About Church Ranch
Protecting wet meadows and agricultural lands
- 653-acre working ranch near Sattley, Sierra County
- Protected by Conservation Easement in 2020
- Rare or threatened species including Sierra Valley & Plumas ivesia, Sandhill Crane, and Prairie Falcon
- Protected for: Water, Agriculture, Rare or threatened species, Biodiversity, Climate resilience
- Landowner: Church family
Water & Ecology
The Church Ranch sits just north of the tiny town of Sattley, CA at the conjunction of Highway 49/89 and County Road A-23 and contains both wetland and forest habitats. The property holds 500 acres of high-quality wet meadow and over two miles of streams that form Turner and Berry Creeks. Diverse, mixed-conifer and eastside pine make up the forested section of the property. The eastern wet meadow region includes fens, a unique and rare type of wetland that can take up to 10,000 years to form naturally.
Flora & Fauna
The diverse range of habitat types on the land support a large variety of bird and mammal populations. Special status species documented include Swainson’s Hawk, Northern Harrier, Prairie Falcon, Short-eared Owl, and American Badger. The sections of wet meadow on the property provide excellent habitats for breeding waterfowl, Greater Sandhill Crane, and White-faced Ibis. Another unique feature of the land is “the Mound,” a 29-acre area with several mature pine trees and two rare plants: Sierra Valley ivesia and Plumas ivesia. The meadows and forests of the ranch are also wintering habitat for the Doyle and Truckee-Loyalton Mule Deer herds.
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Culture, History & Agricultural Heritage
During the California Gold Rush, Isaac S. Church left New York in 1850 at just 21 years of age, taking a steamship to South America, crossing the Isthmus of Panama via mule, and carried on from the Pacific side to San Francisco. After his prospecting there did not turn out, he made his way north, taking a ship up the Feather River to Marysville. For several years he worked a team of mules packing goods and supplies back and forth from Marysville to the Sierra Nevada, including hauls of snow to sell for ice cream production. His father and brother eventually joined him in California in 1858, and they began ranching in Sierra Valley.
Since long before European settlement, Sierra Valley has been a resource to the Washoe and Maidu people for the abundant fresh water, wildlife, and edible plants in the region. Indigenous people managed and harvested the Valley’s rich resources to sustain robust cultures, communities, and intertribal trade. Sierra Valley remains an important gathering place for Native people today.
It was also a hub for mining when the Church ranch was established, as the dairy industry was developing and growing to support operations in the region. Their ranch property was called Church’s corner, but when the post office was built on another corner, they changed the developing town’s name to Sattley, Isaac’s middle name and his mother’s maiden name.
The historic barn on the property was completed in 1895 and the ranch has supported hay farming, dairy cattle, and beef cattle in the decades since. The ranch has been home to five generations of Church family members since Isaac’s arrival in the mid-1800s, and local livestock managers continue to use the land for seasonal rotational grazing on the land.
This ranch has been in our family since the 1860s. We grew up on this ranch and all of us in my family had in mind the idea to keep this land from being developed. We really wanted to see this ranch stay a ranch.
Working together to protect Church Ranch
Conservation of the Church Ranch would not have been possible without support from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Northern Sierra Partnership, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Church family.
The five eldest Church siblings worked together to meet this goal of ensuring their beloved family ranch would always remain intact, a great cooperative success for both the Land Trust and the Church family. The effort was celebrated in a small gathering of Church family members and FRLT staff in the summer of 2022.
Now, more than ever, we need your support
Help us sustain rural livelihoods and protect critical regional wet meadows.
Stewardship of Church Ranch
As the conservation easement holder, FRLT meets with the landowners annually to review management plans and visits the property to evaluate any potential impacts on conservation values and ensure that the terms of the easement are being upheld. To retain the quality of the grasslands, the livestock manager keeps a fewer number of cattle to avoid overgrazing and damaging the ecosystem. This practice is part of the ranch management plan, which is an important tool FRLT uses in overseeing the conservation easement on the property.
What I like about FRLT is that they respect the traditional uses of the property, and didn’t try to twist our arm into doing something different than we had done for generations.
The Church family has a strong commitment to protecting nesting habitat for Sandhill Crane and other species on the ranch. The two creeks on-site support willow riparian forest and native fish habitat, and the Land Trust is looking into the opportunity to enhance these riparian areas to support other at-risk species, like Willow Flycatcher and Yellow Warblers.
Recreation & Access
Church Ranch is privately owned and operated as a working ranch and is not open to the public, though the historic barn is visible from County Road A-23. For access to a beautiful open meadow in Sierra Valley, visit the Sierra Valley Preserve. The West Entrance is north of the ranch along County Road A-23. The Preserve has 3 miles of interpretive trails and wildlife viewing opportunities. New public facilities are being added at the Preserve, including a nature center and stewardship headquarters, coming in 2024.
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You Can Count On Us
As a nationally accredited land trust, we are built to last. We leverage your donations with state, federal, and foundation dollars and strategic partnerships to achieve the greatest possible impact for the lands, waters, and people of the Feather River region. You can count on us to make careful and effective use of your support.
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