March 25, 2013
A unique opportunity for both the conservation of habitat and protection of instream flows for the Walker River and Walker Lake occurred in March 2013. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in its role as administrator of the Walker Basin Restoration Program (the Program), and the Edwin L. Wiegand Charitable LLC (Wiegand Trust) came to an agreement for the sale of the Rafter 7 Ranch to NFWF for the long term conservation and protection of this beautiful property, along with the transfer of water rights to Walker Lake.
The Rafter 7 Ranch is located 21 miles south of Yerington along the East Walker River and has been operated by the Wiegand Trust for more than 25 years. The Ranch has been used to facilitate charitable programs and agricultural research and has operated a specialized Merino sheep breeding operation that included over 4,000 animals.
The Rafter 7 Ranch includes 3,000 acres of land, approximately 1,500 acres of water rights, and seven miles of incredible riparian habitat. The diversity of native vegetation and meandering undisturbed river present an ecological gem in the Walker Basin. The opportunity to permanently protect this property in its native state while also meeting the Program’s objective of acquiring water instream to benefit the Walker River and Walker Lake is the best possible outcome for both parties involved.
“The Rafter 7 Ranch was acquired over 25 years ago to develop a purebred Merino sheep flock based on Australian Merino sheep genetics,” said Jim Carrico, CFO of the Edwin L. Wiegand Trust. “We recently completed our objectives and we decided that it was time to sell the Ranch.” Mr Carrico went on to say that, “We have spent many years conserving, improving, and enhancing the beauty of Rafter 7. When it came time to sell the Ranch we wanted to ensure that it would remain in the hands of someone driven by conservation, so the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Walker Basin Restoration Program was a natural fit, given the Program’s commitment to land and riparian stewardship as an integral part of acquiring water from willing sellers.”
The Rafter 7 purchase is the Program’s largest property acquisition to date and continues to build on a variety of other efforts to work with willing landowners to acquire water and conserve land throughout the Walker Basin. NFWF previously acquired two ranches in Mason valley that included river corridor and upland habitat. The majority of the water from both of those ranches will be protected for the instream benefit of Walker River and Walker Lake, while the majority of the land and the entire river corridor have been donated to the Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area for conservation and public use in perpetuity. The remainder of those previously-acquired lands is part of an agricultural sustainability demonstration project that will test the potential for increased economic returns through conversion to groundwater and alternative crops.
The Walker Basin Restoration Program (WBRP) was established by Public Law 111-85 for the primary purpose of restoring and maintaining Walker Lake, and to protect agricultural, environmental, and habitat interests consistent with that primary purpose. The Program includes priority initiatives in the area of water acquisitions from willing sellers, demonstration water leasing, conservation and stewardship, research and evaluation, and implementation support. David Yardas, Director of the Program, explained that, “This remarkable acquisition helps to fulfill the overall goals of the Program, and we are so pleased to be able to work with the Rafter 7 Ranch owners to secure future conservation use of the property. Not only are there huge conservation outcomes associated with this Ranch, but this is an opportunity to acquire a large volume of water for Walker Lake without retiring large sections of intensively-farmed land.” Over the next year, NFWF will be working on an overall ranch plan that will include water conservation and land stewardship to protect its unique wildlife and habitat values.