Western innovator: Rancher showcases sustainability
40,000 acres helps provide water to San Francisco
By TIM HEARDEN
SUNOL, Calif. -- Tim Koopmann believes he couldn't be in a better position to extol the virtues of cattle grazing to an environmentally conscious public.
For the past two decades, the fourth-generation cow-calf operator has managed a 40,000-acre watershed adjacent to his ranch for the city and county of San Francisco.
The watershed, nestled in the rugged hills of the East Bay north of San Jose, provides about 15 percent of the water needs for San Francisco customers. Among Koopmann's duties is to handle grazing leases on the property.
"It's been an interesting 20 years," said Koopmann, 60, who was just installed as president of the California Cattlemen's Association. "There's been a great deal of anti-grazing sentiment in the environmental community. ... We've been able to maintain grazing as a viable use of the land without impairing water quality."
Koopmann's grown children are following in his sustainability-minded footsteps. His daughter, Carissa, manages a 7,000-acre ranch for the Audubon Society in Winters, Calif., while his son, Clayton, is a rangeland ecologist on the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District's 60,000 acres of publicly owned land.
Ranchers were removed from some of those lands years ago, but the district is working toward bringing limited grazing back into the area, Tim Koopmann said.
The ranch in Sunol has been in the family since 1918, when much of the San Francisco Bay Area was still predominantly farmland. Tim Koopmann was the first among four generations of ranchers to seek an outside income, having first worked for Farm Credit before becoming a range resource manager for the city and county.
"I had grown up with that land being in my backyard," Koopmann said.
The city has maintained the watershed since the years after the Gold Rush, when the population started booming and the need for potable water continued to grow.
The city has two nearby reservoirs -- the Calaveras and San Antonio reservoirs, which together hold more than 150,000 acre-feet of water. Most of the city's water comes from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park.
In November, city voters overwhelmingly defeated an environmental group's measure to study draining the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and restoring the valley to its natural state. Koopmann said he thought the idea was preposterous.
"Here we are in a semi-arid desert state with an increasing population, and they want to dismantle a system that's been working for 100 years and provides water for 2.6 million people," he said. "It was pretty nonsensical, I believe.
"I think there will always be a fringe group ... that would like to see that dam come out," he said. "I just don't think it should ever happen."
Koopmann said he hopes his work to prove the sustainability of managed grazing on sensitive land will be valuable to the CCA, which has also labored to present ranching as environmentally friendly. The organization is part of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, which works to promote grazing and other land stewardship practices as a benefit to wildlife.
As generations of residents become more distant from the farm, Koopmann said it's important to "bridge the gap" between cattle producers and urban dwellers.
"I don't begrudge people for being vegetarian," he said. "But the fact is that we are producing a high-quality food source for the world and in a sustainable manner. We need to spread that story a little bit."
Residence: Sunol, Calif.
Occupation: Rancher, range resource manager
Family: Wife, Melinda; son and daughter
Organizations: President of California Cattlemen's Association
A collection of 2011's Western innovators is available on Amazon's Kindle. Take a look at "Western Innovators: Profiles of 42 agricultural leaders who shaped the West in 2011" at www.amazon.com/Western-Innovators-Profiles-agricultural-ebook/dp/B009NMO76O