The Feather River Land Trust is pleased to announce that on December 27, 2013, the Rogers Key Brand Ranch in Indian Valley was protected forever.

FRLT partnered with the Harry Rogers family to purchase a conservation easement on the 627-acre ranch, protecting a working family ranch, outstanding wetlands and wildlife habitat, and scenic open space. See more photos of the Key Brand Ranch in this video featuring the photography of 3rd generation rancher, Taylor Gipe Rogers. 

After the easement was completed, we caught up with Harry Rogers and his son Taylor, whose family has been ranching the Key Brand Ranch for over 4 decades. Here's our interview:

What does the Key Brand Ranch mean to you?

Harry: "Our family has been ranching this land since my dad bought the ranch in 1972. My kids were born into this ranch. My son Paul died on this ranch. It’s not just a piece of land to us. It’s part of us. It’s like a family member, and just like a family member, there are days when you’re mad at it. There are days when you love it. It’s part of you. It becomes your essence. When there’s some chance of losing it, it’s like losing a family member." 

Taylor: "What does the ranch mean to me? It’s complex. It’s something that’s ingrained. It’s part of you. The ranch is something that you learn from. It teaches you things like responsibility and a work ethic.  It teaches you about life and death. It teaches you the connectedness of nature. A lot of kids don’t have that opportunity."

What are some of the wildlife species you enjoy seeing on the ranch?

Taylor: "This week, when we’ve been feeding cattle, the eagles and hawks have been incredible. This morning we had a Golden Eagle watching over us as we fed. Yesterday we saw a Great Blue Heron. Even in the winter when it’s cold and barren, the wildlife is incredible."

Harry: "The Sandhill Cranes are really special. Their call is so soothing, and they do such a cool mating dance. The cranes use the ranch for two things. First, they use the water and wetlands as a resting and staging area for their migration. There are hundreds that circle and circle and come spend a night or two. Then, in the spring, we have pairs nesting and the babies emerge. They are very high strung, but they know us. They like to have a lot of space – each pair wants their 50 acres. Each year we have anywhere from 6 to 15 pairs nesting here."

What does being able to conserve your family's ranch mean to you?

Background: In 2010, Harry was able to secure a bridge loan to buy out his siblings’ interest in the ranch. He explored a conservation easement with one organization but that deal didn’t work out. Harry and his sons Nathan, P.J., Taylor, and Harrison wanted to keep ranching, but the level of debt was crushing. Harry had to come up with $80,000 each year to service the 20 year loan. Says Harry, “I don’t know how we did it. I don’t know if we’d have been able to keep doing it for 20 years. It was this big heavy weight.”

Harry and son Harrison feed cattle on Rogers Ranch

Finally, in 2013, two conservation easements – one with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and another with the Feather River Land Trust – made it possible for Harry and his sons to pay off the loan, and conserve the Key Brand Ranch for future generations of sustainable ranching and well as incredible habitat for a rich diversity of plant and wildlife species. Funding for FRLT's conservation easement was made possible by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the Northern Sierra Partnership, the Morgan Family Foundation, the Mellam Family Foundation, the Firedoll Foundation, and a generous bargain sale donation by the Rogers Family.

Harry: “It means so much. It means everything that we’ve been able to pay it off. Now there’s breathing room. It’s a safe feeling. We’ve still got worry about the price of beef, sustaining a ranching operation, etc., but the big question – whether the bank was going come in and foreclose – is gone now.

Now I can get out of the office and all of that paperwork and do what I’m passionate about - more boots on the ground.

We are working to run a successful ranching operation while coexisting with nesting habitat for all the species of birds and animals that flourish on this ranch. We’re going to keep taking care of the ranch and it is taking care of us. It’s a symbiotic relationship." 

What has it been like to work with the Feather River Land Trust to conserve your ranch?

“After what we’ve been through – going to hell and back – it has been such a pleasure. Paul [Hardy, FRLT's Executive Director] is such an outstanding guy. We were feeling hopeless, and Paul got it. Then we started working with Jason [Moghaddas, FRLT’s former Conservation Director]. At first I wasn’t sure because we were so comfortable with Paul, but talk about chemistry! It was like, take H2 and O and there’s no question what’s coming out of this test tube! It was great.

These land trusts are so important. There are so many families in the same predicament. The first generation of ranchers passes. Changing generations on the ranch means that members of the new generation may have different or conflicting ideas about what to do with the family ranch – sell it and split the money among heirs? Try to keep the property whole and keep ranching? The financial obligations can be overwhelming. The differences of opinions and needs can be painful. But when you love ranching, you’re defending a family member."

Learn more about the Rogers Key Brand Ranch


Photo credit: All photos by Taylor Gipe Rogers

Friday, January 31, 2014