Mono County Supervisors seek better communication with Eastern Sierra Land Trust
After several hours of deliberation, the Mono County Board of Supervisors (BOS) directed county staff to compile additional information regarding possible strategies for future management of the Conway and Mattly Ranch properties at its March 7 meeting.
At that meeting, Supervisors Stacy Corless, Fred Stump and Larry Johnston said they favored selling the properties. Johnston said, “The county cannot continue to fund this project, and needs to sell the property. We are not in a position to run this property anymore.”
This week, Kay Ogden, Executive Director of ESLT submitted a letter to the Mono County BOS, in which she stated, “Eastern Sierra Land Trust remains confident that the County will continue to uphold their commitment to protect all of the property’s Conservation Values, including wet meadow and riparian areas, which provide important habitat for Bi-State Sage Grouse.” Ogden’s letter also clarified that, when the Conservation Easement on Conway Ranch was established, ESLT received a total of $35,000 split evenly between Mono County and Caltrans. Those funds became the Stewardship Endowment Fund. The Conservation Easement Management Plan states that ESLT has “no obligation for the upkeep or maintenance of the property.” It’s role is to ensure that the property is being managed in accordance with the Conservation Easement Management Plan.
Tuesday’s BOS meeting, Larry Johnston said that FIM Corporation, the county’s former tenant at Conway and Mattly ranches, had informed the BOS that it does not intend to irrigate the property for the duration of its lease.
Who will now irrigate the wet meadows? Do they have to be irrigated? “What is this letter really all about?” asked Supervisor Johnston at Tuesday’s Meeting. “I think we need to make sure that ESLT is present in considerations and that their requirements are made clear,” said Supervisor Corless. Ogden was not present to clarify her organizations expectations at Tuesday’s BOS meeting or the March 7 meeting at which the BOS decided not to issue a request for proposals for a new lease at Conway Ranch.
On page 10 of the Conway Ranch Conservation Easement Management Plan, under a heading titled, “Property Restoration Upon Cessation of Aquaculture or Livestock Grazing Operations,” the respective roles of The County and ESLT are made very clear. The document states that, if livestock grazing operations on the property are terminated, “The Conservation Easement requires that restoration activities be conducted to allow any disturbed … portion of the land where the activity was permanently cease to return to a natural … condition … The parties will work together to create a comprehensive restoration plan that will be funded and implemented by Mono County.”
The document goes on to state, “Mono County will continue to provide irrigation to existing meadows and wildlife habitat.” Irrigation is defined to include “cleaning and repairing ditches and sedimentation basins, managing water flows …”
Floyd Rathbun, a Range Consultant who has represented FIM Corporation, said this week that company sent employees to Conway and Mattly Ranches to irrigate the properties from spring through the end of the summer throughout the duration of their lease. “FIM Corp has spent a great amount of money on labor and equipment to repair and make functional the old irrigation ditches that need constant attention and irrigation that is completed with a lot of hard work done mostly by hand,” said Rathbun in an email.
Mono County staff was unavailable to provide information about how much it would cost for the County to take over these responsibilities. County Agriculture Commissioner Nate Reed said this week that if all irrigation were stopped at Conway Ranch, it could take less than a year for the wildlife habitat on the property to be adversely impacted. The land in question has been grazed and irrigated for over 30 years.