January 8, 2002
Mr. Joe Mehrten
I read your letter of January 6 with interest and must say I certainly don't disagree with some of the points you make. It's important, however that you realize that none of the funding we will receive from Cal Fed has anything to do with conservation easements. I am enclosing a copy of the Cal Fed and NFWF grant proposals, as although we made copies available to anyone interested, you must not have gotten one.
The funding we will receive from Cal Fed and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will be used for work on the creek as outlined in the proposals and for an educational program. If the property owners are interested in investigating the possibility of putting conservation easements on their property in the future this will have to be a separate process.
I hope you don't think Jack and I sit on Liberty Road or in
Drews Valley, Oregon and don't look past the end of our noses
or our property lines. While your information regarding USFWS,
BLM, USFS, ESA, TMDLs, and environmental groups in general, etc.
was interesting I must let you know that we are aware of these
issues. Jack and I have both been very active in issues that
affect ranching, business and private property rights both locally
and on the national level. As USFS grazing permit holders we
have been strong and vocal advocates for multiple use in the
National Forests. We have watched our small community in Oregon
lapse into a depressed state due to the closing of local mills.
Our Oregon ranch property borders Klamath County and we have
many friends who were affected by the loss of their right to
irrigate last year. Our son and his partner operate a feedlot
in Nevada. That makes us very aware of nonpoint source pollution
and TMDLs. When the Red Band trout was a candidate for possible
listing under the ESA we, along with many other ranchers, did
red band counts in the streams on
Jack and I have discovered in our exposure to and dealings with government agencies, conversation and a spirit of cooperation usually reaps the results we had hoped for. Most of the agency people we work with are not against us. And we have found the same to be true of most folks within the "environmental" community - even those who work for groups that are often viewed with suspicion by those in agriculture. Our "enviro" acquaintances, and, yes, even friends, are as far removed from the radical individuals and groups as we are. We have also watched as efforts for cooperation between agriculture and the mainstream environmental community have been hamstrung by the paranoia of many in agriculture.
Getting back to your letter and your concerns about conservation easements - The grant money we have secured will not be used to fund conservation easements.
There is, however, a possibility that some of the property owners, including us, will be interested in selling conservation easements in the future. We have researched this matter extensively and are very aware of the problems and issues that go along with it. It is our contention, however, that conservation easements can be done in such a way that they are a benefit to the property owner and subsequent generations as well as the neighbors and community.
First of all, each conservation easement is an individual document, negotiated and agreed upon by the parties involved. If the property owner is not satisfied with the terms he does not have to sign on. "Willing seller/willing buyer" is the key. No property owner is FORCED to give up any rights. Each property owner can decide which rights he is willing to give up (most usually development rights) and which he chooses to retain. And not all conservation easements are held by or monitored by government agencies. A condition of the sale of an easement can even be written in the agreement that the easement is not to be given or sold to any government agency. Case in point - the California Rangeland Trust, which was founded to hold easements on ranch property and keep the state and federal agencies out of the picture. The CRT has a board of directors made up of ranchers who understand the needs of ranchers and has been instrumental in helping to negotiate CEs for ranchers in the state who did not want to sell to the government and have them looking over their shoulder.
The Oregon Cattlemen's Association is in the process of setting up their own rangeland trust as is Nevada and others already exist in Wyoming and Colorado. These rangeland trusts seek to protect the interests of ranchers who are interested in selling conservation easements and the success stories are proof that they are doing just that.
If, as you say, our actions could be construed as the proximate cause of economic damage and reduced values for neighboring properties that do not belong to us, I would have to answer that that is a pretty broad concept and could be applied to almost anything we do on our property if you want to stretch it. What about piling junk on our property? Or keeping barking dogs? Or overgrazing? Or building a house or barn in the neighbors' viewscape? The list could go on and on. I doubt that many will object to an effort that seeks to clean up an algae filled, overgrown creek and preserve open space in an area that has the potential in future generations to be covered by ranchettes or subdivisions.
I agree that it is troubling to take taxes from those of lesser means to "pretty up" our creek. If I could send with my tax dollars a demand that each dollar be spent as I designate I would do so. The fact is, the tax dollars are there (in Cal Fed) and they are meant to be spent on projects such as ours. I would rather see the dollars spent on projects like Murphy Creek than to create yet another bureaucracy or on a program that does good for no one or nothing. Perhaps the Cal Fed funds would be better spent by developing surplus storm water storage and handling systems. I'm sure a grant proposal to Cal Fed for such a project would be considered just as the Murphy Creek Project was. I assume that there was no proposal offered for such a project.
The blackberry patches on the creek go beyond three or four, as you must know if you've looked at the creek lately. As a matter of fact, we have sprayed several of them on our property and have sprayed our star thistle as well. Removing the dams is not as simple as just digging them out. Yet another example of government regulation - we have to go through a permitting process in order to make any changes within the stream channel. We intend to abide by the law in order to accomplish our goals for the creek. We may not agree with all the regulations, but are responsible enough not to ignore them.
We know you have concerns about the project, but hope you will keep in mind that this is not just a wild idea concocted by Jack and me because we have nothing better to do. There are several neighbors involved and although Jack and I appear to be spearheading the project, everyone is making every effort to keep the interests and needs of all involved a priority. This is first and foremost - every property owner will choose what will be done on his property.
Yes, the taxpayers will be paying for much of the project. But most of us plan to contribute our time, equipment and in some cases, funds. And aren't we all taxpayers? And yes, we may have to give up some privacy as the work is done and the educational program is implemented. We see this as an opportunity to show what can be done when neighbors cooperate not only with each other, but also with biologists, community leaders and agency people. We don't see it as a threat to our freedom and independence or that of future generations. On this I guess we will have to agree to disagree.
We are free to control our own destinies. One of the things we hope to control is the preservation of our ranch in the best possible condition and the opportunities for continuing in agriculture for our children and grandchildren. We have come to realize that with the ownership of land comes the responsibility and the desire to make that land the best it can be and to leave a legacy of stewardship and love of the land for those who follow us. We would hope that the future generations of our family would not be forced to sell off bits and pieces of land in order to survive in agriculture. We hope the land will mean more to them than just a means of making a living. We are hoping to set an example for them.
Please continue to stay in touch as the project progresses. We hope you will attend Murphy Creek Project meetings and voice your opinions and concerns: You have the right to do so!