between the clumps. Space which accommodated the critters and also various other plants which the native species fed upon.

On a recent hike, I took two photographs of areas that were grazed and on the same hillside only about 200 yards apart (not on our property). They were in the same field and the same grazing practice was taking place at each photo site. The difference is dramatic. In both cases, the habitat was not ideal.

In the first photo, the grass was thick and matted down.

At this location the cattle had completely ignored the grass. This thick stand was not useful for anything.

I had a hard time understanding how the grass could be so completely ignored. At the second site, the opposite was true.

This second photo is tough to fully appreciate, but the grass is nearly gone and the result is star thistle taking root.

At this overgrazed site, the grass had been nearly completely grazed and non-native star thistle, an invasive and undesirable plant is moving in. Why did the cattle prefer this site to the other? I don’t know. Part of it may have been access, as the second site was very close to a road, which made it easy to reach.

These photos demonstrate why it is difficult to manage grassland with cattle grazing – it’s a dynamic situation.

Unfounded Fears, New ATV

For about a week Rob and I had been discussing the ranch. Out of reach during the week’s storms, we could only wait for a break in the weather and a couple days of drying before heading out to determine damage.

In the meantime, we decided it was time to purchase a new ranch vehicle. Having lost one of our ATV’s to engine failure and needing a two seater, it was decision time.

After years of debate, we concluded it was time to purchase a Yamaha Rhino. We looked at other side by sides, but the Rhino won the contest and after riding around for a day I’m convinced we made a good choice.

The Rhino had plenty of power, good breaks and compression for slowing on hills.

We barely had the Rhino out of the trailer when a group of jakes stopped by.

The break in the weather was welcome by all.

A creek crossing along the way, could have created a real issue, but wisely we loaded the Rhino back into the truck trailer before crossing. The water was deep and would have turned our vehicle from an ATV to an AWV and sunk.

That was the biggest obstacle. We checked ponds and roads for a couple hours and were amazed that more damage had not occured.

The ponds we checked were full and looking good.

Our biggest fear was that the roaring water had wiped out one or more of our culverts or caused a big slide making the road impassible.

We were relieved to find the road in good shape.

Deer were out in good numbers.

About a dozen deer fed on the ridge.

We also found the skull of one more good buck that met up with a lion.

Rob found this skull in the canyon.

All in all it was a good day at the ranch. Hopefully we’re over the worst weather and we’ll have nothing but spring showers from here on out.

Ranch Visit, Spring Maintainance

We’re considering doing some significant work on a key spring at the ranch. The project will include installing a new spring box and a couple of modern troughs. Of the two troughs currently in place, one doesn’t work at all and the other won’t last too much longer. This work will insure a longer life for the spring and help spread the grazing more evenly.

This trough is working, but we'd like to install a new concrete trough.

The project should qualify for matching funds under the Farm Program. We’ll know for sure once the plans have been finalized and approved. The spring currently has no spring box, just gravel and a pipe. The second trough will be installed down the hill a few hundred yards. There’s plenty of water to handle two troughs. We may install some type of wildlife drinker as well.

We came upon a sow and two juvenile pigs not far from the spring.

This sow and juvenile has been spotted before. They're living near the spring.

Here's where they were rooting when we came along.

Although many people call this damage, I’m not sure it amounts to much. Maybe it’s beneficial.

Here's a track from the biggest of the three pigs, the sow.

My guess is that the sow was pushing 200 pounds.

On the way home we saw buzzards cleaning something up. Another Ranch Road victim?

Looks like a calf, but I didn’t get out to get a better view.

Thompson Falls, Montana – Timber, Ranching, Wildlife

This picture kind of says it all, timber, hay and wildlife - the basis of ranch life in Montana.

 Montana ranching is a mutiple use program. The hay fields are cleared areas that yielded lumber to build homes and outbuildings for the homesteaders. Clearing and leveling led to plowing and irrigating to produce cattle feed.

The improved habitat encouraged wildlife populations to expand.

And, the remaining forest provides a continuous supply of lumber when properly managed.

Our fishing guide, Jerry, holds the lumber lease on about 3,000 acres and harvested about 250,000 board feet of lumber last year, a one-man lumber company. Locally these types of logging operations are called jippo loggers.

Jerry uses this skidder to move and pile felled logs.

 Jerry also sells some cut lumber to local users – delivered on the ranch. Here’s a picture of his portable mill.

Jerry (left) with his portable mill.

Jerry and other locals support themselves with these local resourses.