The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) teamed up with the California Department of Fish and Game, the California Wildlife Conservation Board and a committed landowner to permanently protect 3,104 acres of prime elk habitat in north-central California.
“This project was a long time coming and a lot of credit goes to everyone who hung with it to get it done,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “The Townley family especially needs to be complimented for its land ownership, stewardship and respect for wildlife. Crucial winter range is now permanently protected for this growing California elk population.”
Funding for the conservation easement came from a bond approved by California voters via the Wildlife Conservation Board.
“This will allow the cattle operations to continue and the property ownership to be retained by the current landowners and, at the same time, protect in perpetuity this large and important landscape and wildlife corridor from being fragmented and developed,” said Dave Means, Wildlife Conservation Board assistant executive director. “RMEF has proven to be a successful partner in helping explain and develop projects with private landowners and ranchers throughout California to help conserve and protect important habitat properties.”
The Townley ranch is located on rolling foothills 3,200 to 3,700 feet in elevation with seasonal drainages in Little Shasta Valley. It is approximately 15 miles east of Yreka in Siskiyou County and some 50 miles south of Medford, Oregon. Forest Service lands begin about three miles east of the ranch and a state wildlife area is four miles southwest of the ranch.
“It was about doing something that fit me so I could continue with my family and future generations in agriculture and conserving open space and providing habitat for elk,” said Steve Townley, landowner and operator of the last dry wheat farm in northern California. “There are a few conservation groups that say that’s what their intent is, but I was impressed talking with people in RMEF that they have one goal which is to protect elk and try to preserve the agricultural values of the land as well.”
In addition to its value as prime habitat for elk, the land is also home to deer and antelope, other mammals, migrating geese, eagles, and a wide variety of hawks, owls and smaller birds. The conservation easement lies within the Siskiyou Focus Area, a geographic zone where RMEF emphasizes its efforts to protect elk habitat.
“If the elk herd continues to grow, which it will, I would like to see three or four or as many as six ranches get involved. That would really make this project really good,” added Townley. “I have 3,000 acres but that’s not enough to winter all the elk so if we could get about 20,000 acres that would be wonderful.”
To date, RMEF and its partners completed 459 projects in California protecting and enhancing more than 110,000 acres with a combined value of more than $46 million.