Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Innovative Sierra Foothill Conservancy expands again

The innovative Sierra Foothill Conservancy has added another 280 acres to its growing swath of protected land — the old Tallman Ranch at the edge of Clovis where you’ll find deer, quail, ducks and the occasional wild hog.

The land is now called the Ted K. Martin Wildlife Preserve. Martin. 89, a lifelong resident of the Fresno-Clovis area, provided the $1.3 million to buy and maintain the property.

Earlier this year, Martin donated $2 million to the Fresno Regional Foundation to restore and preserve the San Joaquin River.

The new property becomes part of a 25,000-acre conservancy in Fresno, Madera, Merced and Mariposa counties. The organization is known for working with landowners to maintain natural foothill conditions.

Research has shown that grazing cattle help thin out the invasive grasses introduced by European settlers more than a century ago.

Well-managed grazing prevents sensitive vernal pools from being overrun by the invasive grasses. It has helped restore an elegant ecosystem on the distinctive flattop mountains in the foothills.

But this conservancy does much more than lease land for grazing. Two years ago, it launched its own beef herd called Sierra Lands Beef. A few hundred head help bring in more money for the conservancy.

The newest property in the conservancy was once a working cattle ranch with an interesting history, according to executive director Jeannette Tuitele-Lewis. She said the property, which is about 1,400 feet in elevation, was originally bought for $10 in the mid-1930s.

There are four ponds, fed from streams in the area, she said. There are two houses, one of which will be occupied by a caretaker.

“Access will be more restrictive than other parts of the conservancy,” she said. “This is an important wildlife area.”

Sinking farmland is not a new subject here

Responding to my Sunday story, a few readers contacted me to say sinking farmland isn’t new.
You’re right. I didn’t have a chance to write much history.

My story Sunday was about the sinking land around the San Joaquin River and how it would affect the replacement of Sack Dam. It’s contributing to delays in the restoration of the river.

But I’ve been writing occasionally about land subsidence on the San Joaquin Valley’s west side for the last 20 years, and I find it fascinating.

Here’s the first sentence of a story I wrote on Earth Day 2007:

“The land dipped 30 feet between 1925 and 1977 near Mendota — and it’s still going down in what the U.S. Geological Survey calls the largest human alteration of the Earth’s surface. Ever.”

Layers of soil beneath the land surface deflate as groundwater pumping continues. It’s responsible for millions of dollars in damage to irrigation canals. And it could threaten such landmarks as the California Aqueduct and Interstate 5.

You might have seen the famous photograph of a utility pole near Mendota. The 1977 photo features USGS scientist Joseph Poland, who discovered the sinking ground.

High above Poland’s head there are two small signs with the years 1955 and 1925, marking the level of the ground in those years. As you can see, it’s dramatic.